Spirited Glass: Miller Beer here!

Not all research done for "The Spirited Glass" turns out the way I expect it to. Sometimes, it takes more interesting turns.

Not long ago I was invited to attend a book signing by Tim John, author of the recently published "The Miller Beer Barons." John, son of former Miller president Harry John Jr., is the great-grandson of Frederick J. Miller, one of Milwaukee's earliest beer barons.

The book signing, to be preceded by a lecture on family history, was held at the Miller Inn, located in the lower level of a Miller Brewing Co. complex building in Milwaukee's industrial valley. (This is where most Miller Brewery tours conclude.) The obligatory hospitality hour featuring fine Miller products would precede the lecture.

John, as it turned out, was a very personable guy. As owner/operator of a successful religious publishing company in Milwaukee, John is not at all bothered by the fact that his father, who once owned 47 percent of Miller's stock, gave many of his millions away to Catholic charities and world relief organizations. "I sometimes wonder why he gave so much of his money away when I could have been living in a better house," John joked with the 50 or so attendees of his speech. "But don't worry about me. I'm doing fine."

Like most major industrialist families, the Miller clan was subject to bitter squabbles, turf battles and monetary wars. John's share of the family fortune turned out to be 37 file cabinets filled with documents, contracts and other papers that he mined for the content of his book.
Those who've read "The Miller Beer Barons," published by Badger Books in Oregon, Wis., speak highly of John's candidness. I expected a presentation rife with family intrigue and hysterical asides on which to report, but John's speech that evening was short, allowing the crowd to enjoy even more hospitality while John signed copies of his book.

The lull enabled me to sample a few more tasty draughts of Pilsner Urquell, produced by the Czech brewery owned by SABMiller plc, the South African conglomerate that, in turn, owns the Milwaukee brewery.

I also found out that the $10 admission price I paid was a fundraiser for the Museum of Beer and Brewing, a 501c (3) organization currently looking for a home somewhere in the city.

One would think Milwaukee, by its nature, would be its own brewing museum. The plethora of historic taverns, many former pre-Prohibition-tied houses established by the breweries themselves as outlets for their beer, would easily qualify some neighborhoods as national brewing historic districts, were there such a designation.

But like many such ideas, this is not one whose time has come. Instead, the group of 100 or so board officials and members of the would-be museum find themselves seeking funding to support a growing collection of brew(er)iana and memorabilia from Milwaukee's glory days as America's beer capital.

Meetings like the one featuring Tim John and fundraising dinners fill an increasingly more crowded events calendar.

The group, which has been around for several years, would like to move into space on the site of the former Pabst Brewery in downtown Milwaukee, according to its recent newsletter.

That still may happen, but in the meantime museum officials have been offered display space in the tasting room of the Milwaukee Brewing Co., which produces beer for Milwaukee Ale House in the city's Historic Third Ward.

Traveling displays from the museum's collection also are making the rounds and will include a stop at J.T. Whitney's Pub & Brewery on Madison's west side later this year.

For an organization without a home, there seems to be a lot going on with this group, not the least of which are lectures such as those by John.

To learn more about the Museum of Beer & Brewing, check out the group's Web site at www.brewingmuseum.org.

To learn more about squabbles within the Miller family, pick up a copy of "The Miller Beer Barons" or check out www.badgerbooks.com.