Beer has a long history. Recently there was an entire exhibit dedicated to the history of beer at the Field Museum in partnership with the Chicago Brewseum that ran from November 2, 2018 to September 27, 2020. It revolved around the idea that beer transformed Chicago—Conrad Seipp is a big part of that story.
“Seipp is certainly a major figure in Chicago's brewing history,” says Liz Garibay, founder and executive director of the Chicago Brewseum. “He took his and Lehmann's small operation and built it into something grand.”
On March 4, Metropolitan Brewing had a socially-distanced, masks-required release party for the latest Conrad Seipp Brewing beer, Columbia Bock, on Chicago’s 184th birthday. Conrad Seipp Brewing is the project of Laurin Mack, a direct descendant of Seipp, and was the largest brewery in Chicago from 1854 to 1933. Mack revived the brand in 2020 with their first beer release, the Pre-Prohibition Lager, brewed today with a recipe from the vaults of the Conrad Seipp estate.
“The Columbia was originally brewed by the Conrad Seipp Brewing Company for the 1893 World’s Fair,” Mack says. “The purpose of the World’s Fair was to display all the latest and greatest the world had to offer and it was also, in a way, a huge celebration of Chicago's recovery from the Great Fire. We wanted to honor that seminal, historical event and recognize today's parallels as we work together to, hopefully, recover from the pandemic.”
In resurrecting the Seipp brand, Mack has an eye towards what beer means for community, history, and the story we tell about the places we’re from. The first beer this new/old brand launched was the Pre-Prohibition Lager, which comes from the actual recipe brewed in Chicago during important events like the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. People might have had Seipp beer in the stands of the 1908 World Series where the Cubs famously won their second most recent title, or in 1919 when the White Sox made their own kind of history. People could have enjoyed a cold Seipp beer after a hard day’s work of reversing the flow of the Chicago River in 1900. This beer and this company act as a sort of time travel device that puts you directly in touch with these far away times and places that we still have a connection to here.
I didn’t put the two things together until the release party, but Metropolitan Brewing, who contract brews these beers for the Seipp Brewing brand, has this turn-of-the-century robot motif that runs through everything they do that seems to be inspired by the 1927 Fritz Lang film of a similar name, Metropolis.
“Many of us here at Metro love science fiction, and our use of robots is more about that than anything else,” says Tracy Hurst, cofounder and president of Metropolitan Brewing. “The fact that the German masterpiece Metropolis features one of the most badass robots ever imagined is a happy accident! That said, the robot that is featured on our packing is named Fritz, for Fritz Lang.”
This old-school/futuristic brewery taproom played host to this truly historical beer launch party, where guests drank a very old beer while standing next to robots that Metropolitan uses as tap handles at beer fests. The beer we were drinking was the Columbia Bock, a dark in color, slightly dry German lager known for its extra strength and light sweetness, originally debuted by Seipp. All that is known of this original Columbia Bock recipe was that it was dark in color and that the beer was high in alcohol by volume. Since the original recipe is lost to history, Hurst chose to use Munich malts, that are kilned at a higher temperature to give the end result beer a toasty even biscuity flavor.
“We have brewed a limited release smoked bock under the Metropolitan name before, but a bock has not entered our regular line-up as of yet,” says Doug Hurst, Metropolitan cofounder and head brewer. “Unfortunately, there are almost no records from 1893 Seipps brewery so we're basing it upon what other breweries may have been brewing and our understanding of techniques and ingredients which were available at the time. We're using six-row barley as the base malt and Cluster hops. The beer is slightly drier and lower gravity than most modern bocks while still being rich in flavor and dark in color.”
Mack reminded me of something that I had forgotten—the World’s Fair here in Chicago also saw the invention of the brownie, the chocolate dessert first made at the Palmer House. Mack provided individually wrapped brownies that she had made for the event from Emeche Cakery and Cafe that operates a few blocks from the former site of the Conrad Siepp brewery. The bock went perfectly with these delicious, and oddly historically significant treats.
You can find this beer in 12-ounce six packs of bottles all around Chicago for around $10. At 6 percent ABV, 25 IBUs, it is an easy drinking lager with a crisp finish that pairs well with brownies, grilled meat, and a fine sense of history. v