Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Wisconsin's First!

To say which was the first brewery in Wisconsin you would first have to define brewery.  If you simply mean somebody making a bit of home brew, well, that will never be known for sure.  Was it a French fur trader morose in a land inimical to the Grape who tried his hand?  Or was it a British soldier at one of their outposts in Green Bay or Prarie du Chien, making a bit of ale with or without the knowledge of his sergeant?  We will never know.

But if you are looking for the first commercial brewery, the first one to actually make a product for sale to the public, you should go with John Phillips in Mineral Point.

An 1881 County history has the following to say about the establishment of the brewery...

"In 1835, the first manufacturing enterprise was begun in the place by John Phillips, who started a small brewery near Mineral Point mill, east of the end of High Street.  This establishment was continued for a good many years without a rival.  As to the merit of the beer manufactured or the method employed, tradition is silent, but probably it was brewed in common kettles, and was an indescribable tonic."

That seems a bit harsh.  Although I suppose the hard working lead miners out on the edge of the frontier may not have been very picky.

At this point in time by the way Mineral Point was not even in Wisconsin.  It was still part of Michigan Territory.

Phillips has an interesting story, which can be read in detail HERE.  Born in the Corwall region of England in 1800, he came to Mineral Point with several brothers in the mid 1830s.  A friendlier account of the brewery says that it produced a "very fine product".

The discovery of gold in California prompted many in the lead mining region to "Go West" including John Phillips.  He eventually ended up in Mariposa California running a hotel and tavern.  He died in California in 1862.

The Phillips brewery appears to have passed into the hands of a James Argall.  The location of the Argall brewery on an early map fits well with the description given for Phillip's establishment. 

Who actually dug the existing cave is unclear.  Phillips would have been primarily brewing ale, which did not demand the cold storage critical for lagers.  In fact, early 1870s ads for Argall's "Garden Brewery" say that Ales and Porters are constantly on hand, so perhaps the British product line was continued even into the era of lager popularity.  It would make sense given the large Cornish population of Mineral Point.  They did not all go to California after all.

The site today is behind a bunch of power transformers.  It should be OK to visit, no signs other than the obvious ones telling you not to touch electrical stuff.  The cave is in the steep hillside beyond Brewery Creek.  It is just south of where Doty Street (Hwy 39) crosses the creek.

It has a very nice doorway to let bats in but keep people out.  From the map above you get the sense that this cave came right off the back of the brewery building as it was set into the cliff face.

Are bat gates used enough that somebody manufactures them?  It seems more likely that this was a custom job.  

Bits of rusty metal from the original door frame.  Probably from the 1830s or 40s.

The cave proper is fairly standard.  Perhaps I was expecting too much, what with the ready availability of many skilled miners.  

1 comment:

Jeffrey Smith said...

It seems beer caves have been given a new twist