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.