The founder of The Bosch Brewing Company, Joseph Bosch, was the son of a beer brewer, and had always wanted to enter the brewing business. His family came to the United States from Baden, Germany. In 1867 the family moved from Port Washington, Wisconsin to Houghton, Michigan, then to Lake Linden, Michigan a few years later. Joseph Bosch spent several years traveling, to Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Louisville to learn the art of brewing.
Bosch’s products were popular among the thirsty miners. The Keweenaw was booming with copper mining, attracting new people to the area, and Bosch’s business grew with the increased population. In 1876 Bosch formed a partnership with Joseph Wertin Sr., Joseph Wertin Jr., and George Wertin. It was at this time that the company name was changed from the Torch Lake Brewing Company to Joseph Bosch and Company.
When the company first started it sold only kegs, as beer in bottles was uncommon at the time. After the discovery of pasteurization, breweries began bottling beer by the late 1870s. Bosch began bottling on a small scale by 1880, one of the few Upper Peninsula breweries to bottle beer. By 1883 the company was producing 4000 barrels of beer annually, one quarter of it bottled. In 1886, the plant continued to expand, and a 790-foot deep artesian well was drilled to provide pure water for brewing.
On May 20, 1887, a fire swept through the town of Lake Linden, destroying 75% of the town, including the newly expanded brewery. Fortunately, Bosch was compensated by insurance, and by September 7, the brewery was rebuilt and running again.
The company continued to grow, and in 1889, The Bosch Brewery stood 11th out of 102 breweries in the state of Michigan. By 1892 the company had branches in Hancock, Calumet, Ishpeming, Eagle Harbor, and Baraga. One place that Bosch was missing, and greatly desired, was Houghton, which he viewed as the ideal location for a brewery.
In 1894, when Joseph Wertin Sr. died, Bosch bought out his remaining partners and changed the company name a final time to the Bosch Brewing Company. Bosch bought the Union Brewery in 1899, including the Scheuermann brewing plant located on Portage Lake in Houghton, a location he had long wanted. The plant became known as the Scheuermann branch of the Bosch Brewing Company
The newly organized Bosch Brewing Company continued its growth, becoming the second largest industry in the Copper Country, second only to the thriving mining industry. Bosch always stressed a close relationship with the community. He used local themes in his advertising, such as “Refreshing as a sportsman’s paradise.” The brewery welcomed public tours and had a bar where customers could sample fresh beer. It was also rumored that students from the local university, now Michigan Technological University, would canoe down the Portage and buy beer straight from the Bosch docks.
In 1937, founder Joseph Bosch died at aged 87. His daughter, Katherine Bosch, and grandsons James and Phillip Ruppe took over the company. Under their leadership, the company saw continuous growth and increasing sales. After reopening, Bosch continued to prosper throughout the years. In 1955, sales were over the 100,000 barrel mark.
The good relationship between company and community maintained local brand loyalty. One advertising theme was “Refreshing as the Sportsman’s Paradise”, and the beer labels announced "From the Sportsman’s Paradise…Smooth, Mellow, Golden," with a picture of a fisherman reeling in a fish with pine trees in the background. An advertisement titled "It’s the FLAVOR that wins you!" had a picture of a skier zooming down a hill, and "Bosch – The Gold Medal Beer" below. With ads such as these, Bosch tied itself to local pride in the outdoor activities and natural beauty of the area. The Bosch Brewing Co. was also the third-largest employer in the area.
The Bosch Brewing Company reached its peak in 1955, producing one hundred thousand barrels. Five years later, however, Bosch’s sales began to decline. By 1965, the Bosch family sold the company to local investors led by Charles Finger, who pushed for new technology and products to resurrect the company.
Brewer’s Digest commented in 1966: "Certainly the Bosch Brewing Co. has all of the ingredients for success that a smaller brewery can have – an efficient, well equipped plant; dedicated employees who know their jobs thoroughly and who take personal pride in the products the company markets; an intimate and realistic knowledge of the market it serves and of the consumers’ desires. But most of all it has an enthusiastic management, the kind of enthusiasm that can become contagious among potential customers."
In 1968, Bosch introduced a Sauna Beer, developed after consultation with brewers in Finland. According to The Houghton Daily Mining Gazette: "This beer is for those who prefer a light bodied, mildly flavorful, bitter-free beer, light lunches, and long evenings." It was a light beer similar to Finnish "kalja", and was called a perfect after-sauna thirst quencher. Since many local residents had Finnish ancestry, and so were familiar with saunas, Sauna Beer sold well, and won Houghton County’s Product of the Year Contest in 1968.
By the late 1960s, Bosch was making three beers, all light lagers: Sauna Beer, the flagship label Bosch, and premium Gilt Edge.
On September 28, 1973, the last keg of Bosch beer was delivered to Schmidt’s Corner Bar in Houghton. The strong connection between Bosch and the community was even more apparent on that day. The Daily Mining Gazette captured the atmosphere at the bar stating “there were so many the patrons were crawling on one another”, while locals expressed their dismay, “the Copper Country is losing many of these small industries… we just can’t stand to lose such industries, that’s all that’s to it.”
The trademarks were sold to the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Leinenkugel continued to produce the signature Bosch brand in the traditional flavor, and hired Bosch master brewer Vincent Charney. Brand loyalists continued drinking Bosch, but after a few years, profit from the Bosch brand diminished and Leinenkugel suspended production of Bosch.
The number of small specialty brewers in the U.S. has risen dramatically in recent decades. In 1997 the United States for the first time surpassed Germany in the number of breweries, despite Germany having the highest per capita consumption of beer. From 1983 to mid 1999, the number of brewing firms in the United States increased from 43 to 1414, and the number continues to increase. Nearly every brewery opened in the past 20 years has been associated with the microbrewery movement. By definition, a microbrewery is “a brewery producing less than 15,000 barrels per year.
In 1994, Leinenkugel manager Chuck Strehl said: "Microbreweries have become economically feasible in past years and some smaller breweries have been able to get at new lease on life." He said "The Bosch label could probably be produced today and even make a profit."