Monday, August 15, 2016

Gambrinus Rising

After last week’s depressing post about the demise of the Gambrinus Brewery it occurred to me that, symbolically at least, the flag of that old brewery is still flying. To explain, I’ll need to start by showing you a picture.

Here’s the Gambrinus Brewery, circa 1893. Look towards the tip of the arrow atop the brewery’s cupola.

Let’s zoom in on that….

What we’re looking at is a large weathervane that spun with the wind blowing over the Gambrinus Brewery. It depicts King Gambrinus, patron saint of brewers. Gambrinus is holding a stein. He’s standing next to a beer barrel.

For a brewery named Gambrinus, it was only natural that King Gambrinus would become its  favored symbol. The image was used frequently in the brewery’s advertising. Here’s an example. This is a close-up of a corner sign that hung outside the Adolph Baier tavern at the northwest corner of Ohio Street and 7th Ave. The image is a bit hazy, but that’s Gambrinus in the middle with a mug of beer held aloft.

The image quality is going to improve as we move along, I promise.

Let’s get back to the story of that weathervane….

When the Gambrinus Brewery was taken down, the Kuenzl family saved the symbolic figure that hovered over their brewery all those years. It wound up in the hands of Lorenz Kuenzl’s grandson. He was also named Lorenz Kuenzl. His nickname was Shorty. Here's a photo of Shorty Kuenzl, circa 1960.

Photo courtesy of Kay Kuenzl-Stenerson
Shorty Kuenzl had a long and interesting beer career in Oshkosh, most of it with the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Kuenzl retired from OBC in 1963. He then went on to play a major role in Lee Beverage, an Oshkosh-based beer distributorship. When Kuenzl went to Lee Beverage, the King Gambrinus weathervane came with him. And that’s where it is today.

Let’s finally get a good, up-close look at this thing.

Considering its age, the piece has held up magnificently.  It’s at least 125 years old and spent much of its time being battered by the elements. At Lee Beverage, it was resting in storage for years, but now it’s out again. It’s mounted atop a wooden barrel near the entrance to the building.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching the elder Lorenz Kuenzl and his brewery. Sometimes I think I know the man far better than I really do. But when I think of that weathervane and imagine the hundreds of times Kuenzl looked up to see it there above his brewery, I realize he’s still an utter mystery to me. He always will be.

For an in-depth history of the Gambrinus Brewery, go here.



    1. That's so cool. I love hearing things like that. Thanks for chiming in Thomas.

  2. Excellent piece Lee. I can't believe the vane has survived, and in such good condition. Your work illustrates how important it is for us to preserve these historical items. It's exciting to know history is still stashed away in attics and basements around the area, waiting to be uncovered and researched. These things are a real window into the past. Thanks Lee.

    1. Thanks, Dave. I'm also surprised it survived. I first saw time I saw it was back in 2011, I believe. I was getting a tour of Lee Beverage and it was sitting in their storage area. I couldn't believe my eyes!

  3. So cool this relic still survives. Great article Lee.