One of America’s oldest breweries, Stevens Point Brewery turns 160 years old in 2017.
Julie Birrenkott, Point Marketing Manager, won’t say if the commemorative beer from Brewmaster Gabe Hopkins and his team will be an ale or a lager. “It’s a surprise,” she said. “We have to wait until summer to find out.”
It’s no surprise that longneck bottles of all Point craft beers will sport commemorative bottle caps starting in the spring. But there’s added mystery in early summer, when major promotional giveaways will begin at participating retailers in Point’s core central Wisconsin markets. “Let’s just say that if you want to pour delicious draft beer directly in your home, it will pay to keep an eye out for Point-branded displays in retail and on our social media.” Birrenkott said. “These prizes and giveaways are a perfect way for us to thank the Point beer fans in our home markets. They have been our most loyal customers throughout the years.”
Summer will also bring Point Special Lager retro cans in specially marked 12-packs and 24-packs. The can features a Point Special label from the late 1890s when the brewery, founded by German immigrants in 1857, was owned by Gustav Kuenzel. Kuenzel, who was also the brewmaster, changed the name of his brewery to the Stevens Point Brewing Company in 1902. Point Special was its best-selling beer and remains the Point Brewery’s flagship brand today.
Brewed as a non-alcohol malt beverage or “near beer,” Point Special helped the brewery survive Prohibition. During World War II, when barley was rationed and metal for cans and bottle caps was scarce, Point Special became the brewery’s only brand.
The brewery grew from the 1950s through the 1980s, helped by a widely publicized beer tasting in 1973 orchestrated and reported by famous newspaper columnist Mike Royko of the Chicago Daily News. He proclaimed Point Special Lager to be America’s best beer. By 1990, the brewery (now owned by the Shibilski family), expanded outside of Wisconsin, with Point Special Lager being introduced in the Twin Cities and Chicago.
As sales grew, so did the brewery. New aging tanks were installed in 1994 and a new warehouse added in 1997. Martino and partner Jim Wiechmann acquired the brewery in 2002 and continued to grow the business. They entered the soft drink market by introducing Point Premium Root Beer, and expanded distribution throughout the Midwest in 2004. New gourmet sodas were introduced and the brewery began brewing seasonal beers in addition to its classic Point Bock. The Whole Hog family of specialty beers came along in 2009. In 2012, Point launched its highly successful Ciderboys Hard Cider business. In recent years, both craft beers and hard ciders have won numerous awards and medals at festivals and competitions.
The brewery operation also expanded. Between 2010 and 2014, Point Brewery invested nearly $5 million in building expansions and upgrades to equipment and infrastructure. More than two dozen unitanks for fermenting and aging beer were installed in recent years, along with a new can packaging line and a second brew kettle that increased the brewery’s annual brewing capacity to 150,000 barrels.