Columbus Brewing Company was the last brewery outside of Omaha when it ceased production in 1954. It produced several local brands of beer, and survived Prohibition by brewing “near beer.”
By David L. Bristow, Editor
Founded in 1863, Columbus Brewing Company was one of Nebraska’s oldest breweries, and the last outside of Omaha when it ceased production in 1954. This barrel in the Nebraska History Museum collections appears to pre-date the Prohibition era. The company’s brands included Columbus Beer, Pawnee Dark Beer, All-American, and Ronz.
On March 24, 1917, the company announced plans to manufacture “near beer” in order to stay in business after statewide Prohibition began on May 1.
According to a 1954 Omaha World-Herald article, “Near beer, which contained less than a half of one per cent of alcohol, was named, a contemporary wit said, by some one who was ‘a damned poor judge of distance.’” Buyers soon learned to improve the product by adding an ounce or two of illegal grain alcohol.
Whatever the limitations of near beer, it helped the brewery survive Prohibition. In the end, industry consolidation squeezed out Columbus and other Nebraska breweries. Under new ownership, in 1954 the company switched to producing cone-topped cans of Mission Soda for a now-defunct Los Angeles company.
Here are some of Columbus Brewing Company’s brands:
“Columbus Brewery Plans to Manufacture Near Beer,” Omaha Daily Bee, March 24, 1917.
“Soft Drink Sales in Cans Planned,” Omaha World-Herald, March 9, 1954.
David Wiggins, “Beer: From Wheelbarrow to Big Horses to Free Lunch to Cans,” Omaha World-Herald, April 25, 1954.
“Mission Soda,” Planet Retro, Oct. 31, 2008, https://blog.retroplanet.com/soda-pop-of-the-week-mission-soda