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Root Beer of the Month

 

July 2013

Myers Avenue Red Root Beer

The fascinating history of Myers Avenue Red Root Beer (and black cows) as told to The Root Beer Store by the Great Nephew of the original brewer--Michael Lynn

"…If you know the story of Uncle Frank, you can understand the significance of Cripple Creek Brewing.  It was his crowning achievement--taking advantage of all his entrepreneurial skills and imagination.

Coming of age in the late 1800s, he had nothing but dreams and opportunities to explore--and tried to live out those dreams. Some of his less successful ventures included a trip down the Mississippi and a series of articles about the experience in his attempt to start a writing career.

He tried to get into Chicago politics at a time when it was literally rough and tumble but lost trying to pitch honesty and integrity. He bought apartment buildings on the West side of Chicago with the intent to create an upper middle class Irish neighborhood. We're Irish ourselves and the joke about this adventure was that because Uncle Frank was German, he didn't realize that there weren't any upper middle class Irish in Chicago so his real estate career was doomed from the start.

He even traveled to the Orient to collect furniture and decorations. While this was probably a great idea, it all disappeared into relatives homes and apartments after he died and was lost or destroyed (by heavy family use) over time. What would have become priceless antiques were gone. I have a panel/door from a cabinet, but that is all that is left.

His great adventure was his decision to create the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company (CCCMGMCo) with a group of Chicago businessmen. No one is quite sure where/how/why he got this idea but Cripple Creek was the biggest gold strike in history and he wanted to make his fortune there. Cripple Creek rivaled the big strikes in California (for a time) because so much of the CC gold was so easily accessed. Stories abounded about lucky strikes...two brothers digging the foundation for their store hitting gold...a gentleman throwing his hat in the air and finding gold where it landed...so we think Uncle Frank read one and decided CC was for him. He got family and friends to invest and in his wool suit, and then he headed west to CC to start the company. He hired George Stumpff who, with his family (including daughter Celon), would be Uncle Frank's mine operator for the time that the CCCMGMCo developed the Dream Lode and Fond Hopes claims.

Over time, Uncle Frank would come and stay in CC for extended periods. During these stays, he tried to take support for the claims with various ventures...and finally came up with Cripple Creek Brewing. The stars aligned on this one. We believe that he apparently met a salesman for Hires Root Beer extract (he never was specific about the genesis), a new drink idea from a pharmacist that made health claims only slightly less spectacular than several of the patent medicines (snake oils) of the time. But despite its healthy qualities (soothed upset stomachs) the stuff tasted awful.

Uncle Frank realized that this drink could be a boon in CC where the miners would often drink too much and end up missing work next day due to sour stomachs and horrible hangovers. He saw this all the time when he was a bartender at one of the saloons on Myers Avenue (the red light district of CC). Eureka! Uncle Frank knew about spices form his oriental travels and one especially fascinated him...cinnamon. It had a restorative quality and his experiments resulted in a truly tasty cinnamon-root beer drink. But how to get the miners to drink it? Why not bottle it in amber beer-like bottles and put a label on it that made it look "manly". He began to "market" it to the mine owners (who may have helped bankroll it in the beginning) and in turn was allowed to sell it at the bar to miners. Oh, and his idea for a name came from the imagination I mentioned before. Myers Avenue Red was to celebrate its bawdy home ground, and the uniquely red color that he decided to come up with was to make it look a little bit more like beer. BANG! It was an instant success, "A favorite of madam, miner and minister alike".

Uncle Frank became a local legend, miners and townsfolk loved his new drink...and I will pause here and simply tell you that the story continued. What about the black cow? Well, its really just another example of his imagination at work. The kids of Cripple Creek loved Uncle Frank. He was a great guy with kids even though he never married and didn't have any family to speak of. There as no such thing in CC as soda pop so Uncle Frank wanted to create something for the kids. His root beer was still considered an adult drink so he couldn't just serve it to them straight out of the bottle. And then one night, he was staring off into the distance at the snow capped peak of Cow Mountain (the location of his claims) and told my Dad that it reminded him of a big dollop of ice cream floating on top of "blackened Cow Mountain". The next day, he decided to add a scoop of ice cream on top of his Myers Avenue Red root beer and served it to some kids...THEY LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!! But the kids couldn't continue to keep asking for the drink with the convoluted name so they simply began asking for Uncle Frank's black cow! (Note: I can't use capital letters for the B & C because a bottler here in the Midwest trademarked the Black Cow name!).

Uncle Frank was now the favorite of all of CC. Years later when the mining venture was way behind him, he told my Dad that while the mines had been a bust, if he had a nickel for every time someone ordered a black cow, he'd be a rich man. Story was that he had tried to sell his friend Marshall Field on serving his sodas in the new store that Field constructed in Chicago but was told by Marshall that soda pops were a fad and black cows might appeal to the citizens of CC but not the sophisticated clientele of his new emporium. The dreams and aspirations of Uncle Frank, Cripple Creek Brewing and the black cow died and became nothing more than the exciting stories of an old man when my Dad knew him in the 20s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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