Chances are, if your parents shopped at Milgram’s Food Stores here in Kansas City, you probably had Heidel Brau in your fridge. Heidel Brau was a flagship brand for Milgram’s, and could usually be had for a whopping 99 cents a six pack. Over the summer holidays, it usually dropped to 88 cents a six-pack. At our house, if Aggie wasn’t drinkin’ Scotch or Manhattans, there was Heidel Brau in the styrofoam cooler in the carport.
Believe it or not, Heidel Brau wasn’t a local brand. Heidel Brau was a brand owned and brewed by the Sioux City Brewing Company (SCB) in Sioux City, Iowa. While SCB dates back to 1869, the SCB operation that launched the Heidel Brau brand didn’t come into play until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
SCB purchased the assets of Interstate Brewing Company immediately following Prohibition. Operating out of the old Interstate facility in downtown Sioux City, its two flagship beers were Heidel Brau and Western Brew, along with some secondary brands such as Ace, Western Club and Sioux City Bock.
By 1937, SCB had a capacity of 75,000 barrels per year. In 1948, the company’s name was changed to Heidel Brau Brewing Company, but still operated under the SCB banner in the same location in Sioux City.
The year 1959 brought change to the company as Kingsbury Brewing Company of Manitowoc and Sheboygan, Wisc., purchased the brewery in March of that year. The brewery was renamed Kingsbury, Sioux City Brewing Company and continued production of Heidel Brau, as well as producing Kingsbury brands.
Despite promises from O.H. (“King”) Cole, Kingsbury, president of the company, to expand production and double the Sioux City plant’s workforce, the plant ceased production completely in 1960.
Shortly after the closure, the G. Heileman Brewing Company in LaCrosse, Wisc., purchased the assets of the old Sioux City and Kingsbury brands and renewed production at its LaCrosse facility. As the 1960’s progressed, Heileman grew exponentially, picking up Ace Brewing in 1963, Gluek in 1965 and Blatz in 1969.
Other historic U.S. brewing names that were consolidated into G. Heileman include Black Label, Blitz-Weinhard, Drewry’s, Falls City, Grain Belt, Gluek Brewing, National Bohemian, Olympia, Rainier, Christian Schmidt, Jacob Schmidt, and Wiedemann.
In 1996, the company was sold to competitor Stroh Brewery Company. Two years later, G. Heileman’s brewery names and intellectual properties became part of the Pabst Brewing Company, the current owner, when Stroh was split between Pabst and the Miller Brewing Company.
Today, Pabst oversees the brewing of a number of well-known Heileman brands, including Old Style and Special Export, under the G. Heileman name. Heidel Brau was produced in selected markets through 1990.
Special thanks go out to the librarians at the Sioux City Public Library for the century-old advertising, the newspaper images from the Sioux City Journal and the April 25th, 2016, article on the history of brewing in Sioux City, Iowa.
Thanks also to Taverntrove.com, a web site devoted to the history of brewing in America.