A Little Deja-Brew; A Brief History of the West Bend Brewing Company
The community is buzzing over recent developments on the former site of the West Bend Brewery. While demolition of the building has left local history enthusiasts more salty than malty, especially since it will be home to yet another highrise community of apartments, there is a revived opportunity for preserving the spirit of Washington County’s brewing craft.
The city of West Bend has recently announced that the new construction site on the river side of 33 and Main will not only be a tall rectangle of luxury renting – but will also house a second taproom of a modern brewery located in Milwaukee.
In honor of the rich brewing backstories rooted in that plot of land, here’s a timeline of the un-beer-lievable local history of the industry and the early hop-portunists that famously changed the game of brewing in West Bend.
1850 – 1860
1850 – Balthazar Ghettor, a German immigrant brewer, builds a small-scale frame brewery in West Bend. It was two and a half stories high and a mere 24 by 36 feet in dimension. The brewery proved suitable for the area as it created space for local farmers to sell their barley and hops. It quickly grew successful and became popular with the German beer-drinkers that resided in this county.
1852 – Brothers Stephan and Charles F. Mayer buy the West Bend Brewery and decide to call it “Mayer Brothers Brewery.”
1865 – Typhoid fever knocks out much of the Mayer clan, including Stephen Mayer, his two children, and two of his nieces and nephews. The brewery and future property business is passed to Charles Mayer’s son, Stephen F. Mayer, but still operates under the name Mayer Brothers Company.
1868 – The Mayer brothers build a new brick building that becomes the old brewery West Benders know today. It’s still two and a half stories high but expanded to 200 by 40 feet. This bigger setup allowed a yearly production of over 3,500 barrels of beer, eating up thousands of bushels of barley and tons of hops.
1870 – 1880
1870 – Brewery business excels, and net sales of beer exceed $18000 for the year.
1876 /1882 – Mayer corporation builds ice houses along the Milwaukee River in West Bend to provide ice to residents through spring and summer. Since the ice houses happened to be built right next to a railroad station, ice shipping became another successful entrepreneurship of the Mayer Bros., sending out 60 freights of ice daily at its peak.
1883 – Mayer Brothers Brewing absorbs the neighboring brewery, Eagle Brewing Co, and the entire company begins to function under the name “West Bend Brewing Company.”
1890 – 1900
1890 – The population in West Bend steadily increases and alternative brewery businesses crop up. Due to the competition, lucrative advertising became a necessity, especially to farmers both selling ingredients for concocting the perfect brew and also looking to buy beer (the beverage of choice to cure a dry throat during “threshing,” or harvesting). Iconic Mayer maltsters can be seen rolling a giant West Bend Brewery barrel in local newspaper ads from this era.
1891 – The Mayer business is booming and the brothers are buying. At this time, they’d purchased much of the surrounding land between the river and railroad, erected malt houses, and installed the company’s first 12-horsepower grain elevator. The Mayer Brothers also purchased the lots that contain today’s Regner Park and Kuesters Island, a lot of it was rented for farmland if not in use for brewing.
1900 – West Bend Brewing Co. purchased a York ice machine and was able to brew beer all year long. Previously, the brewery could only brew in the winter because it was difficult to keep brewing temperatures consistent in the warmer months.
1910 – 1920
1910 – Stephen F. Mayer falls ill and the West Bend Brewing Company is sold to a collection of successful brewers from around the state. Popular beers that came out of the new ownership include Lager, Bock, West Bend Lithia, and Old Timers Beer. Lithia Beer is perhaps the most famous beer to have come out of West Bend. It was named from the lithia carbonate found in the local well water used for brewing. It was locally known as the beer that “gives no headache.”
1917 – Construction begins to create additional buildings to support the extensive beer production. One includes a “cooper’s shop” on the riverside of the brewery, where kegs and barrels are repaired. Several of these buildings continue to stand today. The former brewery office and bottling house are now home to Ray’s Shoe Repair and Pruett’s Flooring on Main Street.
1920 – Along with other brewing companies in Wisconsin, Lithia Brewing Co. gets creative concocting root beer and non-alcoholic beer to stay afloat during prohibition. In 1929 the enforcement of prohibition ended in Wisconsin and Lithia quickly had multiple accounts with local taverns to make up for lost beer-selling time. Said taverns include resorts on both Big and Little Cedar Lake.
1930 – 1940
1938 – Ice harvesting proved to be fruitful through the Great Depression. In the year ‘38, Lithia Brewery cut and shipped two hundred tons of ice from the Milwaukee River in West Bend. Although poverty restricted families from buying appliances, the ice was still used to make well-functioning refrigerator systems until WWII.
1940 – “Chuckie,” named after owner Charles Walter (not the killer doll), is a community-famed 7 oz bottle brewed in this decade.
1950 – 1960
The brewery enjoys continued success through these decades, crafting collectible “seasonal” brews; with bottle labels and caps for Easter, Christmas, and the Fourth of July.
1970 – 1990
1972 – The last beer ever is brewed in this facility before the company collapses. Businesses that have since inhabited the brewery’s old walls include RT Speed Shop, Finish Master, Wholesale Lighting, County Supply Store, Finish Mater, and Casa Guadeloupe.
2000 – Present Day
2018 – The old brewery building becomes home to a horned owl family that decided to nest down in the infrastructure’s air duct in the spring of this year.
2021 – The infrastructure that once was home to the craft beverage of West Bend is demolished, including palette on palette of old cream city brick, preserved hand-painted brewery ghost signs, original hand-painted door numbers, and original chimney. Above all else, Washington County citizens lost a set of walls that encapsulated real estate and corporate success that dates back to the earliest developmental times of the community.
2023 – The District carries out a plan to construct a luxury apartment complex in the old brewery’s place. In a recent announcement, the city plans to accept a sister taproom to the 1840 Brewing Company in Milwaukee, which will be placed in the new building’s commercial space in high hopes that this new location will create lasting benefits to the community and a discussion that celebrates its heavy brewing history.
Although the original building has been demolished, conversations around the stories and memorabilia of the West Bend Brewing Company continue to circle via news and social media. Brewing beer in Washington County has historically been an expression of the heavy German influence and heritage in the area. There is hope that the new taproom replacing the old building will be “ale” West Bend needs to further restore some brewing roots in the community.
Krueger Mary and Krueger Lee. The Town of West Bend Est. 1846 Washington County Wisconsin: A Collection of Histories, Stories and Memories of the Farms and Lakes. 2008.
Steefes Judy. “West Bend Man Starts West Bend Brewing History Page.” Washington County Insider, September 15, 2022.
Tscheschlok Christian. “1840 Brewing Company to Occupy Space in the District Development.” EDWC. Accessed February 6, 2023.
“West Bend Brewery.” Clio: Your Guide to History. June 16, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2023.
Western Historical Company. The History of Washington and Ozaukee County. Chicago, IL. 1881.
Written by; Bella Bussey
Bella Bussey is an inventive freelance writer specializing in crafting digital media content. She’s a UW Madison alum and natural-born creative writer. Bella is passionate about engaging the stories of the past with the present to ensure their preservation in the future.
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