WisBusiness: Family brewery reopens nearly 40 years after shutting down

By Brian E. Clark

There was sadness among Fauerbach family members when the Madison brewery that bore their name for 120 years closed in 1966.

"It was even sadder when they knocked the building on the shore of Lake Monona the next year," recalled Neil Fauerbach. "I was around 13 and I remember it all too well. It was just east of Machinery Row."

Fauerbach was one of 17 Wisconsin breweries that closed in the 1960s, most because they were unable to compete against national brewers.

But the memory of that beer-making legacy never died, said Fauerbach, who – along with his brother, David and cousin Peter Fauerbach – is bringing the brand back to the market this spring as a craft beer.

"We’re proud to be bringing back part of Madison’s history,"

They timed the announcement of the restart to today (April 7), because that was the day in 1933 when 13 years of Prohibition ended and the original Fauerbach brewery reopened its doors, Neil said.

The first beer will be a Vienna-style lager with an amber color, he said. It will be served at a "prominent establishment" that he declined to identify.

"I can’t let that out until the bar manager says it passes the taste test," he said.

By June, it should be widely available in taverns, he added.

"We think beer connoisseurs will love it," he said of the lager, which will be produced by brewmaster Fred Gray of Gray’s Brewery, a family business in Janesville. The trio chose H&M Distributors of Madison, also a family business, to distribute their products.

Neil said the original brewery, a union shop, was once one of the largest employers in the city with more than 100 employees. It made a variety of beers. Fauerbach was the only Madison beer maker to survive Prohibition, in large part by selling alcohol-free beer and soda pop. Neil said he does not believe his forebearers made bootleg beer.

Neil said both his brother and cousin make beer in their homes.

"I guess you could say this idea has been brewing for a while," said Neil, who is handling the finance and business end of the new company. "Distributors over the years said they would carry it if we brought it back. There was value in the name."

"But it really took off after Peter – whose father, Karl, was the last brewmaster – developed the www.fauerbachbrewery.com website," Neil said. "People came out of the woodwork. They told us in the ’50s and ’60s it was the only beer they drank. Two cases for $5."

The site is chock full of beer labels, other memories and a long history of the German immigrant family and its brewery. The site also features other Madison-area breweries.

Neil, 51, said the timing is right for him, his brother and cousin to restart the company. Neil wrote the business plan for the company as part of an MBA class at Edgewood College.

"My kids are out of the house and I have time to do this," said Neil, who is director of business development for the Smith and Gesteland CPA firm.

Cousin Peter is a health care consultant and brother David is a designer at Jenkins Research and Manufacturing. All three will keep their day jobs, working on the family brewery project nights and weekends.