Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Potosi Wisconsin

What's not to like here?  The Potosi brewery names an ale after their cave and puts a picture of it on the label!  (Never you mind that ale really does not need a lagering cave and that the cave is not actually used in the process.....from personal research I can say it is a tasty product).

Potosi Wisconsin is another of those lead mining towns that boomed early.  In 1848 when Wisconsin attained statehood, 1500 people lived here.  Now the population is less than half of that.  The Gold Rush of 1849 ended the boom town days.  But it was still a pretty little place with plenty of good farmland near by.  

The brewery in Potosi was started in 1852 by an Englishman named Gabriel Hall.  The site was ideal.  There was a cliff face with a natural cave that could be expanded.  There was a free flowing spring of pure water next to it.  There was plenty of limestone around that could be quarried for building materials.

The later success of the establishment can be credited to a Bavarian immigrant named Adam Schumacher.  He was an employee of the brewery who one day in the early 1880s arrived at work to find his boss Mr. Hall had hung himself.  The brewery closed down after that and Schumacher went to work at the nearby British Hollow brewery.  A few years later he bought the idled Potosi brewery and did well with it.

Schumacher was simply a darned good businessman.  When the ferry across the Mississippi was in danger of closing down due to competition from the railroad he purchased it.  In addition to the appreciation of his local customers he found it a useful way to ferry beer across into Iowa, expanding his market while keeping transportation costs down.  It is reported that the ferry would even take orders from fishing camps along the river, dropping off small kegs and picking up the empties a few days later!

Potosi was an unlikely success story, growing to supply a five state area in the Post Prohibition beer revival.  But in the end competition from the big breweries was too much and the brewery closed in 1972.

In 1997 the deteriorating buildings were bought for back taxes.  The guys who did this did not know quite what they were going to do with them but eventually the complex underwent extensive renovation.  It reopened in 2008.  It now has a brewery, a restaurant, and two very good museums.  A quick video describing the process by which the site was saved is worth your time.....POTOSI.

The site today.

The brewery cave is on the first floor.  This area is free.  The impressive museum of breweriana is on the floor above and can be visited for a modest entrance fee.

The cave is not open for visitors but you are quite welcome to peer through the glass.

The cave shows its origins.  Notice the make up of the walls.  The natural cave has been expanded by excavation, a cement floor has been added and a few areas bricked off.  I suspect there are additional caves not on display.

Potosi is not really on the way to anywhere.  You'd have to make a special effort to visit.  I recommend you do so.  The restaurant was busy and the food smelled great. You can buy a couple of six packs of what we must assume is beer fresh from production.  Oh, and if things above ground interest you the entire area is extremely scenic.

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