Monday, July 21, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Bloomer, Wisconsin

I had been hoping to get in and see this cave for some time.  One of my fellow caving enthusiasts had come across information on it, indicating that in the era when it was a possible Civil Defense shelter it was a very large space.  Larger than one might expect from a small town brewery with a rather checkered past.

The brewery was established in 1875 by a John Wendtlandt.  It went through the usual tribulations of small breweries, some management changes and damaging fires in both 1883 and 1888.  After the latter fire it was commented that the ageing cellars were largely undamaged.

Prohibition of course shut the place down, but the owner at that time, a John Breunig, turned to the production of moonshine liquor. This was actually common in rural Wisconsin at the time, generally the local sheriffs just looked the other way.

Perhaps a payoff was missed, because the place got raided by the Feds and Breunig spent a year behind bars.  I guess the Federal government did not hold a grudge because Breunig later landed a very profitable contract to supply beer to the US Army. This served him very well during the World War II years, but post war the business faltered and closed in 1947.

All sorts of businesses came and went in the old brewery, I heard tales of a fish farm on the premises in the 1970s. Circa 1980 it was purchased by a Dan Wolf who gradually fixed it up while using it for storage and rental properties.

One of his tenants, Dan Stolt developed an interest in brewing and has started a small brewery on the premises.  They sell their product to a few local bars and serve up beer fresh from the kegs in their hospitality room on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.

The Bloomer Brewery from the outside.  While it is nice to see old buildings preserved I do have to say this one is a bit of a hash architecturally.  The red brick part appears to be the 1889 rebuild, perhaps on some of the foundations of the 1870's building. Newer parts are stuck on all over.

The tap room space is beyond.  They had four beers going.  The one I had was tasty and reasonably priced.  The video gambling machines are of course for fun only.  There are rumors that if you hit a jackpot in some saloons you can get a payout from the bartender.  I have never tested this theory.

Well, here's the cave.  It is not very big, just a single room and an anteroom.  These actually extend out behind the existing brewery and are underneath a service road out back.  I assume they were an original feature of the 1875 brewery.  The space seems so small that I started to wonder.  Was the first brewery tiny? Or are there other caves now inaccessible?  The brewmaster who gave us the tour did not know.

The back room of the cave.  You don't seem many caves with original paint on them.  Note the vent hole in the roof.  The dark stripes seem to be some kind of mold.  Looking at this photo after the fact it does seem as if the paint on the back wall is fresher than elsewhere.  I suppose it is possible that this is a later wall sealing off a longer cave.  Darn, I should have looked closer.

The walls of the cave have been coated with a smooth layer of mortar.  In one spot it had chipped off.

The 1870's cave opens out of this basement.  It appears to be a large refrigeration space.  I assume that by the time of the 1889 rebuild they sprang for mechanical cooling units.

Here is my favorite room in the place.  Mr. Wolf apparently is a hunter.  With all the available room he of course decided he needed a Guy Paradise!

We had a nice visit.  The cave was enigmatic if somewhat underwhelming.  But the brewery as a whole has plenty of history.  Cold beer, a guided tour by the brew master, does not get much better than that.


Scott Thompson said...

I am not sure who gave this information to the writer but it is only kind of correct. John Breunig was only part owner, his father Jacob Breunig was the other. Jacob was the owner sentenced to a year in jail, John served it for him because of Jacob Breunig's bad health. the 1927 raid was done by the Feds and it was a state wide raid where many numbers of breweries were raided. The Breunig's sold the Brewery to Al Tankenhoff, who owned it until 1948 when it went out of business. The Breunig's moved to Rice Lake and opened a brewery there in 1934. The Breunig's

Tacitus2 said...

Thanks! I spent a bit of time at the local historical society and of course chatted with the folks at the modern brewery. Some of the later details of small town breweries tend to be less in focus than the earlier ones. These began as proud local enterprises but ended up under the shadow of Prohibition and gradual failure. See my follow up post....any idea why the Bloomer cave is a ridiculous little stump? There simply must be a larger cave system but nobody knows anything about it....even though it was "known' at least into the 1950s.