I got to thinking of the Berghoff family of beers when I was writing about The Berghoff and I wanted to share with you my impressions of their great beer.
I've been drinking Berghoff beer for almost 20 years now, first at The Berghoff in downtown Chicago, and then when I found that they sold it in stores throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. It quickly became one of my favorite beers to drink. When I moved to the Quad Cities, I could find Berghoff on the Illinois side of the river, but not in Iowa.
I wanted to learn more about the beer and I found that it was brewed in Monroe, WI by the Joseph Huber Brewing Company, the original makers of Huber beer, Augsburger beer, as well as Wisconsin Select beer. But when Cindy came home from an antique store one day with a beer tray that said "Berghoff Brewing Company, Fort Wayne, IN", I needed to look into the history even further.
Years ago, I used to represent a car and home speaker manufacturer called MTX. Their headquarters at the time were in Monroe and I used to drive up there a few times a year. I stopped into the Huber Brewery on one trip and I got to talking with a lady who was more of a secretary than anything (they didn't have a gift shop or tour coordinator at that time).
She told me the loose history of the Huber/Berghoff Brewery. The original brewery was started in 1845 on the same site where the present brewery sits today. It changed hands over the years a number of times. When Prohibition hit in 1921, the brewery began to make "near beer", soda pop and ice cream. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, they went back to making beer.
Also in the early 30's, a German immigrant by the name of Joseph Huber showed up in Monroe and began to work at the brewery. Just before World War II broke out, the brewery was sold again and the owner asked Huber to run it for him. Huber ended up buying the guy out and it became the Huber Brewery in the late 40's.
How Huber and Berghoff became partners is pretty interesting. Herman Berghoff and his three brothers moved from Dortmund, Germany to Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1870 with their parents. Despaired over the lack of what the Berghoff's called good beer, or "Dortmunder" style, the brothers opened up a brewery in 1887. Herman went to Chicago in 1893 to serve the Berghoff "Dortmunder" style beer to patrons of the Chicago World's Fair. The sales were phenomenal and Herman decided to stay in Chicago and open a small cafe where he could sell the family beer for 5 cents a glass. The Berghoff restaurant became a full service restaurant in 1920 and the Berghoff beer was one of the most popular brands in the Midwest.
When Prohibition hit, the Berghoff's made "near-beer" and Bergo Root Beer. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Herman Berghoff applied for - and received - the first liquor license issued in Chicago. While this was going on, the Berghoff Brewery began to brew beer again and the brewing company grew steadily over the years.
The Berghoff brothers were all gone by the early 50's and none of the sons were interested in running the brewery. The Berghoff family sold the brewery to Falstaff in 1953. When the Berghoff brewery was sold, the brewery had the capacity to make over 1 million barrels of beer annually.
The Berghoff beer was then licensed out to a company in Colorado - the Walter Brewing Company in Pueblo - primarily for sale at The Berghoff restaurant in Chicago. The sons of Herman Berghoff were not happy with the quality of beer being produced in the brewery. So after the five year contract to brew Berghoff was up, The Berghoff family went looking for a small brewery that would be more attentive to their needs, and closer to Chicago. The contract was awarded to Joseph Huber Brewing Company in 1960, whose son, Fred, was now running the company.
Fred Huber eventually bought out the other investors and ran the company solo from 1977 to 1985. He sold the company to two former execs from Pabst in 1985. The two execs sold the Augsberger label to Stroh's, and in 1988 announced they were probably going to close the plant. Huber and some investors came back in and bought the plant back and began to focus on the brewing and marketing of Berghoff beer.
In the mid-90's, the Huber Brewery was making great strides in marketing the Berghoff brand - brewing more specialty beers under the label's name and beginning wider distribution throughout the Midwest. It was then that they purchased the rights of the Berghoff beer name from the Berghoff family.
Since the late 90's, the Huber/Berghoff Brewery has introduced Dempsey's Beer and re-introduced Wisconsin Club beer while continuing to make the Huber beers.
They now brew 10 year round and seasonal specialty beers under the Berghoff label. Their original Lager beer is still one of the better beers they brew. They also have a very good pale ale - much more smooth and not as hoppy as other pale ales. If you think a pale ale is a little too much taste sensation, I think you'll find the Berghoff pale ale to be much more palatable.
They also make a good dark and bock beer that is very flavorful. They also make a red, an amber and a very good Oktoberfest beer that I like to get in the fall months.
But my favorite beer, especially this time of year, is their Hazelnut Winter Ale - a hazelnut flavored beer that is absolutely wonderful. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I do love the smell of Cindy's hazelnut coffee when she makes it. The Berghoff Hazelnut Winter Ale has a fabulous taste to it, has a nice lingering after taste and is very smooth to drink.
They now have a gift shop and will do factory tours at the Huber/Berghoff Brewery. And when you're done, you can go across the street to the west and have a beer at the Jailhouse Tap. It's the old Green County jailhouse and it's ironic that a place where they used to put drunks behind bars in the past is now serving drunks in front of the bar today.
Monroe is a neat little town to visit, anyhow. It bills itself as "The Swiss Cheese Capital of the World" and has kind of a Swiss/Bavarian feel to it. There are some great restaurants and places to shop in Monroe, too. If you want to try a beer, try one of the beers that are brewed there - Berghoff beers.