Monday, July 26, 2010

Beer Run: The National Brewery Museum

In 2004 Potosi, a small village near the Mississippi River in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, was selected over Milwaukee and St. Louis to become the site of the National Brewery Museum. Six years and $7 million later the restored ruins of the defunct Potosi Brewing Company now stand like a shrine to American brewing during the post-war years. The true strength of the museum is its collection of artifacts from the regional breweries that flourished in America following Prohibition and the Oshkosh breweries of that era are all particularly well represented. In fact, you can hardly turn around in the renovated three-story brewery that houses the museum without spotting some beer related item that originated in Oshkosh.

The museum’s displays are made-up from the collections of members of the American Breweriana Association and are swapped out for new items a couple times each year. The current collection has a noticeable Wisconsin bent, but that’s not too surprising when you consider the sheer number of breweries that made Wisconsin home prior to the 1960s and 70s. It’s also fitting that you find all this in what was once a prototypical Wisconsin Brewery. The history of the Potosi Brewing Company played out along the same lines as that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company and numerous other regional Wisconsin Breweries. Potosi Brewing began in 1852. The company limped along during Prohibition selling soda to re-emerge from that awful period as a thriving regional brewery. But by the early 1970s Potosi Brewing could no longer compete with the likes of Pabst, Miller and Budweiser and in 1972 the beer stopped flowing.

The story doesn’t end there, though. Another great part of the National Brewery Museum is that with it has come a new brewery to Potosi. Things have changed some, the new brewery makes ales while the older concern was strictly a lager house, but most importantly they’re making excellent beer. Potosi’s new brewmaster, Steve Buszka, formerly the head brewer at Bell’s Brewery in Michigan (when it was called Kalamazoo Brewing), brews on a 15-barrel system on the third floor of the Museum. The beer is served at a beautiful, hand-made bar on the ground floor and it’s just what you’re craving after a couple hours of prowling through rooms filled with fascinating beer advertisements designed to make you as thirsty as possible.

Potosi is about a three hour drive from Oshkosh. The road leading in is rustic and rural and would make for a great bike trip. Admission to the museum is $7 and includes a beer at the end of your tour. For more information visit the website of the National Brewing Museum and the website of the Potosi Brewery.

Here is a short video tour of the museum by Milwaukee’s WTMJ. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean about Oshkosh being well represented.

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