The limestone brewery tucked in the hillside on the edge of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, was built by William Terrill sometime in 1850. The construction cost $4,000. A piece in the local paper from February 1851 says that the brewery building is for rent and “We hope the time comes when Mr. Terrill will find it to his advantage to occupy this building for some better purpose.” William Terrill brewed beer for a short period of time and was suceeded by Jacob Roggy.
In 1854, Charles and Frederick Gillmann purchased the brewery. In 1855, Jacob Spielmann was admitted as a partner. The firm name was Gillmann Bros. & Co., the brewery was called “Wisconsin Brewery”. In 1868, Jacob Spielmann disposed of his interest to the Gillmann brothers. In 1874 Charles Gillmann became the sole proprietor, at which time the production was about 2,500 barrels a year.
On May 23, 1878 the brewery was hit by a tornado. The brewery and five surrounding outbuildings were all severely damaged. During that summer and fall the brewery was rebuilt with the most modern equipment. The “Tornado Brewery” had a new capacity of 6,000 barrels per year. It was regarded as one of the leading brewing establishments of Iowa County. At that time it employed six workers and distributed beer in Iowa, LaFayette, and Grant Counties.
In the fall of 1897, Ballo Breutting purchased the brewery. Some changes and enlargements came with his ownership. On April 24, 1902 while Ballo Breutting was attending entertainment at the Masonic lodge, a fire broke out at the brewery. Much of the building was burned and the equipment was melted and warped in the fire, a large stash of beer remained unharmed in the cellars. Ballo Breutting had an estimated $50,000 in the brewery and equipment with $13,000 of insurance. The damages were too costly and rendered him unable to recover from the damages, thus ending his brewing venture.
In March 1903 Otto Lieder and his brother-in-law, Frank Unterholzner bought the brewery. They rebuilt the burned brewery for $20,000. The new brewing capacity was upgraded to 10,000 barrels a year. The brewery was named the “Mineral Spring Brewing Company”. Its namesake was the 50 gallon a minute spring that flowed through the bottom portion of the building which was utilized to make the beer. The spring still flows through the building at present day.
Otto Lieder, the brewmaster, got his brewing experience at the Ruhland Brewery in Baraboo where he worked for 21 years. Frank Unterholzner ran the 268-acre brewery farm where they grew the crops needed for brewing the beer. The farm enabled them to continue producing beer during the war when there was rationing. It is said that larger brewing companies bought beer from Mineral Spring during this time, to sell as their own.
In 1921 Mineral Spring formed a corporation. The corporation was headed by Otto Lieder, Frank Unterholzner, Ray Lieder Sr., and Milton Unterholzner. From 1940 to 1957 Mary Lieder (Otto's wife and Frank's sister) was the president. In 1957 Ray Lieder Jr. took over the presidency and Milton Unterholzner served as vice president.
By the 1960's times were rough for little brewing companies. Mineral Spring was no exception. They found themselves faced with two options, reinvesting in the brewery or stopping production. Many bigger brewing companies were coming on strong and lots of small town breweries found themselves closing their doors. The choice was made and on May 23, 1961 Mineral Spring Brewery closed.
Before closing, most of the beer was sold off within a 60-mile radius of Mineral Point. Six trucks delivered beer to Dubuque, Rockford, Kenosha, Racine, and Madison. At the time of closing the board of directors consisted of two Lieder daughters, Mrs. Stella Lieder Simpson and Mrs. Cecelia Lieder Leahy along with Dr. Lawerence Unterholzner. The officers were; president, Ray Lieder Jr.; vice president Charles Bolan; treasurer, Charles Esch and secretary, Kenneth Ellery.
It was very hard on the town of Mineral Point to have the brewery close after an impressive 111 year run. In a newspaper article about the closing, Ray Lieder Sr. remembered delivering beer to Linden, Mifflin, Rewey, Dodgeville, Hollandale, and Blanchardville with a horse drawn wagon. He started working at the brewery at the ripe old age of nine and retired as the head brewmaster when he was sixty.
Not directly related to the building history but of note is the story of bishop William P. O’Conner of the catholic diocese of Madison recalling the time he of received a letter from a Chicago bishop asking for the transfer of a young priest from “Mineral Spring parish”. He replied back “Mineral Spring is the beer and Mineral Point is the town.”
In the mid 1960's, several years after Mineral Spring Brewery closed, Ken Colwell purchased the building and grounds. Ken lived in the malting tower and used the top two floors as a weaving museum and workshop called “The Looms”. The Looms was housed in the brewery building until 1990 when it was relocated to downtown Mineral Point. Also in 1990, a winery signed a lease and began renting the bottom portion of the brewery to make and sell sweetly flavored wines. They rented space from 1990 to 1995 until they relocated their winery to a neighboring town.
Tom and Diana Johnston bought the brewery from Ken Colwell in 1991. By 1992 they had moved in with their two children and set up their pottery studio. Making pottery together for over 40 years the Johnstons have found the brewery a perfect place to pursue their dreams. They make their home in an open loft area across the top of the building. Their work space, kiln, and gallery are housed on the main floor. The 30 x 40 primary fermentation room provides a wonderful space for a basketball court and a golf driving range. The bottom floor is used as a woodworking space and welding studio.
Brewery Pottery gives one an ever-changing view behind the scenes in a working pottery studio. The old brewery is an enchanting setting for the gallery that features the Johnstons’ pottery, mixed media sculptures, and paintings as well as an eclectic variety of artwork made by local and regional artists throughout the country. There is also a small museum area where visitors can see a collection of Mineral Spring Brewery artifacts. The Johnstons are delighted to make the old brewery their home and workspace and they enjoy sharing it with visitors. Brewery Pottery is open daily April-December, 10am-5pm. Off season the hours are by chance or appointment.
The eight-acre brewery property includes the 20,000 square foot brewery, a barn used for the brewery's draft horses, and several outbuildings used for various purposes during brewing years. There is a vast cistern or spring box that sits across the driveway from the building that was used to hold ice water used for the home-made cooling system. There was once an icehouse across the road that supplied the ice for this cistern. The spring that flows through the lower portion of the building fills a four-inch pipe, halfway full, all year. The building stays cool from the spring water as well as being set in the hillside. There are 5,000 square feet of caverns tucked in the hillside which were used to keep the beer cool. According to brewery historians this brewery is the oldest occupied brewery in Wisconsin.