April 7 may be just another day on the calendar to many people, but to those who truly love beer it's Independence Day. On April 7, 1933, beer returned to the public following 13 years of Prohibition in the U.S. The Cullen-Harrison Act, a modification to the original Volstead Act which established Prohibition, took effect, and the result was the legalization of 3.2 beer.
Later that year, on Dec. 5, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was repealed with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Our president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, reported said, "Now would be a good time for a beer!"
On April 7, 1933, a local newspaper headline read "5,000 Madisonians in First Beer Rush," with a photo of the first kegs leaving the Fauerbach Brewery, located at 651-663 Williamson St. The story described the atmosphere, as heavy-laden trucks and cars roaring from the brewery at the stroke of 12:01 a.m., and a crowd surged to the brewery to quench its 13-year-old thirst.
Locally, Cross Plains hosted what was to be called the Beer Parade, and hundreds of townspeople turned out to see the beer delivery trucks drive down the street. Cross Plans will recreate the epic event on Saturday, May 3 beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Main Street. Organizers are planning for several dozen entries, including least five antique beer wagons. (May 3 was chosen because the weather is a little warmer, and it also coincides with the opening weekend of Wisconsin's general inland trout season.)
A number of other local breweries and brewpubs are planning special events on Mon., April 7. Capital Brewery in Middleton has a special party planned from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and JT Whitney's on Madison's west side will have restaurant and beer specials throughout the day.
Actually, a number of Wisconsin breweries survived Prohibition. Brewers like Miller, Leinenkugels, Huber Brewing (now Minhas) and the Stevens Point Brewery have had a longstanding presence in the marketplace. The once-thriving brewing industry on Madison's isthmus now is marked by the descendants of the Fauerbach Brewery and the Hausmann Brewery (formerly 300 State Street). Both have revived their families' brews, thanks to the help of contract brewers like Fred Gray of Janesville. Gray is himself, a fifth generation away from Joshua Gray who started the family business in 1856.
Beers based on recipes prior to 1919 are sometimes marketed as pre-Prohibition ales and lagers. While there is no officially recognized beer style as such, the defining qualities are recipes based on original brewery records, family archives, or even malt bills of the time. In the early 1900s, beers more commonly placed emphasis on sweeter malty characteristics. Crisper, cleaner tasting lagers, while available before Prohibition, became even more popular with advances in industrial and mechanical brewing technologies in the years following 1933.
The Fauerbach Brewery was Madison's only brewery to survive Prohibition. It operated from 1848-1966. In 2005, Peter, David and Neil Fauerbach began contracting with Gray Brewing to produce beer based on original family recipes. You can currently find Fauerbach Amber and Fauerbach Export in local stores.
This past January, Peter Fauerbach made old brewery notes available and held a competition with local beer makers and homebrewers to make something similar. Fred Gray actually won the competition, and Fauerbach's "Challenge Brew" is presently on tap at Gray's Tied House in Verona. Peter Fauerbach says the beer will eventually be called CB for short, a reference to an actual Fauerbach beer known as Centennial Brew from the late 40s.
Fritz Hausmann, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Hausmann Brewing Company, was asked to create a beer to celebrate the UW Memorial Union's 75th anniversary in 2003. The beer, Hausmann Pale, now is available locally, and like Fauerbach beers bears labels that are patterned after original company logos.
Nearby, the Cross Plains Brewery works with the Stevens Point Brewery to produce two beers with ties to company founder George Esser who started the brewery in 1863. The Cross Plains Brewery makes Esser's Best and Cross Plains Special. Wayne Esser, a fifth generation descendent of George, said, "In making Esser's Best we had the actual recipe interpreted from German, in order to keep the beer as close to its original character."
If you looking for even flavor from local history not far from where the Fauerbach Brewery once stood, the downtown Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company pays tribute to Madison's first public house with Peck's Pilsner. The beer is named after Rosaline Peck, proprietor and owner of Peck's cabin that in 1837 stood across the street from the current location of the Great Dane's downtown brewpub. Now that's a taste of local beer history.