Potosi opens National Brewery Museum

This summer, it’s all about the water – around the barge and by the glass.

The Great River Road, whose near-3,000 miles lead motorists into 10 states along the Mississippi, is 70 years old. One of the smaller towns on this national parkway is about to make big-time history.

Potosi, population 725 and in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, soon opens the National Brewery Museum, a $6 million project that St. Louis and Milwaukee tried in vain to lure. The American Breweriana Association chose Potosi because of the village’s long brewing history and confidence that local residents would see the project through.

Location is the four-story, 1852 Potosi Brewing Co. “We’re fortunate this building was still standing,” says Frank Fiorenza, village president since 1995. “It looked war-torn, but the foundation was still solid.”

Also in the building will be a Great River Road interpretive center, transportation (road/rail/river) museum, national brewery reference library, gift shop, microbrewery and restaurant.

Brewmaster Steve Zuidema will tap into local spring water to produce root beer, an amber ale, Good Old Potosi (a pilsner), Holiday Bock and Snake Hollow IPA. (Snake Hollow is a reference to when rattlesnakes were found in mining caves.)

Steve also brews seasonal beers; Potosi Steamer Hefe Weiss is the first.

Chef Jason Culbertson, a Le Cordon Bleu grad, will use beer in casual and fine dining menus at the museum. One example: beer cheese soup with red peppers.

Vintage beer ads will play on a museum TV screen. Exhibit items come from hundreds of private collections and do not replace Passage Thru Time, a longstanding local history museum with Osceola arrowheads and artifacts, plus beer memorabilia.

Expect to see rare, pre-Prohibition brewing equipment, long stored in a farm shed in Slinger. Unusual tales revolve around the Potosi Steamer, which until 1917 delivered pony kegs to Dubuque while quenching the thirst of 100 passengers. “Potosi’s rolling bar, for 30 years,” Frank says. “It was the bar that came to you.”

Then there was the elongated 1929 Pontiac – big enough for six bartenders at work out of at once and a popular rental unit for weddings. “It had no liquor license,” Frank says, “so you couldn’t sell beer from it, but you could give it away.”

The vehicle – found in a Hazel Green field, 25 miles southeast – will be restored for the museum.

“We have so many artifacts,” Frank says, “so we can change exhibits easily during the year.” Many items come from the breweriana group’s 3,200 members.

The National Brewery Museum opens June 19, and the grand opening celebration is July 5. Brewery Fest 2008, on June 14, raises funds for the museum. About $4.8 million of the $6 million already has been secured.

For more: www.potosibrewery.com, 608-763-4002. The museum is at 209 S. Main St., Potosi. Restoration of the square block of buildings began in 1995.

For more about highlights along the Great River Road: www.experiencemississippiriver.com, www.wigreatriverroad.org, 800-658-9480. Most of the route’s 250 miles in Wisconsin are along Highway 35; an exception is Highway 133, which cuts through Potosi.

For more about the American Breweriana Association: www.americanbreweriana.org.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not noticed Potosi in the 1940s and decided it had the longest Main Street without an intersection. The community is sandwiched between two bluffs.

Potosi’s Main Street ends at the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River Refuge, a national wildlife area. For more: www.fws.gov, 507-452-4232.

What else? Tour the 1827 St. John lead mine in Potosi, or take a tube float on the Grant River for three hours. Renting a canoe is another option. For more: www.grantcounty.org, 866-472-6894.

Local commerce slowly is expanding because of the new museum. One example: a 1902 beer bottling facility opened this year as a country craft store. Bill and Mary Uppena of Platteville say they made the move because of the beer museum.

Wisconsin has another budding beer shrine. Expect the Milwaukee Beer Museum, 722 S. Fifth St., to open sometime in July.

“We want it to be a central repository for Milwaukee beer history,” says Jim Kupferschmidt, who owns a garage door company but also has a passion for brewing. At its peak, in the 1870s to 1880s, Milwaukee had about 40 breweries.

Jim and four buddies pooled their money to buy an 1877 Walkers Point building and restore it. Edward A. Green, who designed “Streets of Old Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum, donated his assistance.

At the core will be Milwaukee beer history from the 1840s to present, supplemented by rotating exhibits from elsewhere.

For more: www.milwaukeebeermuseum.com, 414-643-0050.

Jim hopes to eventually open the museum from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with beer-related tours on weekends. It’s not just about sipping suds: A Forest Home Cemetery tour pays respects to the city’s beer barons – Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz, Best. The next is Oct. 25.