Photo courtesy of the Winona County Historical Society
A team of employees in 1895 show off the Bub’s horse-drawn delivery system and tools used to craft the beer.
At 86-years-old, Jerry Kulas can remember more about what he did 60 years ago than what most can remember from last week. Although it’s been years since Kulas was a brewmaster at Bub’s Brewery, which officially closed its doors in 1969, Kulas can still recall how to make Bub’s famous brews.
Kulas was born and raised in Winona. Growing up, his father and uncle used to run a butcher shop on Third Street. His father often butchered cattle and hogs in the countryside because, as Kulas explained, it provided more meat than what the packing companies provided. During times when goods were rationed during World War II, Winonans could purchase some of his father’s goods — like his blood sausage — without spending precious rations. Business was booming. However, his father changed careers when his eyesight started to fail. “The doctor said, ‘You need to get out of there. In another year, you’ll be blind and won’t be able to see a thing,’” Kulas recalled.
While Kulas’ father had worked in a butcher shop his whole life, in 1945, his father bought a small farm between Wilson and Witoka. The family purchased a team of horses and several cattle, and Kulas — who had worked on his uncle’s farm in the summer — helped out. He was 13 years old. Kulas dropped out of high school in his second year. “I dropped out because I was bored. I was interested in so many different things. If they would’ve had an advanced class for students to have the ability to get ahead, I would’ve been right there,” he said.
A couple years later, Kulas was drafted into the Army. Kulas went to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training, where he learned how to drive tanks and operate radios. He was sent overseas to Korea. “I later found out I had done so well that they thought about keeping me there as an instructor,” Kulas said. He was stationed in Korea for a year, but Kulas said there wasn’t much for him to do.
When he returned to Winona after a year, Kulas got married. The family farm, he explained, wasn’t large enough to support two families. His uncle worked at Bub’s Brewery. “He said, ‘There’s an opening there if you’d like to get started,’” Kulas recalled.
Throughout his time at Bub’s, Kulas held many positions. He started out on the clean-up crew, but after other staff members realized that he was a quick learner, he started working in other departments like the fermenting room, the cellar, and the bottling house. Kulas did odd jobs such as washing kegs and helping deliver beer. “I’d take everybody’s place when they went on vacation,” he said.
For two years, Kulas worked as brewmaster. When the former brewmaster suddenly died after getting an infection following surgery, Kulas became brewmaster. “Small breweries were closing up one right after the other, and I was a young guy. So I thought, ‘Gee, this isn’t a good future for me. I need something more,’” Kulas said. He eventually left the brewery and started working with boilers. Despite working at Bub’s 60 years ago, Kulas can still recall the exact process to create Bub’s beers.
“Down at Island City [Brewery], I was talking with Tom [Rodengen] and telling him what I use in a batch — how much malt, how much water, how much hops. I just remember it. It’s a gift. It’s nothing special,” Kulas said.
“It’s a great gift,” local historian Scot Simpson added. Simpson is working on an exhibit with Winona County Historical Society Curator Andy Bloedorn on the history of local breweries in Winona County.
Bub’s was originally founded by Jacob Weisbrod in 1856. Weisbrod learned how to craft beer in Germany, and he operated a brewery in East Burns Valley until a growing demand motivated him to build a brewery at the foot of the Sugar Loaf bluff. The brewery was called “Sugar Loaf Brewery.” However, Weisbrod died in 1870 and brewery foreman Peter Bub stepped up, married Weisbrod’s widow, and took over operations. In the first year, the brewery, which was renamed the Peter Bub Brewery, was able to produce double what the original East Burns Valley brewery was capable.
According to Simpson, some of Winona’s breweries went under during Prohibition. Bub’s, however, survived by making “near beer” and root beer. “Near beer is .05 [percent] alcohol,” Simpson explained. “The idea was that you could drink beer, but boy, good luck getting drunk.” While Bub’s weathered the storm of prohibition, the brewery couldn’t compete against some larger chains and eventually closed its doors in 1969. “That’s one of the reasons why Bub’s closed up. They couldn’t compete with all of the changes and different-size containers. Every little while someone would come out with different-sized cans or bottles or whatever,” Kulas said.
“This past year [boasted] the largest number of breweries in the United States in its history. The previous year was 1879,” Simpson said.
According to Bloedorn, he and Simpson were looking for potential new exhibits. With the opening of Island City Brewery, the pair got the idea to do an exhibit focused on the history of brewing in Winona County. Part of their research involved talking with Kulas.
The exhibit, Bloedorn said, will include a timeline marking the opening and closing of local breweries such a Bub’s, how historic events such as Prohibition affected the breweries, and the recent resurgence of breweries such as Island City, Wenonah Brewing Company, and Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company.
“Brewing up the Past: History of Winona’s Beer Industry” will open on August 16, 2018, and run through January 20, 2019.