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Brewing beer in Old World Wisconsin

Man holding food in a bowl.
Old World Wisconsin
Rob Novak is the historic brewing experience coordinator at Old World Wisconsin.

From lagers to ales, many of Wisconsin's modern brewing techniques can be linked back to the state's earliest immigrants from the early 19th century.

Rob Novak, the historic brewing experience coordinator at Old World Wisconsin shares about how early 19th century German, English and Scandinavian immigrants brewed beer here and how we’ll be able to see their techniques in action today.

"With the buildings that we have on-site, our brewhouse will take influence from those 19th century time periods," Novak explains. "European beers were varied as much as European food is. When you think about locations on the continent, that's when you start to see different beer styles. They're going to be based on what folks had to brew with."

In North Central Europe, Germans had access to main grain ingredients like barley, hops, water and yeast to brew lagers. But they didn't have the same type of yeast when moving to Wisconsin, so they used native yeast instead.

The English, or Yankees, are unique in their brewing history because they came from New England. This population was already established in the country, so they had a lot more wealth. The Yankees had a more established brewing industry for ale beers.

Scandinavians in Wisconsin were a bit wild, Novak says. Back in Scandinavia, breweries used unusual ingredients like juniper and they fermented beer quick, murky and full of flavor.

It's important for Wisconsin to remember that while German settlers dominated the market in the 19th century, other immigrants such as Scandinavians and the English added to Wisconsin's unique brewing history. The goal is to bring that history to Old World Wisconsin.

"We do hope to periodically bring in ingredients that would have been used on the farms that we have here on site. We have farms ranging from 1850s through the early 1900s— from all these different nationalities. So the ultimate goal is to really show what these immigrants would have been doing to brew [beer] in their own homes," says Novak.

Tavern Tuesdays is in partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Old World Wisconsin to bring you stories about beer and brewing in our state. We'll be sharing these histories with you leading up to the grand opening of Old World Wisconsin’s new brewing experience on June 18 in Eagle, Wisconsin.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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