This Week In Illinois History: Red Stripe Beer – An Illinois Original? (October 11, 1886)
On October 11, 1886, the Galena Daily Gazette reported that Casper Eulberg and his two sons had launched the Galena Brewery. Eulberg had purchased the long-operating brewery a year earlier, running it as C. Eulberg & Sons, but after only six months the entire operation burned to the ground. Eulberg rebuilt bigger and better, with modern machinery and a larger capacity. He changed the name to Galena Brewery. Within a few years, his flagship beer, Red Stripe, became one of the most popular beers in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and Iowa.
Red Stripe’s reign continued until Prohibition shut down the brewery in 1920. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the Galena Brewery reopened under new ownership and relaunched Red Stripe, based on the Eulberg family’s formula. In 1935, it trademarked the Red Stripe label but went out of business one year later.
So is Galena’s Red Stripe beer related to the famous Jamaican beer of the same name?
In 1918, two British businessmen working in Jamaica, Thomas Geddes and Eugene Desnoes, started the soft drink company Desnoes & Geddes. They grew from there, branching out into wine, liquor, lotions and perfumes. In 1928, they opened a brewery and released multiple beer styles under the Red Stripe label. Advertising from that time shows that Red Stripe beers included ales, stouts and lagers. Red Stripe quickly became the company’s most popular product and a favorite with tourists. In 1938, the founder’s son, Paul Geddes, took over the brewery, tweaked the Red Stripe recipe, and created the Red Stripe lager that is still popular today.
Proponents of the Illinois connection between Galena’s Red Stripe and Jamaica’s Red Stripe believe Desnoes and Geddes must have purchased Galena Brewery’s Red Stripe recipe and taken it back to Jamaica. It is unclear when or why they would have done this. When they built their Jamaican brewery in 1928, they brought a master brewer from England to create their new beer line. Paul Geddes, who created the modern recipe, did study brewing in Chicago and might have tasted Galena’s Red Stripe while there, but this was in the mid-1930s, well after Red Stripe was established in Jamaica.
While a connection between the two beers remains unknown, it is most likely a coincidence. But there is no denying the similarities between Galena’s Red Stripe labels of the 1930s and Desnoes & Geddes Red Stripe labels of the 1940s.
For now, the Red Stripe story remains an Illinois history mystery.