GALENA, Ill. — Red Stripe beer has become inextricably entwined with Jamaican culture.
The lager is widely considered to have Jamaican origin, with advertising supporting such claims.
However, Red Stripe’s origin is far closer to home than most think.
“Most people are really surprised when they find out Red Stripe started here,” said Troy Bervig, head brewer at Galena Brewing Co. “It’s one of those things that gets washed away with time.”
Located on Main Street in Galena, the walls of Galena Brewing are covered with Red Stripe artifacts and historical photos. Images of the lager’s original brewers sit alongside Red Stripe bottles from the 1930s.
The company wears its history with pride.
“We love to tell the stories with our beer tours,” said Dan Simon, brewery historian and tour guide for Galena Brewing. “It’s one of those bits of information that really gets people’s attention.”
The story goes like this: Galena Brewing was founded in 1929. During the 1930s, the company developed several unique beers. Three lagers were given the names blue stripe, white stripe and red stripe.
While the company saw moderate success, financial troubles forced it to close its doors in 1938. However, before shutting down, the company sold its Red Stripe brand and recipe to two British investors, who would brew the lager in Jamaica.
The lager became popular with soldiers stationed on the island during World War II. In 1985, it was imported to the United States.
Simon said Red Stripe’s true origin has been practically forgotten by the world. But not in Galena.
“Pretty much everyone who lives here knows where it’s from,” Simon said. “Every bar in Galena serves Red Stripe. It’s a source of pride.”
Warren Bell bought and reopened the brewery in 2009. Even he didn’t know about Galena Brewing’s history with Red Stripe.
“We hadn’t learned about it until later,” Bell said. “Now, it’s one of those things that is a part of the company’s history that we feel is important to preserve.”
The company does this in a few ways.
For one, Galena Brewing paraphernalia, including shirts and hats, are sold with a red stripe slapped on the logo.
A Reggae Weekend event also is held in July, where Bervig brews a beer that is similar to Red Stripe.
“It’s our way of tipping the hat,” Bervig said. “We see it as a fun way to celebrate our history.”
Today, Galena Brewing has become much more than a brewery. While it brews several beers, Bervig said it more closely resembles a family restaurant.
Despite these changes, it has never forgot its origins, Bervig said. Brewing vats stand proudly in the restaurant’s main hall. Old beer barrels line the walls.
And, a few bottles of Red Stripe sit unassumingly behind the bar.