Historical Tidbits: Beer. Worst Beer Poem Ever

Arguably the worst beer poem ever written. It’s long, so I deleted a couple of stanzas that contain particularly obscure references to local politics.

From the Milwaukee Sentinel, December 21, 1855, p. 2. ODE TO LAGER BEER

* * * II Awake then, muse!

Descend — or, what is quite The same — arise, and help me to indite The blushing virtues of the Panacea

Our patient German cousins — “Vat a peeples!” Have lately found and christened “LAGER BEER!” For blood of grapes, and sparkling juice of apples — From Gallic brandies, down to ginger-pops —

All drinks succumb to this extract of hops. III (*1)

Oh! uninspired, for me ’twere vain to tell, What joys unnumbered, ever gurgling, well Up from the darksom, deep, and silent vaults That underlie old Kilbourntown–

Those catacombs, not of the dead but malt’s Most fragrant essence salted down!

The disemboweled earth hath fountains there, That use, or waste, or drought cannot impair.

IV Most potent LAGER! Thou canst cure the ills Of all thy votaries.

Not one who swills With swaggering air, from out thy frothy cup, His quart or gallon by the hour well scored, But feels more light his burthens at each sup, Till they, and he, at last are fairly floored.

John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim” felt his burthen fall, But LAGER lets down burthen, pilgrim, all.

V (*2)

Is one in debt without wherewith to pay? Go up to Market-Place and spend the day.

Hath sharp misfortune struck thee with his dart? Of all physicians thou employest the Best; With kindly LAGER emulate his art, And drown the thought that rankles in your breast

What if the morn produce again the pain?

The same sweet physic physics it again.

VI

Ancient philosopers for ages sought

For wisdom in a stone: but found it not.

No wonder wherefore, in themselves the fault And misdirected were their efforts vain.

They should have sought it in a sack of malt; For keenest wit is inborn — in the grain.

“When wine is in the wit is out,” they say; With barley-juice ’tis just the other way.

VII (*3)

Come up to K**G’s some pleasant Sunday night, Where tables, ranged beneath a brilliant light

Of gas, are garnished with quart cups o’erflowing,

And crowded round with portly corporations;

And hear the Babel crash of tongues agoing, Discussing cabbage and the fate of nations,

Those scintillations keen would please thee much,

Albeit with gutturals muttered in High Dutch.

VIII (*4)

‘Tis really wonderful what great wiseacres Beer makes of hodmen, carpenters, and bakers

Each tipsy cobbler is a Roger Sherman;

Weazen-Faced scheniders emulate a Clay;

And now the soul of great Teutonic Hermann Animates the butcher over the way.

The host’s a German Prince, and every waiter Swells with the wisdom of the legislator.

IX (*5)

But not in Beer Saloon, at midnight hour, Alone the place to witness LAGER’s power.

In wider fields he acts fantastic tricks, And bowls down men as players bowl down wickets,

The very devil plays with politics, And has his voters on the winning tickets.

The late election was a case in point: — All other issues were quite out of joint.

XII

Some, uninformed, may wonder at the cause,

Why beer elects the men who make our laws.

Perhaps to them the reason seems abstruse,

Though very plain to us residing here:

For we, where every second neighbor brews, Preserve our liberties in LAGER BEER.

With confidence we see our welfare hang On the good faith of trusty Cooper Dang.

 

Far spreading LAGER! To what world wide fame Hast thou devoted our Milwaukee name?

In every hamlet of the growing West —

That West whose boundaries are the western skies! —

In which the traveller may chance to rest, A score of shingles greets his wondering eyes,

Where, traced, or daubed, in hieroglyphics rare,

He spells the sign, “MILWAUKEE LAGER BEER!”

XIV

Not further now thy merits I’ll disclose,

The public voice has sanctioned all thy woes, Triumphant LAGER! ‘Tis Vox Populi!

And prudent men are heedful of the cry.

Why should the pigmy breast an avalanche, Whose head cannot resist a glass of punch?

Buried be all our opposition here!

As evidence, this ODE TO LAGER BEER.

_________________________________

NOTES:

*1. “Kilbourntown” was the German section of Milwaukee. The “catacombs” are the immense lager caves below the ground.

*2. “Market-place” = Market Street in downtown Milwaukee. It was lined with saloons. “Best” = Philip and Jacob Best, owners of Empire Brewing. Frederick Pabst married Phillip’s daughter.

*3. “K**g’s” probably refers to Krug’s restaurant and small brewery. August Krug died in the same month this poem appeared (which may account for the asterisks). Krug’s bookkeeper, Joseph Schlitz, bought married Krug’s widow and took over the brewery.

*4. In this stanza, Roger Sherman and Henry Clay were 19th century politicians known for their oratorical skills. “Hermann” is the legendary German warrior.

*5. This stanza refers to (and the entire poem was likely inspired by) the recent political uproar in Wisconsin: Some state legislators, including a representative from Milwaukee, tried to pass a state prohibition law. Much to the delight of Milwaukee’s Germans, the governor vetoed the bill.

*6. “Shingles” refers to swinging signs hanging above the doorways of shops and saloons.

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