Karl Strauss was destined to brew beer. Born in 1912 on the premises of his father’s brewery in Minden, Germany, he spent his childhood playing amid beer barrels and sacks of fresh hops and barley. At age 19, he left home for Bavaria, the brewing capital of Germany, to attend the Technical University of Munich-Weihenstephan. There he earned a degree in the science and practice of malting and brewing, as well as a Master Brewer certification. Given the political situation in 1930s Germany, Karl had to look abroad for work. In February of 1939, he boarded the SS Manhatten and set sail for America, in pursuit of opportunity. His job search led him to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to one of the most famous breweries in the United States.
Karl began his career at Pabst Brewing Company on the bottling line in May, 1939. But with his strong work ethic and educational background, he quickly worked his way up the brewing ranks. In the 1950s, he was part of the team that reformulated the recipe for Pabst’s Blue Ribbon beer. The improved version catapulted sales for the company, and PBR remains an American brewing icon to this day. In 1960, Karl became Vice President of Production, overseeing all brewing operations across the country. He held the position until he retired in 1983, after 44 years with the company.
Not content to rest after his retirement, Karl launched a new career as a brewery consultant, providing expert advice to breweries all over the world. In 1986, he was approached by his cousin Chris in San Diego about starting a microbrewery. Karl thought it was a great idea. He helped design the brewery, train the brewers, and create recipes for the first beers. He was so passionate about the project that he even lent his name, face and voice to the enterprise. Karl served as Master Brewer from 1989 to 2006, remaining involved in brewery operations until his passing.
Karl was very active in the brewing community throughout his life. He was president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (1961-1963) and founder and director of the Museum of Beer and Brewing in Milwaukee. He is the only person to have received the MBAA Award of Merit (1981), Award of Honor (1992), and the Distinguished Life Service Award (2003). Karl also believed it was important to pass on the techniques and traditions of his craft to young brewers. We created the Karl M. Strauss Brewers Education Fund in honor of his work.
Karl had a contagious enthusiasm that inspired everyone around him. He was driven by a belief that everyone should enjoy life, preferably with good friends and good beer. Over the course of his 70 plus years as a brewer, he brewed more than seven billion servings of beer, enough for everyone on the planet to have a Karl Strauss Beer.
Mission accomplished, Karl. Cheers.