A couple of Wisconsin craft brewers continue traditions stemming from the 19th century. Larry Esser is the sixth generation in the business with Cross Plains Brewery.
His ancestor, George Esser arrived in Wisconsin from Germany in 1852, founding a brewery in 1862. But the company had to shut down during Prohibition. “We may have made beer illegally, I heard, in the basement somewhere,” Larry says with a smile.
Following the repeal of prohibition the company started again as a distributor. In 1995, they released Esser Best – their original recipe – now produced at Stevens Point Brewery’s facilities.
Larry grew up in the family biz sweeping floors and cleaning gear then moving into sales and his current executive position. As for the next generation of brewers, he has three daughters and a nephew. “Right now there all pretty young so we’re hanging in there right now.”
Meantime a Western Wisconsin brewery has adapted to the times. Todd Krueger of SandCreek Brewing Company says their Black River Falls brewery began in 1856 when a Swiss immigrant set up shop. It later closed down under new ownership in 1920. The facility was used to build landmines during the Korean War and manufactured soda in the 50’s and 60’s. For the decades following, it was a chicken hatchery.
In the late 90’s, Pioneer Brewing Company retooled the plant back into a brewery but later faced financial troubles. In 2004, SandCreek Brewery teamed up with Pioneer.
“We joined forces and we’ve been growing anywhere from 25-to-65 percent every year for the last eight years,” says the brewmaster.
Krueger says their brewery is the oldest in Western Wisconsin.