Friday, June 20, 2014

King Gambrinus in Two Dimensions

This is the second of two consecutive posts devoted to King Gambrinus, often called the patron of beer and brewing, a figure whose origins are lost in the mists of past centuries but whose visage frequently is seen in connection with the barley brew.   The prior post featured the many times the good monarch has been depicted in three dimensions -- statuary.  There was a remarkable sameness in most of the sculptures,  regardless of era or materials.

The same cannot be said of Gambrinus as he is depicted in two dimensions in a wide range of formats.  The first example here is a framed art piece of the king holding the traditional foaming goblet of beer.   Reputedly dating from the 1880s  in France, it bears a caption that says:  “Gambrinus I:  Grand Etude Aux de Crayons,”  translated “A Large Study with Pencils.”  That is something of a mystery since the picture seems to have been painted.  In any case, it depicts the king at his majestic best,  tastefully clad and noble of visage.   This Gambrinus would make drinking beer a thoroughly ennobling experience.

Contrast it with the next Gambrinus,  a seriously overweight monarch with a pendulous belly.  Even while tapping a keg to fill a stein proffered by one of his subjects the king seems deep in an alcoholic slumber.  The supporting characters, numbering about 15, are also interesting, particularly the serious looking gent sitting at the front reading a newspaper. He may be “Mr. Dry,” a top-hatted man with a sour look who came in many forms and was the image of the Prohibitionist.   This image is a well-wrought color lithograph on a bar tray.  It was issued for Arrow Beer by the Globe Brewery of Baltimore.   Although this company was able to hang on for a time during Prohibition, it did not survive the period.  The site of the brewery on South Hanover Street has long since been built over by the development of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

The model for the Arrow Beer Gambrinus may have been a 1800s depiction of the king as,  let’s admit it, a sloppy drunk.  Not only is he asleep and bears the well-recognized  symptom of a “beer gut,”  he has lost one shoe and is in danger of dropping his scepter. He definitely has no kingly qualities.   Contrast him with the Gambrinus on a 1895 German-made Mettlach beer stein.   Although this king is a man of considerable girth, he is a fearsome figure, a scowl on his face and a sword by his side.  The object of his wrath, however, is not immediately apparent.   He seems to be picking a blossom from a hops plant, hops being an essential ingredient of beer.  Is the blossom just too small?

Unlike the Arrow Beer example above, carrying and tip trays usually had more traditional depiction's of the king.  These usually were given by breweries to favored customers such as saloons or restaurants.  Gambrinus Beer of Portland, Oregon, provided a color lithograph on metal tray with the traditional monarch, looking fully majestic as he contemplates a quaff.  This brewery was founded in 1875 by Louis Fuerer.  Under Fuerer and subsequent management, the operation survived until Oregon went dry in 1916.  The plant and the brand were revived in 1933 under the auspices of the Rose City Brewing Company.  The Great Depression apparently doomed the effort and it shut down for good in 1940.

Casey & Kelly provided a tray that bears strong resemblance to the Portland product. In both the king is garbed in green and has a long reddish beard and hair.   This king, however, wears around his neck a “star of David,” a symbol long identified with the Jewish faith.  The answer may lie in the strong influence of Mennonite Christians in the spirits trade.  Barred   from many occupations in Europe, they frequently were the brewers, distillers and tavern keepers.   Mennonites believed themselves to have a special affinity with the ancient Israelites and adopted the symbol.  Here it is affixed to Gambrinus.  Established in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1892,  the brewery was one of 20 listed during that period for Scranton and obviously found it hard to break through the competition to find a customer base.  It closed only five years later in 1897.   This provides a relatively narrow window for dating the colorful tray.

Two Gambrinus beers were produced in the United States.  One from Portland and the other from Columbus, Ohio.   The Midwest version was brewed by August Wagner & Sons Brewing Company and advertised as “The Beer Your Daddy Drank.”  Its king stands on a keg much as did a statue at the brewery shown in my previous post.  A immigrant from Bavaria,  Wagner opened his brewery a the corner of West Sycamore and Front in Columbus in 1906.  It survived, with time out for Prohibition, into the 1970s.

Although the Mettlach stein shown here portrayed an angry and aggressive Gambrinus,  most German steins have used the more traditional approach.  Shown here are two examples, both from reasonably contemporary drinking vessels.  One features an underglaze painted version of the king with the motto “Proset,” i.e. “Drink Up,” at under his bust.   The other in bas relief shows the monarch sitting on a throne make from a beer keg.  He seems happy although it cannot be a comfortable perch.

Although the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee featured the giant statue of Gambrinus, as shown in the prior post,  its cross-town rival,  Blatz Brewery,  featured a standing king on a brass token,  probably meant as a pocket “good luck” charm.  The reverse side contains the date 1863 and advertises “City Brewery & Malt House, Milwaukee.”  That was the name that Valentine Blatz gave his brewing operation after taking over a small brewery in 1851 and expanding into one of the nation’s largest,  occupying nearly an entire city block at the corner of Broadway and Division Streets in Milwaukee.

One brewery even gave his majesty a musical march.  Shown here is the front of a sheet of music entitled “Koenig (King) Gambrinus.  It shows the king amidst hops blossoms with scepter and a glass of beer in hand.  The piece was copyrighted in 1915 by the Sieben Brewery Company of Chicago,  which apparently commissioned its composition and to whom it is dedicated.   The composer was H. Sallmann, who does not seem to have written anything else of note (pun intended).  Michael Sieben, a immigrant from Mainz, Germany, founded his brewery on Pacific Avenue near Clark and Polk Streets in Chicago in 1865.  It survived and thrived until shut down by Prohibition in 1920.

Now that we have seen the many manifestations of King Gambrinus, who was he and where did he come from?   Although he often is called a “patron saint” of beer, brewing and brewers, he is definitely not a saint,  though a patron he may be.  He is a legendary European folk hero, celebrated as an symbol of beer drinking,  sometime jovial, sometime not;  sometimes a drunkard,  usually not.   Some think he is patterned after John the Fearless, others on John Primus, Duke of Brabant.  Still others put forward additional historical or legendary candidates.  The Wikipedia entry on Gambrinus runs to many paragraphs.  The curious are invited to go there and be confused.  Here it is enough to say that as an icon Gambrinus has shown amazing staying power through the centuries and is likely to remain with us in a wide range of formats for as long as there is beer to drink.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

King Gambrinus in Three Dimensions

Living in Milwaukee as I did for a number of years, a tour of the Pabst Brewery, close to the heart of the city,  was a frequent pastime.  It was there that I first made my acquaintance with King Gambrinus,  known worldwide as the patron (but not patron saint) of beer and beer drinking.  This post and the next will be devoted to this historic, likely imaginary, figure.  This installment is devoted to the statues of this redoubtable monarch.  The next post will illustrate how he has been depicted over the centuries on other artifacts.

Gambrinus statues continue to intrigue me.  The original at the Pabst site was installed about 1857 when the brewery was known as the Best Brewery.   It was carved from wood by sculptor Gustav Haug and likely is the one shown above, high in the air, in a photo from the mid-1800s.  According to a company history,  by 1872 a new statue was needed and Carl Kuehns, a carver from a Milwaukee furniture company created a copy of Haug’s work.  This Gambrinus, at the time I was touring the brewery, was located near the entrance to the “tasting room,”  where a copy of this postcard view was available.

Over time that statue deteriorated and was sold in 1966.  Before it disappeared, however, a new cast aluminum version was commissioned that stood Pabst  until 1996 when, sadly, the brewery closed.  That Gambrinus traveled to several places, including installation at a cafeteria for brewery workers in Illinois.  When a restaurant and watering hole opened in Milwaukee in part of the old Pabst complex, the owner negotiated a loan to return the statue to its original site, where it stands today as shown here.  Although it echoes Kuehns' version in many ways, the latest king has a different style belt.

Some histories date the popularity of Gambrinus to the statue that stood over the entrance of the Brewers’ Hall at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  German-American brewers were inspired to install their own figures of the king.  Note that all of the 3-D images shown here are characterized by the king standing on a keg and brandishing a stein or goblet.

LaCrosse, Wisconsin, boasted two such statues.   Shown here, one Gambrinus has a stunned expression as if he had just noticed that his beer goblet is empty.  Made of concrete, this statue was bought by the Heileman Brewery from a defunct competitor in 1939 and is now installed near a city park.  The other King Gambrinus is made of Cor-Ten steel and was installed in front of the Heileman corporate headquarters.  The unadorned metal gives the statue a severe look that seems out of keeping with the “gemutlichkeit” (cozy and festive) nature of beer drinking.

As shown here, the next Gambrinus originally stood on a pedestal high up on the wall of the August Wagner Brewery in Columbus, Ohio.   When the brewery went bankrupt, it appeared that the king was headed for the junkyard or an equally ignominious fate.  In 1975, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper rescued him and had him restored.  Today this Gambrinus can be viewed, as seen here, in a red cloak and black tunic,  aggressively offering up a beer toast.

As breweries have gone defunct, their Gambrinus images often have ended up in museums.   The Haberele family operated a brewery in Syracuse, New York, from the late 1880s until Prohibition and then resumed upon Repeal only to close for good in 1962.  At the time it owned a Gambrinus, seen here, that was 12 feet tall and weighed 1,500 pounds.  Luckily the Onondoga (County) Historical Museum was able to accommodate it.  The rescued king’s cup overflows as he greets visitors to the collection.

Another Gambrinus that might have ended on a scrap heap was ransomed by the Maryland Historical Society.   Made of zinc, it stood at the American Brewery, founded in 1887 by J.F. Weissner, a German immigrant.  That brewery survived until 1975 when it closed and its complex -- and the statue -- was abandoned. As shown here, its rescuers subsequently fully restored the image to its original glory. Baltimore’s Gambrinus now greets visitors to the Society’s museum on Monument Street.   Note that the keg on which the king leans is festooned with hops leaves and blossoms, a slightly different touch.

European breweries have long featured Gambrinus statues as their symbol.  They are most common in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Other countries have used the icon as well.  For example, at a large beer hall in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, stands a huge Gambrinus made of a resin material.  In the country on business, for me it was like seeing an old friend as I entered the beer hall.  Just one more will suffice, a labeled Gambrinus from a niche in a brewery wall in Lomice, the Czech Republic.

Note:  The Gambrinus post to follow will delve more deeply into the king’s origins and illustrate various ways he has been depicted in two dimensions over the centuries.