Beer town feels distinctly flat as brewers bottle out; MILWAUKEE DAYS - World - News - The Independent

Beer town feels distinctly flat as brewers bottle out; MILWAUKEE DAYS

Winter is many months old and the ice on the Milwaukee river is fractured and grubby. Appropriately, it is also strewn with empty beer bottles. This, after all, is Beer Town USA. If you think cars in Detroit and cigars in Havana, then what comes to mind in this city will forever be the brown stuff.

Or will it? They are still drinking quantities of beer here and a few folk are still making it. But these days the people of Milwaukee are mostly crying in it. Two of the city's greatest breweries, Schlitz and Pabst, are no more. Only Miller remains.

The beer heritage of Milwaukee, which sits on Lake Michigan, 100 miles north of Chicago, dates back to the early 1800s when beer-loving Germans were settling here at the rate of a thousand a week. By the century's end, brewing provided more jobs than any other industry.

Suds and sausage remain etched in the Milwaukee's heart. Laverne and Shirley of the television sitcom of the same name - still in re-runs here - worked in the fictional Schotz brewery. The city's beloved baseball team, the Brewers, is soon to get a new home; it will be called Miller Stadium.

It was Schlitz that dreamed up the legendary slogan: "The beer that made Milwaukee famous." But then, in the early 1980s, after selling out to rival Stroh, Schlitz split. Left behind was a huge and ornate brewery that has now been converted into high-priced apartments.

In 1968, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Glenn Sutton's "What made Milwaukee famous (has made a loser outta me)". Now Milwaukee is the loser. Even Old Milwaukee, a dark beer that remains popular country-wide, is brewed in Detroit. Miller, founded in 1880 as the Plank Road Brewery, is owned by Philip Morris, the conglomerate that gives also us Kraft cheese and the Marlboro Man.

The latest agony, however, has been delivered by Pabst. Although its brand may be obscure internationally, Pabst was the city's first major brewery after its foundation by German immigrants in 1840, only four years after the creation of the Wisconsin Territory. By the late 1880s, with Captain Federick Pabst at its head, Pabst had become the largest selling beer in the nation. Pabst Blue Ribbon actually had blue ribbons on its bottles.

In this century, Blue Ribbon grew into the beer of choice for blue-collar workers in the Midwest and especially in this heavily blue-collar city. With its blackened bricks and crenellated walls, the Pabst brewery looms from a hill above downtown like a Dickensian jail. A single chimney rises from the plant's heart with Pabst spelt out in white ceramic tiles.

Today, the plant is empty. Lorry trailers with the Blue Ribbon logo are still backed up to some of the loading bays but a notice in the door of the gift shop and public beer garden says tersely: "Tours suspended until further notice." A few bulbs are burning inside, but the brewery is silent.

The end came in December last year. Pabst's owners since 1985, the S&P Corporation of California, contracted out the brewing of Blue Ribbon and closed its Milwaukee facility. Almost 300 jobs were lost as well as the health insurance of 700 former employers. Gone also was a bit of Milwaukee's civic soul. Wayne Watkins, a Pabst employee of 28 years, explains: "They didn't just kill a bunch of jobs for brewery workers. They killed a family."

The feeling of betrayal is palpable. Straight after the announcement, bars across the city held "drink it or dump it" Pabst nights to exhaust their stocks of Blue Ribbon. Few establishments will serve it now. Even in the posh Pfister Hotel, a request for a Pabst earns a look of disgust. "We don't serve it any more," the server replies. "That company is evil".

The anger extends to the office of the mayor, John Norquist. With photographs behind his desk of himself downing beers with supporters, he reasons that the US, unlike Europe, does not practice industrial policies that might have given Pabst a prop to stay open. I press him, however. Was he a Pabst drinker before? Certainly. Will he drink it now? Certainly not.

Proud natives urge me, however, to visit one of the micro-breweries that have recently mushroomed across the city. The big breweries may be leaving, they insist, but the brewing spirit of Milwaukee still lives.

I am happy to comply with a stop at a micro-brew restaurant called Rock Bottom, on the banks of the river. In the converted halls of an abandoned bank, Rock Bottom serves some ales brewed on-site that are delicious. I am puzzled, however, by the giant photographs on the walls of landscapes from the American West - Colorado peaks and sunsets in Utah.

Rock Bottom, I discover, is about right. This place has nothing to do with Milwaukee and its proud history of brewing. What it does represent is the slow homogenisation of the US. It is the one-formula-for-all, shopping- mall principle. Rock Bottom is just one more outlet of a company based in Boulder, Colorado and listed on the Nasdaq securities exchange. Poor Captain Pabst. How he must be spinning in his grave.

David Usborne

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week