Encyclopedia Cervecerium Esotericum: O. Vill’s Beer

o_vill's_webThe Encyclopedia Cervecerium Esotericum will be an occasional feature here on The Comic Book Story of Beer website featuring rare and intriguing images and documents from brewing history, accompanied by short explanatory sketches.

This terrific example of beer advertising history dates from 1878, printed by the American Oleograph Company.

beer_summitI don’t know what I like about it best: the cast of characters that is at once multiculturally diverse and smacking of contemporary racial bigotry; the quaffing Uncle Sam, another example of which we excerpted in our recent report on National Beer Day; or the almost inexplicable trio of gnomes struggling to restrain the mountain goat who has just butted some poor sonofabitch horizontal and making him spill his beer.

The long-defunct O. Vill’s brewery was a father and son operation in the post-Civil War period. By 1950, former proprietor Oswald Vill was 81 years of age. He was locally celebrated as “the Mayor of Minnesota City” and known for “twinkling gray-blue eyes” and “an enormous bubbling laugh.” Besides being a small-town brewer of some repute, Mr. Vill was a walking encapsulation of American history. His brother and sister were killed in the famous Sioux attack on the German settlement of New Ulm, Minnesota, in 1862, and his lungs were also permanently damaged by the 1918 flu epidemic. This apparently added up to plenty of reasons to take a drink.

Vill’s lager was evidently of sufficient quality to receive a certificate of merit from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, stating, “[O. Vill’s Brewery is] one of several in America whose product reaches a high degree of perfection in care, in preparation, freedom from adulteration, and purity of water used.”

I don’t know, is that damning with faint praise? Regardless, O. Vill’s chugged along until Prohibition days, when it seems the property was purchased by one Nick Meyers. The hillside brewery, complete with two large largering cellars, became a posh restaurant and nightclub known as “The Oaks”—and at which Chicago gangsters were rumored to hang out.


Lumberton, Gretchen. “The Casual Observer.” The Winona (MN) Republican Herald, May 22, 1950.

The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

Christensen, Matt. “Winona during Prohibition was a hot spot with gangsters and residents.” Winona Daily News website, March 14, 2010