Was Red Stripe Actually Born in Illinois?

Red Stripe lager is inextricably linked to Jamaican drinking culture. But after a quick dive into the beer’s past, we’ve surfaced with some strange news: There’s evidence out there that suggests the alleged birthplace of island-centric Red Stripe may actually be the Midwest.

Some folks in Galena, Ill., firmly attest that a local brewery coined the Red Stripe label and recipe nearly 60 years before the alleged advent of the Jamaican lager we’ve come to adore — but this story isn’t that clear-cut. After digging through newspaper databases and falling deeper into the Red Stripe rabbit hole, we’ve discovered some coincidences that make the actual origins of the beer brand a little sketchy.

A Beer Named Red Stripe

Whether or not the Red Stripe Lager we know so well came from Illinois, it’s important to note that a Red Stripe beer was certainly born there at one point. The Galena Brewing Company was founded in 1833, and as early as 1838, local newspapers advertised it as producing “Porter, Ale, and beer of a quality superior to that generally imported for this market.” However, there’s no additional mention of Red Stripe in Illinois until several decades later.

Enter Mathias Meller, a German-born brewer who moved to Galena in 1849. Meller acquired the brewery, expanded it, and changed the name to the Fulton Brewery by 1874. Eight years later, he retired and sold the operation to another German immigrant named Casper Eulberg. He and his sons Adam and Peter renamed the brewery Eulberg & Sons Brewery, which operated as such until a fire destroyed the whole thing in July 1886. Somehow, the Eulbergs were able to get the brewery back up and running again by October.

It’s tough to say exactly when Eulberg & Sons first started producing Red Stripe beer, but a newspaper snippet from May 1892 mentioned a shipment of the brew arriving in time for an upcoming Memorial Day celebration. However, it’s likely that the beer was born a decade prior based on later mentions of Red Stripe having been brewed “over 50 years before Prohibition.” Supposedly, Eulberg & Sons’ Red Stripe became massively popular throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa until, of course, Prohibition put an end to all the fun and forced the brewery to close down. It wasn’t until the great American dry spell ended that the brewery would reopen again as the Galena Brewing Company and start producing Red Stripe again.

Island Influence

Meanwhile, down in Kingston, Jamaica, British citizens Thomas Hargreaves Geddes and Eugene Desnoes joined forces to start a soft drink company in 1918. Ten years later, the Desnoes & Geddes company brewed its first batch of — you guessed it — Red Stripe beer. The first iteration of D&G’s Red Stripe was allegedly a strong, British dark ale, and was not a fitting refresher for Jamaica’s sweltering climate. In 1938, the men’s respective sons, Paul and Peter, took over the business and reformulated the beer with the help of engineer Bill Martindale to be the crisp, refreshing lager we know today.

But wait — let’s back up for a second. The Galena Brewing Company reintroduced the Eulberg & Sons Red Stripe Beer in 1934 “in all its old time flavor and style.” This would mean that two different Red Stripe beers coexisted until the Galena Brewing Company closed down in 1938 — the same year the Jamaican Red Stripe got a makeover.

What a Coincidence

Since 1938, the Jamaican Red Stripe has thrived. As for the stateside Galena Brewing Company, the original plant never reopened. In 2010, though, a South African man named Warren Bell started a small craft brewery in downtown Galena bearing the defunct Galena Brewing Company moniker.

There are several sources, including Bell himself, that claim D&G actually bought the rights to the Red Stripe label from the Galena Brewing Comapany upon its closure in 1938 — but the story just doesn’t add up. Paul Geddes did, in fact, go to Chicago to study brewing in the early ‘30s before returning to Jamaica — but at that point, the Red Stripe label already existed in Kingston. In short, it’s likely all just a crazy coincidence. It would appear that the Illinois Red Stripe was simply a completely different beer, and given that the Illinois Red Stripe ceased production almost 90 years ago, we can’t do a side-by-side comparison.

For whatever it’s worth, the locals of Galena can proudly state that they live in the home of the first Red Stripe, just not the Red Stripe we all know. And to the believers of the Galena-Jamaica connection, we admit that the labels bear a striking resemblance.

*Image retrieved from Алексей Филатов via stock.adobe.com

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