New book toasts Madison’s historic Fauerbach Brewery

Cheers to Peter Fauerbach for researching and writing the coffee table book that he will sign and discuss at two events in April.
cover of the new Fauerbach Brewery book which features an illustration of the classic building with the lake behind it.
Courtesy of Peter Fauerbach.
Peter Fauerbach's thoroughly researched tale of his family's historic Fauerbach Brewery is finally available to readers in a new coffee table book.

It was nearly 20 years ago when Peter Fauerbach called to tell me he’d launched a website paying homage to the storied Madison brewery that bore his family’s name.

The Fauerbach Brewery operated from 1868-1966 in the location that is now the Fauerbach condominium building at the intersection of Blount and Williamson Streets.

“The website is the first step,” Fauerbach told me in 2003. “I’m hoping to do a book.”

Last week, Fauerbach chuckled and noted, “A friend said that was a real long-range plan.”

Long-range, perhaps, but it has reached fruition. A new coffee table book researched and written by Fauerbach traces the brewery’s history from the building’s origin in 1848 (when it was operated as Sprecher’s Brewery) to its demolition in 1967. Fauerbach will discuss and sign the book at two events next month, April 7 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at The Malt House and April 12 from 3:00-7:00 p.m. at the Mid Town Pub.

Fauerbach spent the first part of his career as a health care consultant in the eastern United States. Returning to Madison in 1991 awakened his interest in the legacy of the family brewery.

People around Madison would occasionally ask if he’d ever consider resurrecting the beer. Nothing tastes better in memory than something that’s no longer available. And Fauerbach’s dad — the brewery’s last brew master — had given Peter and his siblings all manner of brewery collectibles. One component of the 2003 website initiative was a gear store that offered T-shirts, glass pints and more.

“I’ve gotten pictures,” Fauerbach says, “from all over the world of people wearing Fauerbach hats.”

In 2005, encouraged by, among others, University of Wisconsin–Madison academic and eminent beer author Robin Shepard, Fauerbach and two cousins, brothers Neil and David Fauerbach, did indeed bring back Fauerbach beer.

I wrote about it at the time, and somehow hooked up with a man named Don Frye, then 72, who had worked for Pepsi, across the street from the brewery — the location is now the Elks Club — in the 1960s. Fauerbach did the bottling for Pepsi’s Madison operation. Frye cheerfully admitted to spending a fair amount of time across the street at the brewery. Saturday mornings, he said, were the best.

“There would be summer sausage and crackers and we could drink all the ‘short fills’ — incorrectly bottled beer — we wanted. It was kept in a special cooler.”

I asked Frye if he would sample the new Fauerbach beer.

“Oh, absolutely,” he says.

Gray’s Brewery in Janesville made the new beer until 2009, when the Fauerbachs ceased production. “We stepped back and went back to selling hats,” Fauerbach says.

Stories like Frye’s make up one chapter of the new book, which Fauerbach finally decided to write last year.

“I’d been gathering things and seeking stories for 20 years,” Fauerbach says. “As people found the website, they’d write to me. Some were people who worked there, others were kids and grandkids of employees. I ended up thinking, ‘These are too good not to share.’ It’s one of my favorite chapters.”

Elsewhere, Madison history buffs will appreciate Fauerbach’s deep dive into how the city and brewery coexisted for nearly a century. It turns out Madison was not always a friendly place to brew beer.

In his book on Madison’s formative years, author David Mollenhoff noted that there was an anti-drinking rally at the Red Gym on Langdon Street in 1907, more than a decade before Prohibition. One of the speakers described saloons as “these gilded signs of hell that line our best streets and lead young men down the crooked path.”

In the new book, Fauerbach notes that, 26 years later, some Madisonians had a different attitude:

“On the day Prohibition ended in 1933, a crowd of 5,000 ecstatic people mobbed the street outside the Fauerbach Brewery … waiting for the beer barrels to start rolling once more. Many of them were German, and they led the crowd in rousing beer hall songs. Others just cheered, and a few reportedly wept with joy.”

By the 1960s, however, Fauerbach was facing intense competition from giants like Schlitz, whose prices small breweries could not match. In its last year, Fauerbach notes, the brewery lost $145,000, roughly 10 times that in today’s dollars. By summer 1966, it was closed.

The new book includes beer recipes and more than 250 images from the Fauerbach family archive and the Wisconsin Historical Society.

There is significance to the date of the first launch party, April 7, at The Malt House: It’s National Beer Day. Of course it is. April 7 was the day in 1933 when the plug was pulled on Prohibition.

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