19th century Wapak brew on tap for festival

A traditional German beer first brewed in Wapakoneta during the 19th century is to be on tap during this year’s Summer Moon Festival.

An authentic recipe from the same European region which inspired the original beer made by the City Brewing Company is being brewed special for the festival, which extends from Thursday, July 19, through Saturday, July 21, by Thirsty Dog Brewery, of Akron.

It’s the fourth year the festival is featuring a beer unique to the city, with the Old Vienna following Lunar Lagar, Lunar Light, and Best Hometown varieties. The idea for brewing special recipe beers to be on tap at the festival began with the city’s celebration of its 175th anniversary in 2009.

The Old Vienna is the first beer to be served at the festival that actually replicates a brew that was originally brewed here.

“It has a historical connection to Wapakoneta,” said Dan Graf, director of the Wapakoneta Chamber of Commerce.

“It is part of our heritage,” he said.

Old Vienna was originally made by the City Brewing Company, once located at the corner of Water and Harrison streets, where a self-storage lot now sits.

“We took the recipe and brewed it with the help of a beer crafter and feel it’s very authentic,” Graf said. “It came from the same region of Germany where the original did.”

Graf described Old Vienna as a “very good tasty beer,” which has a good color as well.

“I think it will be a hit,” Graf said, adding that he is not sure if anyone is around anymore who remembers how it used to taste.

“This is as close as we can get,” Graf said.

While City Brewing company first branded Old Vienna in Wapakoneta, the beer later was made by Koch Beverage Company. The original beer brewers, Karl Kolter and his son, Charles, immigrated from Wallhalben, Germany, to Ohio in 1850. They later handed the business down to Henry Koch, Charles’ son-in-law and by the early 20th century, the Wapakoneta brewery had closed.

Old Vienna is now a Canadian-produced beer, brewed by Carling O’Keefe, who acquired the rights and recipe after Koch Beverage Company closed its local brewery. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Old Vienna was the mainstream lager brand sold by O’Keefe. It is now produced by Molson Breweries and sold in Canada and select border states.

Julia Koch, a seventh generation member of the Wapakoneta beverage business said her great-great-great-grandfather had dreamed of a better life in America and opened his brewery in Wapakoneta, where he bottled not only beer, but artesian water and soft drinks, and made ice.

Business flourished through the 1920s, when prohibition was supposed to have stopped the family from making or selling beer, but they switched to making a “near beer” instead, although Koch said family rumor is that old beer wagons still ran at night. It was at this time however that the family began looking harder at the soft drink industry.

Her great-grandmother, Julia May Doolitle, became one of the first women to run a brewery in 1934 and was the president of the family’s first Pepsi plant, on County Road 25A, in Wapakoneta. Koch’s grandfather and father both ran the plant before moving it to Lima, with an opening attended by movie star Joan Crawford.

In the 1960s, the family released novelty beverages including Kikapoo Joy Juice, which was a lot like Mt. Dew, and Wapakoneta Moon Sauce, which commemorated Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

Koch Beverage Company expanded into Texas, where the family eventually moved, and began bottling Mt. Dew during the 1970s.

“At the time, we had no idea that it would eventually become the #1 selling soft drink in the United States,” Koch said. “All we knew is that the kids loved it.”

In the 1980s, the family became the first franchise to have the Pepsi Challenge, kicking off one of Pepsi’s most successful advertising campaigns, and they began Everest Premium Water, the prototype for Pepsi’s Aquafina bottled water.

The Koch Beverage Company has continued to grow since.

“We have grown beyond anything that my great-great-great-grandfather could have ever dreamed,” Koch said.

Graf said plans are to continue to feature unique brews each year to celebrate the city’s heritage as long as they are getting good response. They typically sell eight and a half barrels of the beer during the festival.