Mid-Atlantic Brewing News August/September 2008
The Road to Potosi
By Rich Wagner
“Westbound and down, loaded up and truckin’!” For me it was a straight shot from Philadelphia to Wisconsin on the superslab, “Main Street of the Midwest” as they say. I was on my way to deliver displays to the new National Brewery Museum in the old Potosi brewery complex in Potosi, Wisconsin. The name of the town refers to a huge mountain of silver ore in Bolivia, and the term was descriptive as in, “all the wealth of Potosi.” And there couldn’t be a more apt description for the treasure trove of breweriana on display that I found when I arrived! Not only that, there was “Good Old Potosi” on tap, brewed right in the old brewery!
For others the road to Potosi was not so stream-lined. None the least of the impediments was the fire caused by a workers’ torch that nearly burned the place down a couple years ago. The Potosi Brewing Company was famous for its “Good Old Potosi,” Holiday, Garten Brau and Augsburger brands when it closed in 1972, and let’s just say, time was not good to the old gal. It took the labor of love by a host of people to turn the place around and produce the sensational brewery/restaurant/museum that greeted this visitor, beginning with a retro-billboard telling me “The Good Old Days are Back, Thanks to You!”
The recovery process began in 1995 when a developer purchased the bottling works across the street. He soon purchased the rest of the complex and began renovating the buildings. Five years later with two other investors and community support, the Potosi Museum Foundation was formed. In 2004 the American Breweriana Association became a partner with the Foundation to house their dream of a national breweriana museum in the old brewery.
And so, this summer, two months ahead of schedule, the complex hosted a gala hog roast for busloads of breweriana collectors from the ABA Convention in nearby Dubuque, Iowa. All this in spite of the fact the road in front of the complex had essentially been a raging river the week before. Water in the old fermenting and aging cellars had to be pumped out around the clock. The amount of energy and enthusiasm that went into making the event a success was truly remarkable. They were drilling, hammering and painting right up to the moment the ribbon was cut!
The “Great Room” of the museum is truly awe inspiring with display cases showing off some of the best Wisconsin breweriana known to exist--beautiful neon signs suspended from the ceiling along with lithographs depicting factory scenes from Milwaukee’s titans of the industry, and all kinds of signs and trays displayed in a dazzling array. Beyond this are two floors with displays of every type of breweriana imaginable. My own contribution was a display case full of embossed Philadelphia brewery bottles and four displays I created for Yards Brewing Company several years ago. They will be on exhibit until June 2009 when the ABA holds its Convention in Madison, WI.
The bar and restaurant area is a showcase for the impressive work that was done on the interior of the building. There’s a glass insert in the floor permitting visitors to see the raging spring below, and the water flows over outcroppings of rocks into a beautiful fountain in the outdoor patio. The bar is an exquisite masterpiece with beautiful inlaid wood decorations depicting barley and glasses of beer, along with framed labels from the brewery’s 120-year history. The crescendo is a beautiful stained glass monogram in the style of the old Potosi Brewing Company in the back bar.
But across the street is perhaps the most outstanding feature, and one which is sure to send the serious can collector into apoplexy, and that’s an old silo that’s been preserved to resemble a cone top can of “Good Old Potosi,” the label of which proudly proclaims the contents to be 2,319,241 fluid ounces! It opens as a service bar for the patio in front of the Holiday Center, which is across from the brewery and hosted the banquet.
For a brewery historian it doesn’t get much better than this! An old brewery, reincarnated not only as a brewery, but as a breweriana museum as well! And if you visit, be sure to check out the restored Dubuque Star brewery which is now a winery and museum.