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Discovering a Legacy

on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 9:45pm

I think it is pretty safe to say that most people share at least these two objectives in life: 1.) to find something they are truly passionate about, and 2.) to display some level of originality. There was a time, not too long ago, that I would have put a check mark next to both of those goals. Originality has since been put on suspension, pending further review.

For generations before me, my family has been kept in employment by one of the oldest professions on earth. I know what you're thinking, and no, I do not, in-fact, hail from a long line of prostitutes. The profession I am referring to, of course, is brewing. At the time I developed my passion for the craft, I was completely in the dark as to the vocation of my ancestors. For all I knew, I was being completely original and taking a new and untested path when I took up the art of brewing myself (I am using the word 'art' loosely here in reference to my early experiments in brewing…kind of like Picasso's mother may have referred to her 5-year-old's finger paintings as 'art'…not that I'm comparing myself to Picasso or anything…I don't even like cubes). Anyway, you can imagine my dismay when I discovered my great-great-grandfather's obituary in an old family scrapbook and read about how he, too, was a brewer, and an award winning brewmaster at that. Way to steal my thunder!

According to the obit and a few family members I interviewed on the subject, Louis Kuhn (Kuhn is my maternal grandmother's maiden name) had gotten a job with the Springfield Breweries Company as a young German immigrant in 1890. He soon thereafter became their master brewer and, with enough confidence in his beer, took a few barrels back to Germany with him to compete in an international beer competition. Keep in mind this was long before you could simply jump on a plane and be there in less than half-a-day for just a few hundred bucks and a friendly TSA reach-around. So, I can only imagine the relief that fell over him when he beat out the 27 other entries and won the gold medal. That would have been a long ship ride back had he come in dead last. I imagine that Dr. Seuss' father was fairly impressed as well, since they renamed the beer 'Gold Medal Tivoli' upon his return. (Waaait, baack up…hold the phone…did he just say Dr. Seuss?…what is he talking about?…is he for real?…why is he talking in the third person?...what could The Seuss possibly have to do with anything???) Well, I will tell you.

Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodore Geisel, had a brewing legacy of his own. You see, his father, Theodore Geisel, Sr., was the owner and president of the Springfield Breweries Company. So, while my great-great-grandfather was hard at work in the brewery, a young Dr. Seuss was running around refusing to eat his green eggs and ham and still didn't know all the places he would go.

It wasn't until I began studying brewing at the Siebel Institute in Chicago last year that I was informed by my aunt that my great-grandfather, Henry Kuhn, (Louis' son) was not only a brewmaster as well, but had attended Siebel himself over 100 years ago. I didn't fully believe it until I tracked down his class picture hanging on the wall just a few feet from my seat in the classroom. I'm sure he would have thought it just as strange that his great-grandson would be learning his craft at the very institution where he studied brewing. The same would probably go for Henry's classmate, Charles Joseph Koch, whose future grandson, Charles James (Jim) Koch, would also take up the trade and later create the best selling craft beer brand in America, Samuel Adams.

In following the tradition of the generations before him, my great-uncle, Albert Kuhn, also attended Siebel (class of 1938) and later became the brewmaster of the Erie Brewing Co. that brewed Koehler Beer, while my grandfather owned Central Beer Distributors, a wholesaler of regional beers in Erie, Pennsylvania.

I am not one to read too much into signs, but discovering three generations before you had followed such a similar path is a hard thing to ignore….I am officially unoriginal.