Chances are if you ask a Milwaukeean about the best things to do in Brew City, a brewery tour will be pretty high on their list. For much of its history, Milwaukee has been known as the "beer capital of the world" and the city has been the birthplace of many heavy hitters in the industry: Pabst, Schlitz, and of course, Miller.
Miller isn't your average brewery, and their tour is a lot more than smelling hops and tasting beer. The Miller Valley is a huge complex, and the tour winds through packaging and distribution centers, before continuing down State Street to the current brewhouse.
On the way, patrons pass another brewhouse, with a curious star sitting just above the doorway. It's a hexagram that is often associated with Judaism and called the Star of David.
"As they walk up here, they look across the street and they can see the old brewhouse, the original brewhouse, and often have questions about, ‘Well, if we’re going into the brewhouse, why does that say brewhouse, and what is that star at the top of the building?'" says Kindra Loferski, manager of guest relations at Millercoors.
Wisconsin native Mary Koehler, had the same question. Koehler recently went on a tour of Miller Valley with her sister and brother-in-law. "I’d been there before but I don’t think I’d noticed. I looked up and there it was," says Koehler. "My brother-in-law’s Jewish, so I think that added to my interest. So I wondered, and I thought, ‘I’ll ask Bubbler Talk.’"
Like Mary, a lot of folks think it’s a Star of David, and that could be because it looks just like one. But symbols are all about intent, and in this case what we’re looking at is a hexagram known as a "Brewers Star."
"The Brewers Star is a symbol of quality that both German and German American brewers used to symbolize to signify that the beer that they brewed was pure and wholesome," says Carl Miller, from BeerHistory.com.
Frederick Miller, the founder of Miller Brewing Company, was a German immigrant. When he first started his brewery in 1855, the Brewers Star (also known as the "brauerstern" or "bierstern") was commonly associated with the brewers guild. Many brewers used the star on their packaging and branding, and it was particularly common to see barrels of beer marked with a large, white Brewers Star.
There is evidence that the brewers guild has been using the hexagram as a symbol since at least the 1400s. There are several theories about the symbol’s origins, but many believe it has roots in alchemy, the medieval predecessor of chemistry.
"If you look at alchemy which is based in the idea that you can change one thing into something else through knowledge of chemistry, that’s really essentially what beer making is," says Miller. "You’re taking raw ingredients and through a process of chemistry, you’re changing them into beer. So it’s very plausible I think that possibly there was some connection."
There is also some evidence that the different points of the star represent different parts of the brewing process. "One theory says that the first three points represent the three elements of nature required for brewing which are: fire, water, and air. And that the second three points represent the three ingredients in beer, which of course are: malt hops and water," says Miller.
Down at the Miller Brewery, they go by a slightly different theory. "Those six points represent the ingredients in beer," says Loferski. "So you’ve got your grain, your malt, your hops, your yeast, your water and then lastly, the skill of the brewer is considered the sixth point."
Although the Brewers Star is not used as much in modern U.S. brewing culture, it's still commonly used in parts of Germany and is often associated with a type of beer called Zoigl.
It’s unclear why the Brewers Star disappeared from our cultural lexicon here in the U.S. It may have something to do with prohibition and could also be related to anti-German sentiments during World War I.
"A lot of that traditional Germanness sort of faded away in those years when the country didn't brew beer, or at least didn't brew legal beer," says Miller. "Another possibility that in the 19th Century and early 20th Century, most people would have understood that the Brewers Star was a German symbol and of course during WWI, a lot of those types of things came under scrutiny."
Whatever the case the Brewers Star remains a part of the history of brewing, both around the world and right here on State Street.
Have a question you'd like WUWM to answer? Submit your query below.