History of Beer in Mineral Point
The First Brewery
In 1835 John Phillips, likely from Cornwall, built a brewery
a few hundred yards up stream on the creek behind our building. It was the
first manufacturing industry in Mineral Point, and also the very first
commercial brewery in the State of Wisconsin, making Mineral Point the birthplace of brewing in Wisconsin. Contemporary sources reported his beer as being "an indescribable elixir."
No one knows how long this brewery was in operation, but history records that a John Phillips left Mineral Point along with so many others for the California Gold Rush of 1849.
The Next Breweries
The Next Breweries
Two more breweries followed in the early 1850s, the first was the Garden City Brewery, pictured below, and located on the site of the original Phillips Brewery.
Garden City Brewery
The picture's not all that great but it still tells us a lot about the technology of brewing on the frontier as well as Mineral Point.
One of the first things you notice is the vegetation, or rather the lack of vegetation. It doesn't look much like a garden, does it? This part of SW Wisconsin, NE Iowa and NW Illinois was a lead mining area from the 1820's on so most of the trees had been cut down to use as fuel for smelting . You might also be able to recognize the heaps of rubble on the hillside. These were tailings from the mine shafts which dot the area. In the lower left hand corner you can see a little bridge crossing what is now called "Brewery Creek". The small stone building to the left of the main one is probably the cooper' shop where they worked on the delivery wagons and wooden beer barrels. There is a bee-hive like chimney over each end of the building. One side was the malt house, the other was the brew house where the brew kettle was located. In 1854 brewers had to make malt themselves. Malt is the basic brewing ingredient.
Anyway...this brewery was said to have an average production of about 600 barrels of beer per year. A barrel of beer is 31 gallons. They would have probably used about 1.5 to 2 pounds of malt per gallon of beer, which means 27,900 to 37,200 pounds of malt per year. All this would have been steeped in water, drained and turned over several times a day during the malting. It would then be spread out on some kind of grating where heat from a fire below could dry it out. There was no coal so the fire must have been of wood, charcoal, or even straw. The malt, and beer made from it, would have developed a smokey quality. Sometimes the malt bed would catch fire and the malt would become brown to black in color and roasty in flavor. The lightest colored beers then would have been brown. Hops were another important ingredient and probably grown locally. In fact Wisconsin was to become the hop growing center in the US about 20 years later.
The side opposite the malt house would have housed the brew kettle where the sweet wort would have been boiled with the hops. They would have needed the smoke stack to vent the boiling vapors. Also of interest, the structure connects to caves dug into the hillside. Caves provided storage areas with natural cooling. Breweries also would cut ice from their own ponds. They would store the ice in the caves to use at the brewery in summer and also to provide to tavern customers to keep the beer cool.
To put things into "beer perspective", while James Argall and company were making their ale in "Point", lager beers were just beginning to be popularized in the mountainous areas of Bohemia, Bavaria and Austria. It would be more than 20 years before Louis Pasteur would become famous for his "Studies on Beer" (1876) and make fermentation a science, the beginning of modern bio-technology.
The last of the Garden City Brewery was used as land fill in 1948.
Terrill's Brewery as it is today.
A contemporary brewery was Terrill's. Terrill's brewery had a number of different
owners and names over the years. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1878 and upon
being rebuilt was called the "Tornado Brewery". Its last name was the
Mineral Springs Brewery, which closed around 1960. It still stands on the North
end of Shake Rag Street and is currently The Brewery Pottery.
A postcard from the 1960's