“Family history is a perishable commodity. It disappears with time, as memories fade, and as loved ones pass on.” —Guy Black

It’s said that genealogy is like a mirror. You start looking into it and interesting faces begin to appear. 

One of the faces — or at least names — to appear out of the foggy mists of time as I’ve explored my own family history over the years is that of my paternal great-uncle, John A. Feiner.

Possessed of an inquisitive nature and a keen interest in history, family and otherwise, from my earliest recollections, I first began dabbling in genealogy in my teen years, days when several of my grandparents and a winnowed smattering of great-aunts and -uncles were still alive. 

Initial sketches of the Johnson family tree were cobbled together from elaborate cursive entries set down in thick and lavishly illustrated old family Bibles, funeral memorial cards, brittle yellowed newspaper clippings noting milestone marriages, births and deaths, and conversations with family members regarding their recollections of days and relatives gone by.

Among the early names to appear on the family tree on my dad’s side was that of my beloved great-aunt Myrtle’s husband, John Feiner, a name etched in Wisconsin’s brewing pantheon for posterity alongside that of Frederick Pabst, Valentine Blatz, Joseph Schlitz, Jacob Leinenkugel, Adam Gettelman and Frederick Miller. 

Well, actually his name is more like a footnote next to Wisconsin’s brewing greats, the tiny 20,000-barrel Fox Valley Brewing Co. brewery in Menasha never turning out more than 1,200 barrels of his namesake Feiner Beer (“A Finer Brew”) during its short 1940-’42 run at First and Manitowoc streets, but a little bit of family pride in a link, however small, to one of the state’s most famous industries can’t be helped. 

Evidently I come by my long-standing interest in Wisconsin’s brewing legacy honestly. It was, after all, the family business for at least two successive generations. 

While the Feiner name might not have the prestige of the pedigree of being a Pabst, Leinenkugel, Miller, Blatz or Schlitz descendent Uihlein, I take a measure of pride in the Feiner name.

While great-uncle John’s face has been lost to history over the generations, his name as a Wisconsin master brewer, interestingly, lives on for posterity on a rare treasure trove of Wisconsin breweriana, including Feiner Beer church key bottle openers, paper bottle labels, matchbooks, archi­val newspaper advertisements, and tap knobs heralding that “Nothing Could Be Finer” than a bottle or draught of Feiner.

Thanks to the wonder of the ever-expanding treasure trove of research resources on the internet, unavailable when I was a kid, a number of new details for future genealogical research have surfaced in my recent genealogical explorations, including three new relatives tied to great-uncle John — his master brewer brother, Frank Johann Feiner Jr.; his master brewer father, Frank Johann Feiner Sr., who served as brewmaster at Rockford Brewing Co. in my Illinois-born wife’s hometown before moving on to serve as the longtime brewmaster at Berlin Brewing Co. in Green Lake County; and his mother, Anna Gruber.

Those new leads will make for a nice research project for a cold and snowy winter day, kicking back at the computer with a longneck, albeit not a Feiner Beer. 

Who knows? Great-uncle John’s face — and those of his brother and parents — may someday appear out of the foggy mists of time. 

It’d be nice to put a face to a long-familiar name on my heirloom Feiner Beer church key. 

Nothing could be finer. Or Feiner.