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Monday, March 05, 2012

Ghosts of Breweries Past

The 1948 Jimmy Stewart movie Call Northside 777 was, remarkably, the first ever filmed in Chicago. It was based on a real murder case, and producers thought the verisimilitude of the actual Windy City would lend itself to the documentary feel. They were right. Chicago was a gritty, working-class town emerging from the stockyard past but nowhere near the shiny Sears Tower stage. At one point, Stewart's character, a reporter, has to go into the Polish part of town to find a shadowy figure who has gone into hiding. As he roams the real Chicago streets, ducking into bar after bar, he passes these two signs:
(That's him almost obscured in shadows entering the bar.)

As it turns out, Fox DeLuxe and Kingsbury were both real breweries. Fox was a Grand Rapids, MI brewery that survived for just 11 years, while Kingsbury had a much more illustrious life. Founded in Manitowoc, WI in 1847, it was one of those 700-odd breweries that managed to hang on through Prohibition, lasting until 1963 when Heileman gobbled it up. (The name had a zombie life, like so many other American brands, and apparently there's still a non-alcoholic beer that bears the name. Sad.)

As I watched the names flit by, I felt a dual wave of sadness: first that so many American breweries have vanished (I know, the virtuous churn of capital and all that), but second because, by using LA as a stand-in for all other American cities, we have lost these kinds of records. How many more signs might we have of flickering neon breweries if movies had been filmed in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit?


  1. My mom has told me a story about her father, an avid Chicago White Sox fan and, not coincidentally, a beer drinker. He attended Sox games regularly. At some point in his tenure as main fan, they switched from whatever they had been serving in the ballpark to Fox Deluxe. He was not pleased with that beer and how much they charged for it. I'm sure he hated what they charged for everything at the games, but that beer evidently didn't suit his pallet.

  2. We were similarly distracted watching Passport to Pimlico, filmed on location in south London immmediately after World War II. In almost every shot we could see advertising material for Jenning's Brewery. We assumed they'd made it up for the film but, no, it was real.

  3. I read 05 Colorado brewery survived Prohibition:
    - Coors Brewery [Golden]
    - Scheider's Brewery [Trinidad]
    - Trivoli Brewery [Denver]
    - Waters Brewery [Pueblo]
    - name/location of the fifth unknown, currently to me.

    Coors exist today as part of MolsonCoors; which is in turn a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company [wikip reports].

    In contract, today there are over 130 breweries in Colorado with more than 60 in planning.
    Seems like a golden age.

  4. Golden age, or bubble? Perhaps they're one and the same. :-)

  5. The Fox Deluxe story is a pretty complicated one- in the early '40's, the Michigan company was purchased by the Peter Fox Brewing Co. of Chicago, and it appears the brand was brewed in both MI and IL- so at the time of the film it would have been a local Chicago beer.

    Later, in the 50's, it merged with yet another "Fox" brewery- Foxhead of Waukesha, WI. Heileman bought their in the early '60's.

    The Fox Deluxe label itself appears to have lasted into, at least, the 1970's, as a Heileman and later a Cold Spring brand.

  6. The Fox Deluxe story is indeed complicated and, appropriately enough for this "noir" Jimmy Stewart movie, rather sinister. Fox Deluxe was the brand of Peter Fox Brewing which started in 1933 in the old Hoffman Bros. facility on West Monroe in Chicago. Peter Fox later took over old breweries in Grand Rapids, MI (1940-51) and Marion, IN (1941-49) and used them to brew Fox Deluxe, too. By 1955 the Peter Fox operations had contracted back to Chicago and were taken over by some people with connections to serious Outfit characters... Accardo, Cerone, etc. The new management shut down the Chicago operation in December 1955 and moved their activity to Waukesha and the Fox Head brewery. After a period of management turmoil, Heileman stepped in (1962 I believe) and took over the remnants of Fox Head and Fox Deluxe. I don't know how long Heileman kept the brand going.

  7. TRIVIA 46!!!!!