This is the second part in a series by Doug Hoverson featuring breweriana that complement the book The Drink That Made Wisconsin Famous.
This Valentine’s Day edition comes with some difficulty because beer has not been the traditional drink of romance in poetry, story, or song. While breweries have celebrated Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and local festivals on labels and signage, Valentine’s Day is conspicuously absent. This may be because Valentine’s Day is framed as a day for champagne, flowers, and chocolate—but not a six-pack of beer. (Though part of my gift to my wife this year was a bottle of Westmalle Dubbel!) Brewers had little incentive to market their product for a one-day holiday in which beer was not central to the celebration. Today’s craft beer culture may be changing this, but there is still little advertising to prove it.
Very few brewing artifacts from Wisconsin breweries feature symbols that could be linked to Valentine’s Day. Even hearts are difficult to find. The Schreihart Brewing Co. of Manitowoc featured a trademark that included the letters Schrei inside a heart. (See: page 484 of the book!)
However, Pabst Brewing Co. comes to our rescue with a depiction of Cupid on the cover of its Wedding Secrets booklet. This was one of a series designed by Milwaukee newspaper editor George Yenowine, who served as Pabst’s advertising manager until 1889. His successor, A. Cressy Morrison, continued the series, and for the next decade the company distributed about 5,000,000 per year. The series–which also included Untold Secrets, Home Secrets, Baby Secrets and Ominous Secrets–blended praise for the qualities of “Best” Tonic malt extract with traditional superstitions about the topic of the booklet. For example, Wedding Secrets contains marvelous nuggets such as “If the crust of the saved up wedding loaf gets mouldy [sic], the marriage will not be a happy one,” or “It is lucky for a bride if a spider drops down on her at the wedding.”
This 1895 edition included the results of the recent judging at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in which Best Tonic received the only perfect score of 100 in the beer and malt products category. Malt tonics were first introduced in the 1880s and were generally considered to be more like a patent medicine than a beverage. Most major breweries and many smaller ones included malt tonics in their product lines, usually with a distinctive square-shouldered bottle.
In other breweriana news, cheers to Medford Brewering Co. for its representation of Cupid on a pre-Prohibition Wisconsin beer glass. This “schnitt” contained about five ounces and is very similar in size and shape to the glasses many taprooms use in their tasting flights today.
Medford Brewing Co. was built in 1889 by Carl and Leopold Kuhn. The company went through several ownership changes for the next twenty years and went out of business after a fire destroyed the plant in November 1909. The Medford brewery that operated after Prohibition was an unrelated business at a different location.
Doug Hoverson is author of The Drink That Made Wisconsin Famous: Beer and Brewing in the Badger State (Minnesota, 2019) and Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota (Minnesota, 2007). He has written about beer and brewing history for publications ranging from American Breweriana Journal to The Growler to The Onion. He has been a consultant on documentaries about beer or related businesses and is a popular speaker on the history of beer.