One of Madison’s first breweries’ legacy lives on

Everything old is new again
One of Madison’s first breweries’ legacy lives on
Courtesy of Peter Fauerbach/WHS 3489 (upper right)

When I lived in Madison as a kid, the Fauerbach Brewery was still up and running. Obviously, I hadn’t reached the age where I could legally consume alcohol. However, I remember being in the Maple Bluff Fourth of July Parade in 1959 and being given an orange soda in a Fauerbach bottle, compliments of the brewery. My mother wasn’t much of a beer drinker, but she loved Fauerbach CB (Centennial Brew). When I commented on this idiosyncrasy to my father, his response was, “She would.” I was never sure if this was a pejorative about her or the beer.

By the time I moved back to Madison as an adult, the brewery was history and its former location at Blount and Williamson Streets a forlorn, weed-filled lot. A condominium complex bearing its name constructed in 1978 stands there today.

The Fauerbach brand began in 1868 when Peter Fauerbach purchased our city’s first brewery, established 20 years earlier by Frederick Sprecher. Born in Bavaria, Peter immigrated to the United States at age 17 and worked at a couple of breweries owned by his in-laws before settling here. Along with his wife, Marie, and sons, Louis, Henry, Philip, Charles and Emil, he made the business a local favorite. When he died, Marie, whose father, Karl Haertel, owned a brewery in Portage, became proprietress of an enterprise that turned out about 15 kegs a day. Soon the operation produced eight times that amount, employed nearly 100 workers and was Madison’s only union beer maker. Trade continued to boom until Prohibition. Amazingly, the family was able to make ends meet by brewing nonalcoholic beer, bottling soda and even making cheese.

With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, happy days returned, and the end of Prohibition saw expansion of Fauerbach’s facility and distribution of its products via rail to other states. Production eventually reached 75,000 barrels per year. By the 1960s, most local breweries were struggling and found it difficult to compete against the big national names like Budweiser, Pabst and Miller. The Fauerbach Brewery closed in 1966, and its building was demolished a year later. That should have been the end of the story.

By the 1980s, many beer fans, bored with the bland, humdrum lagers the big corporate brewers sold, thirsted for something different. By the turn of the 21st century, small local breweries (microbreweries)had returned, and today they’re more popular than ever. In 2005, a fifth generation of the family–Peter, Neil, David, Karl, Fred and Erik Fauerbach–resurrected the old brews. They contracted with Gray’s Brewing of Janesville to make the erstwhile labels, Fauerbach Amber, Export, CB. This proved to be a difficult joint endeavor and ended in 2009. Yet it’s still possible to take a swig from the past. Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona crafts Fauerbach Nectarine. Originally advertised as a malt and hop tonic to promote digestion and sleep, it’s now a pale ale flavored with honey malt and orange peel. End of the story? I bet not.