A childhood mystery led a Mauston man to unearth fragments of a rich history of early beer brewing in Sauk City in the late 1800s.
Whether it was the beauty of the Wisconsin River valley, the surrounding hillsides or rich farmland, Sauk City was a draw for thousands of German immigrants. With them came their love for beer, and small breweries popped up on the countryside.
According to Rich Rossin, 53 and a lifelong Mauston resident, in 1870 Madison had 10 times the population of Sauk City—10,000 versus 1,000. Madison had five breweries, but so did Sauk City.
Rossin has been researching this topic for six years, ever since he found out that a neighboring house and its basement near his childhood home wasn’t like any other basement. There was an arched walkway that continued deeper into the ground.
“We called it the dungeon,” Rossin said. “The stone blocks, thick walls and dark, damp atmosphere of the place really gave you the feeling of a medieval castle. Legend has it there was a moonshine still during Prohibition and the tunnel went further underneath the street.”
Fast-forward 40-plus years. Rossin was in the Mauston library, where he spotted a book by popular Wisconsin author Jerry Apps called, “Breweries of Wisconsin.”
“He had an index of breweries and there it was—Mauston Brewery,” Rossin said. “I had never heard of a brewery in Mauston. I did a little research and that house was the old brewery in 1860s when Germantown died off. The underground rooms I played in on Winsor Street as a young boy were actually the aging cellars of the old local brewery.”
He deciding to take Apps’ appendix mention of the Mauston brewery to another level and find out everything he could about it.
Brews clues lead to Sauk City
Rossin examined property and immigration records, and books like Myrtle Cushing and Michael Goc’s 1992 Sauk Prairie area history “Lives Lived Here.”
He even visited cemeteries, where he found some of the relatives of the people he researched, including Leinenkugels and Schorer’s young wife Fransiskus.
But he found there is no single book or record that addresses those late 19th century breweries, so he decided to write his own.
He wanted to share his research regarding. So he organized his information and printed it as a small book, “The History of the Mauston Brewery 1858-1916.”
Sauk Prairie connection
But he didn’t stop there. His Mauston research led him straight to Sauk City by way of Elroy.
That was where he uncovered scant information about Joseph Schorer, the owner of a small brewery in Elroy. Land records and deed transfers indicated Schorer got his brewing start in Sauk City.
Not only was Schorer a small time beer baron and Merrimac saloon owner, there were numerous other breweries in the area, and Rossin’s latest little book, “Joseph Schorer and His Breweries in Sauk City and Elroy, Wisconsin,” uncovers them.
The story doesn’t end there. Following Schorer led Rossin through Sauk City and to the Deininger brothers’ brewery; August Steinhorst, who fell into a brew kettle, was scalded and died a month later; and the Leinenkugel family, who are still making and selling beer today.
Research has taken Rossin to Eau Claire, because small breweries in Sauk City would shut down and the German families who owned them had the inclination to move north.
“They were entrepreneurs and kept buying their claims,” Rossin said. “They’d have a chance to buy a brewery farther upstate and establish it for a few years then move until they finally settled down.”
The brewers who moved north will be the subject of his next book.
Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society J. S. Tripp Museum manager Jack Berndt said Rossin’s book is worth the 44-page read.
“Sauk City has a rich, if not complicated, brewing history,” Berndt said. “There are so many that came and went through the years. Rich has greatly expanded on and further detailed the rich history of brewing in Sauk City. I always find it interesting when someone who doesn’t live here knows more about certain aspects of the Sauk Prairie area than those of us who live here.”
“Joseph Schorer and His Breweries in Sauk City and Elroy, Wisconsin” is available for $10 at the J. S. Tripp Museum, 565 Water St. in Prairie du Sac.