Any info on Zeman Brewing Co., Mundelein/Gilmer, IL 1942-64?

Discussion in 'Breweriana' started by beergurujr, Feb 16, 2015.

  1. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    I just found out about this little keg-only brewery which operated outside of Chicago, in the far northern suburbs. It opened during the war in 1942, and went out of business in 1964, after being hit (and apparently destroyed) by a tornado.

    Had a couple of brands: Zeman Beer, Zeman Pilsener, and Zemen Premium- at least according to online pics of old tap knobs.

    This was probably a 10k bbls or smaller annual operation. There is also some anecdotal evidence that it was possibly controlled by local organized crime figures from Chicago. During the 1957-59 period, Zeman Beer was also brewed and canned by the Foxhead Brewing Co of Waukesha, WI, also said to be mob-controlled.

    I found a photo from the late 1950's showing "Zeman Beer On Tap", on a large bar/restaurant neon sign in downtown Chicago. So they did sell it in the city.

    Very little else known.... anyone out there have anything?
  2. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Interestingly, another brewery in the far northern Chicago suburbs went out of business in 1942- the McHenry Brewing Company, of McHenry, IL. Quite possibly, the equipment from there wound up at Zeman.
  3. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Here's Zeman's listings in industry directors for the periods shown:
    30k bbl. capacity = probably a larger brew-size than 10 bbl. I'd guess.

    ---1962 - Zeman brewed 8,657 bbl. making them #151 of 157 breweries in the US.

    re: the Zeman brewmasters:

    Carl Ebner is listed as owner and brewmaster of Carl Ebner Brewing Co. in Ft. Atkinson, WI in 1945 - 15,000 bbl. capacity brewery that bottled the "Good Old Fashioned Lager" brand.

    James Vernoch was brewing for Atlas in Chicago in 1957-58.
    As you're finding, the draught-only breweries in the post-Repeal era are difficult to research.

    And the history of Fox Deluxe Brewing, Foxhead Brewing and Peter Fox Brewing Companies is real confusing last time I looked.
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  4. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Oops - missed the "k" in your comment. Other than that 1962 barrelage figure, can't find any other sales figures for Zeman.
    Oops again - wrong reading glasses this morning.

    James Vermock was the brewmaster at Atlas in the period of 1957-1960 (by which time Atlas was a Drewrys owned brewery).

    Also, Zeman is not listed in a 1960 directory I have - but that might be because they didn't list keg-only breweries (Anchor is also absent but Anchor did go in and out of business in that period). Too bad, because that directory listed sales for the period 1956-1960. Still, as I noted, the 1962 barrelage figures I have does list Zeman.
    #4 jesskidden, Feb 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015
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  5. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    How did this defunct brewery get through my radar? Geez. Wonder how many other itty bitty post-prohibition-started ones were in NE Illinois. I know several pre-pro's (well actually, many) reopened after Repeal.

    I have a message in to a professional photographer who took that photo of a downtown Chicago tavern with a Zeman Beer On Tap sign. If he allows it, I will post it here. Cheers.
  6. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

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  7. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    One has to ask..... WHY in say 1958- in an era when the huge breweries dominated- would a bar and grill in The Loop, advertise that it was serving an obscure beer from an even more obscure, tiny brewery?
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  8. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,303) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Ha yeah...nice photo. And I was just talking about a Ballantine neon like that one in the window...

    Well, even if they were only cranking out a few thousand barrels a year, someone had to carry it - and since it was a keg-only brewery, the only advertising they'd normally be able to do would be with/for on-premise accounts. (I've found a few newspaper ads, drop me your email address and I'll send you jpegs. My email's on my Profile Page).

    And '58 was still a bit before the era of "huge breweries dominating" the beer market, I'd say (although, granted, well on their way to that) - #1 AB and #2 Schlitz both had under 8% of the US market. But Illinois - being between St. Louis and Milwaukee - and with Chicago as the "second city" an attractive market, was an early stronghold of the national breweries. Still, according to records, the IL beer market in '57 broke down as:
    National - 41%
    Multi-Regional - 25% (like Hamm's, Falstaff & Carling)
    Regional - 20%
    Local - 5%

    With and "out of state to in-state" ratio of 80-20.
    #8 jesskidden, Feb 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015
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  9. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Email sent to you
  10. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Now the search for photos of the brewery...... that's going to be difficult. Probably going to have to visit the Lake County IL historical museum, about an hour away from me.
  11. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Call 'em or e-mail them first. Or:

    Almost forgot -- there's a series of historical books about all of the towns around the area, pretty sure there's one on Mundelein -- I'll have to check the local library.
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  12. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

  13. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Some more digging:
    Funny that there's no other info on Zeman on the web site.
  14. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

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  15. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Funny side note -- if you Google The Zeman Brewery, Gilmer, IL and click to Images -- Jess' avatar is the first picture. :grinning:
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  16. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    I think I found the exact spot where Zeman was located. At the grade crossing of the CN Railway and Gilmer Road. South side of Gilmer, west of the CN. There are a few structures still on the property, either repurposed or constructed post-1964.

    Looked at Historic Aerials and Google Earth for the above info. A 1939 aerial photo shows a railway siding and a small building there; by the late 40's that building has been added on to, and there are a couple other small buildings.
    beertunes likes this.
  17. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Guru -- is the CN Railway that crossing just south of Midlothian on Gilmer? Right where Google maps shows Alpha Omega Pet Products? Looks like Kingsford Fasteners would be right about where you're pinpointing the brewery.

    I haven't been out that way in a long time, but I was telling Jess that there's an old tavern on the corner of Gilmer and Midlothian, just northwest of the pinpoint, called Gilmer Roadhouse. Have to wonder if there was a connection at one time.

    Out of my own (local) curiosity, why are you looking into this?
  18. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Hi Steve, I believe that's the place.

    I'm just sort of bored; posting between job searching. Yep I am no longer with Binny's.
  19. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Well jeeze, I think this is quite the interesting find. Then again, I live right down the road from where the brewery was and I've always had a nostalgic interest in my area.

    I hope you find more info. Might be worth contacting Tighthead Brewing in Mundelein to "suggest" a tribute beer. According to the obit Jess has Zeman was a Czech immigrant. I smell a Pilsner wort boiling already!

    I'll be headed to the library toward week's end, so I'll look into that book about Mundelein and report back.
    beergurujr likes this.
  20. SirBottlecap

    SirBottlecap Initiate (0) Jan 28, 2013 California

    In neon, no less!
  21. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Oh, neon was still the big technology in 1958! :wink:
  22. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Because the brewery gave it to them. Just like today. May have even gotten the bar a discount.

    That said, maybe it was known as a pretty good beer?
  23. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Well our friend Jess Kidden has passed along some info about the Cellar, post-Zeman era. Apparently a new "crowd" took over the place, and ran into issues with the local constabulary, at least one time in 1973. 25 men were arrested in a police sting, charged with prostitution. Apparently it had become a notorious gay bar.

    So that happened.

    Back in those days, businesses operating on the margins of legality were often associated with organized crime- either because they paid the outfit protection money to avoid trouble, or were in fact controlled by them.
  24. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Sorry guys -- one'a those days at work and I completely forgot I wanted to look up the book when I dropped off the borrowed items. Probably be in there over the weekend so I'll try to remember then.
  25. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Finally got a chance to flip through that book, and no mention of Zeman at all. The forgotten brewery -- wish I'd had the chance to try it.

    Makes me think of Sieben's in Chicago; when the name was resurrected for one of the first city brewpubs in the mid-80s my dad regaled me with stories of the original on the north side. If the original beer was as good as the stuff in the 80s, I'd have missed that too!
  26. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    I drank the Seibens back in the 80's. Typical brewpub of the era. Like every other of it's kind it was swept away when the bubble burst in the 90's. The only exception was Goose Island.
  27. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

    Somebody surely has docs about Zeman. Lake County Historical Society, or the Zeman family, etc.
  28. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,971) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Like to think so, right?
    Yep. Except typical was atypical -- this place is making its own beer? Whoa!

    Remember Tap & Growler and Hopcat? Even Steve Dinehart's Chicago Brewing (I think that's what it was). Damn, I'm, old. :slight_frown::wink:
    beergurujr likes this.
  29. beergurujr

    beergurujr Aspirant (230) Oct 27, 2003 Illinois

  30. swilliams8310

    swilliams8310 Initiate (0) Oct 15, 2015

    Anyone have a photo of the Zeman brewery logo? The dad of a friend of mine used to work at the Zeman brewery.
    beergurujr likes this.

    ZREALTR Initiate (100) May 8, 2017

    Zeman beer was my dad's uncle Emil's company till the tornado wiped them out. No insurance. We used to go there as kids and swim in the little pond next to the Brew house. There were a couple of huge open vats that had giant blenders mixing them.
    I heard somebody fell in one time...I was probably like 10 or so in '62. Clearly remember seeing those signs at restaurants/bars with our name on them. Wish I had one :slight_smile:
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  32. Syver67

    Syver67 Initiate (100) Jul 16, 2017

    I am with the Ela Historical Society in Lake Zurich in Lake County. We have a newspaper article about the Zeman Brewery from just after the tornado, and it has an interview with Mr. Zeman. A photo taken after the tornado showed several beer barrels labeled Zeman Brewing Co. Gilmer, Illinois. It was said that hundreds of the barrels were scattered around. It would be great to find one of those. I know our little museum would love it.
    beertunes likes this.
  33. Jilmbo

    Jilmbo Initiate (110) Oct 22, 2017 Illinois

    Very interesting thread. I enjoyed reading it.
    I actually came to the breweriana section to see if I could find any discussion or information on another 30's-50's era Chicago area brewery. Koller was the name, founded by my great grandfather and a business partner. I have found some info via google and have obtained an old cone top can of one of the beers they produced from eBay. Anyway I'm going to start a new thread in my search for info but wanted to comment and say thanks for the good read.
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