As Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Where better to test Franklin’s wisdom than Milwaukee, the “beer capital of the world.”
Recently, my husband and I discovered a unique way of learning about the importance of beer to the culture of the Midwest. On a day jaunt to Milwaukee, our first stop was the Best Place Pabst Brewery Historical Tour, where our host was an ambitious and rambunctious boomer named Jim Haertel.
While a student at Marquette University, Jim developed a passion for saving our connection to the past. By word of mouth, he learned the surviving buildings of the Pabst Brewery were slated for the wrecking ball. Today, several of those buildings have been saved and are being used for new purposes ranging from condominium living to college classrooms. For his part, Jim was able to raise the capital to save the heart of what once was a sprawling industrial complex, the Pabst Corporate Office and Business Center.
The building stands out. It is crowned by turrets, ornamented with leaded windows and stained glass and surrounds a courtyard where warm weather visitors come to socialize and enjoy a variety of brews.
As we took a tour of the building, we were delighted by Jim’s flare for delivering what he calls “ah-ha moments” – Did you know the Chicago fire helped grow the beer industry in Milwaukee? – and “ha-ha” moments – Did you know Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer never won a blue ribbon, but it did win the gold medal for beer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893?
One of the funniest features of the tour is getting a chance to view old black-and-white TV commercials for beer. It will leave you wondering whether Americans ever really dressed and acted that way. Yet, if you were a child in the 1960’s, the words and tunes of the advertising jingles will jump into your mind as though you heard them just yesterday. Oh, by the way, the old brewery built in the 1800’s is no longer operational, so do not expect to see the actual brewing process on this tour. The tour costs $8, and it is best to call ahead to confirm tour times at 414-630-1609.
After the tour, we headed to the historic German Mader’s Restaurant on Third Avenue near the river. Mader’s restaurant opened in 1902 and is decorated with antiques from the 14th century including a Medieval suit of armor and a historic beer stein collection. Two favorite lunches are the German Sampler featuring Rheinischer sauerbraten, Wiener Schnitzel, beef goulash with spatzle and red cabbage and the Roast Pork Shank, the No. 1 favorite for more than 100 years. It is a delicious skinless shank with apple demi-glaze served with sauerkraut and red potatoes. The food is absolutely scrumptious and worth the price, and the wait staff is warm and friendly.
To complete our day (and still get home in time for dinner), we took a tour of the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion on Milwaukee Avenue. This has to be one of the most meticulously and accurately restored mansions in the country, if not the world. While we were there, they were rehanging a painting that had been cleaned and restored. It was so big, scaffolding had to be set up.
Each room is unique and tells the story of a family who was immensely wealthy thanks to the brewery and yet also afflicted by tragedy and sorrow. We left the mansion with a true appreciation for the incredible craftsmanship of our forefathers and mothers and their amazing aesthetic taste. For information on touring the Pabst Mansion, call 414-931-0808.
• Sue Neuschel shares her experiences as a Baby Boomer, offers unique places to visit in and around McHenry County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.By SUE NEUSCHEL – email@example.com