The history of Potosi goes back to the days of lead mining in southwestern Wisconsin. Situated in the Grant River Valley, the little village of Potosi (population 711) is very long, but very narrow, nestled in between the steep walls that form the valley. The town was named for Potosi, Boliva, a silver mining community in South America.
In 1852, Gabriel Hail and John Albrecht began brewing beer here for lead miners, farmers and others. Lead mining petered out, just about the same time gold was discovered in California, but mining of zinc revitalized the mining industry. In 1906, a group of brothers, led by Adam Schumacher, incorporated the Potosi Brewing Company. It grew to be the fifth largest brewery in Wisconsin, no small feat with the Uihlein family (Schlitz) Captain Frederick Pabst, Adam Gettelman, Frederick Miller and Val Blatz dominating beer making in Milwaukee, and other families in the state with once familiar names like Leinenkugel, Rahr's, Adam Blumer (the brewery was later renamed by Joseph Huber) also brewing beer in Wisconsin. Gottlieb Heileman was brewing beer right up the Mississippi River in La Crosse.
The beer industry in Wisconsin changed in the 1960s and 1970s, including the failure of Schlitz and Blatz, and many others. Eventually the Potosi Brewing Company also failed, closing its doors in 1972.
In the years the building stood empty, time took its toll and then a fire in 1995 all but destroyed the historic building. Where many saw destruction and ruin, artist Gary David saw opportunity. With the enthusiastic support of friends, Gary led a team that formed the Potosi Brewing Foundation, an IRS 501(c)3 organization that accepted the donation of the crumbling brewery building in 2001. After a $7.5 million restoration, the revitalized brewery reopened in 2008.
The enthusiasm and excellence of the Potosi Brewery Foundation led to the opening of the National Brewery Museum here in 2004.
The Potosi Brewery is on the Great River Road and is a must-see for anyone following the tour of the Mississippi River.