Monday, July 31, 2017

Lorenz Kuenzl in Stevens Point

Back when I was working on the Breweries of Oshkosh, I kept digging around trying to figure out what Lorenz Kuenzl was up to before he came to Oshkosh to take over the brewery on Harney Ave. I knew he had been in Stevens Point. I figured he probably worked as a brewer there. But I could never find confirmation of it. Until now...
August Lutz spent several days in Oshkosh last week visiting his old friend Lawrence Kenstzl, who for two years was employed in Andrew Lutz's brewery in this city as head brewer. Mr. Kenstzl now has a brewery of his own in Oshkosh and is doing well.
– Stevens Point Journal; July 26, 1884
The butchered spelling of Kuenzl's name is creative. No wonder I couldn’t find this. Here’s a picture of the Lutz Brewery as it looked when Lorenz Kuenzl was its brewmaster. By the way, the old Lutz Brewery is now the Stevens Point Brewery.

After finding the 1884 article, I did a little more digging. Turns out Kuenzl’s wife, Barbara, was related to the Lutz family. Here’s a picture of Lorenz and Barbara Kuenzl with their children. This would have been taken in Oshkosh in the early 1880s.

The Lorenz Kuenzl link to Stevens Point adds a second, direct connection between the Stevens Point Brewery and brewing in Oshkosh. The other, as I wrote here in June, is that the Point Brewery was launched by Franz Wahle, who later moved to Oshkosh and established what became the Glatz Brewery.

Here’s something else. In 2011, I was on a mission. I asked the same question to dozens of Oshkosh natives old enough to have drunk Chief Oshkosh or Peoples Beer. I’d ask if there was a current beer that reminded them of either of those Oshkosh beers. I got all kinds of answers. Only one response occurred with consistency. Point Special Lager reminded people of Chief Oshkosh.

Let’s follow that thread back. During the early 1870s, Lorenz Kuenzl was the brewmaster for what became the Stevens Point Brewery. Kuenzl moved to Oshkosh in late 1874. He launched the Gambrinus Brewery here in 1875. Kuenzl’s brewery merged with two others in Oshkosh to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Kuenzl became OBC’s first brewmaster. OBC was the maker of Chief Oshkosh Beer.

Kuenzl was dead by the time Chief Oshkosh came out. I can’t help wondering, though, if his influence was still there when Chief was being brewed. He had, after all, laid the groundwork for the brewery’s beers. Is this the original source of the flavor similarity between Chief Oshkosh and Points Special Lager? Rampant speculation, I know. But for me that’s part of the fun of this stuff.

Should you feel moved in the near future to pick up a pack of Point Special Lager, you’ll find it in commemorative packaging. Point is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. The current Special Lager can is wrapped in artwork used in the early 1900s. That’s when Gustav Kuenzel was running Point Brewery. His name is on the commemorative can.

In addition to their similarly spelled last names, Lorenz Kuenzl and Gustav Kuenzel were both born in Bohemia. Lorenz in 1845. Gustave in 1869. Both also trained as brewers in Bohemia. I’ll bet if you traced their bloodlines back far enough you’d find they merge at some point. Somebody else will have to figure that one out.

Lorenz Kuenzl came to America in 1871. He was in Stevens Point soon after. He moved to Oshkosh in late 1874 and never left. Lorenz Kuenzl died here in 1897.

Gustav Kuenzel took a more circuitous path. He came to America in 1890. He went to Milwaukee, working in breweries there before moving on to Stevens Point. He bought the Point brewery from Andrew Lutz on July 8, 1897.

In 1902, Gustav sold the Point Brewery and bought a brewery in Hastings, Minnesota. He was there until Prohibition. Then he moved to Canada where he could continue making beer. When Prohibition ended, Gustav came back to the states. He ended his career at the Dahlke Brewing Company in Westfield, Wisconsin. He died in 1937. Now that is a life!

Here’s a wonderful picture of Gustav Kuenzel at the Dahlke brewery. You have to love a brewer who drinks from a brass mug. You may notice he’s missing the index finger on his left hand. He lost it in a brewing accident.

The Stevens Point Brewery survived. The Oshkosh breweries didn’t. The Point Brewery never lost its focus on its local market. The last of the Oshkosh breweries – OBC and Peoples – turned from their home market as they strove to increase distribution regionally. It didn't work. In the end, that’s what killed them.


  1. Very well done Lee! The picture of Gustav Kuenzel at Dahlke's IS wonderful and could be a poster for German Brewmaster.
    I reread the March 28, 2011 post concerning Lorenz Kuenzl and his wife Barbara. She was Barbara Walter and her brother John Walter would partner with Lorenz in Oshkosh. I wonder if this John Walter was of the Walter family that had breweries in Appleton, Menasha, Eau Claire, West Bend, and Pueblo, CO? Not sure if this John Walter had a brewing background or was a financial backer in Kuenzl's brewery.
    You mentioned interviews with Oshkosh old timers likening the taste of Chief Oshkosh to Point Special. The flip side is that the Point Special here today might be a direct descendant from the hands of Lorenz Kuenzl. One hundred forty seven years in the brewing and one hundred twenty years after Lorenz death. That would be an historic recipe!

    1. Hey, Leigh, glad you saw this. About the Walter families. I’ve never found any connection between the John Walter that was involved with Kuenzl and the famous Walter brewing family. And believe me, I looked for it! If they were related at all, it was a distant relation. Wish I could have tried Chief Oshkosh and Point Special side-by-side back in the day. At the time I was asking around about this, it really surprised me how many people thought those beers were similar. Makes me think they were probably using the same yeast.

  2. Great Read… Thanks.

    1. Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it!