Nearly century ago, a Wisconsin maltster heads to Japan

Photo by Robert Huffstutter via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the heels of Tuesday’s post about small-scale maltsters who are supplying microbreweries with an essential beer-making ingredient, I thought I’d share a fascinating piece [PDF] from Wisconsin Historical Magazine about a Wisconsin maltster who lived and worked a century ago.

In his look at a bygone age of industrial brewing, Jeff Haas details the experiences of his great-grandfather who heads to Japan as the U.S. is on the brink of Prohibition.

Although Haas touches on aspects of Wisconsin brewing history in his piece, he begins with a focus on his forebear:

On July 16, 1917, after a three-day train trip from Duluth to Seattle, thirty-nine year old August Groeschel found himself aboard the S. S. Sado Maru on his way to Yokohama, Japan. The Wisconsin native carried with him a one-year contract with the Kirin Brewing Company, which guaranteed him $125 per month plus living expenses. The generous salary (which Groeschel would re-negotiate to $225 shortly after his arrival) was for his expertise as a maltster and an engineer, a career he had begun more than two decades earlier in his hometown of Kewaskum in Washington County, just forty miles northwest of Milwaukee’s lakefront. The salary was significant for the time, but it was not the only incentive for Groeschel to leave the U.S. and his beloved family. He believed this international assignment would garner him a level of prestige that would ultimately allow him the higher management responsibilities that he desired, but that were out of reach at home. The contract with Kirin, however, was not the only thing that he carried with him. August Groeschel had tuberculosis, and his career ambitions would rest as much on his overall health as well as his two decades of expertise. In a series of letters home, he brought a Wisconsin perspective abroad, and he described the frustrations and the satisfactions of doing the most familiar work he knew in the most unfamiliar place he had ever been.

The full piece is an interesting look at an earlier era of domestic and international beer-making through the lens of one man’s life, so I encourage you to check it out [PDF].



  1. Animockery

    This was an interesting story. I look for current day micro-brew people in Wisconsin all the time but never went digging for the little folks of the past or interesting brewers of the past like this one. Thanks for sharing.

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