Historian Bob Ostrander and Rock Bottom Brewer Jerry Sutherlin teamed up to bring a close approximation of pre-Prohibition beer to members of the Propylaeum Society at their September 15 four-course luncheon of traditional German cuisine. The delicious irony of this event revolves around Indianapolis' German heritage, handcrafted beer and Prohibition. The elegant Victorian structure at 1410 N. Delaware Street was built in 1890 by John William Schmidt, eldest son of C.F. Schmidt, founder of Schmidt Brewing Co. (in 1858). In 1902 John Schmidt sold the house to Joseph Schaff, president of American Brewing Company. According to the Indiana Historical Bureau marker on site, the Indianapolis Propylaeum Inc. "acquired this property in 1923." The citation in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis notes the building is to be used for "literary, artistic, scientific, industrial, musical, mechanical, and education purposes for the public, but particularly by the women of Indianapolis. Founder of the Propylaeum as a women's club in 1888 was May Wright Sewall, suffragette and prohibitionist.
Sewell founded the club a year before Schmidt Brewing merged with Maus and Lieber Brewing Companies to become the Indianapolis Brewing Company, where Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather once worked. Crafting a brew that may have been served 120 years ago, Ostrander added the liquid from a 12 oz. can of whole corn to one gallon of Rock Bottom's "Happy Pils." Comparing tastings of Sutherlin's crisp beer with Ostrander's subtle infusion, we noted sweetness that tempered hops sharpness, making it close to the pre-Prohibition recipes specifying flaked or shaved maize only or along with wheat or barley.
Oktoberfest brews are to be found all around Indiana. Each brewery and brewpub approximates its own taste connection with the original event, which started 200 years ago in Munich.