Beer and Northeast just seem to go hand-in-hand. Beer, in fact, was brewed in Northeast long before Minneapolis became a city, and Minnesota became a state.
First on the Northeast brewing scene was John Orth, who opened his eponymous brewery near what is now Marshall and Broadway in 1850 when the area was called St. Anthony. It was small, just 18 by 30 feet, and its first brew kettle produced only two and a half barrels at a time, but it was the second brewery built in Minnesota. An immigrant from Alsace, an area in northeastern France that borders with Switzerland and Germany, the 29-year-old Orth set about brewing German-style ales, porters and lagers. An artesian well on the property supplied the brewing water, and Orth stored his beer in nearby sandstone caves. Orth bought his barrels from Anthony Schon and Jacob Schnitzius, who had a cooperage nearby.
Orth advertised his beer in the St. Anthony Express in 1851, saying, “I am now prepared to supply the citizens of the Territory with ale and beer.”
In 1854, the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad celebrated the connection of the East Coast to the Mississippi River by rail by inviting 1,200 of its friends and investors on a trip that included a steamboat ride to St. Anthony. When they arrived, they found rooms at the St. Charles Hotel on 6th and Marshall and beer at Orth’s. The plaza of the Grain Belt Terrace apartments at 1215 Marshall St. NE protects the historic remains of the Orth brewery.
A civic-minded guy, Orth served on St. Anthony’s first city council.
In 1856, the Territorial Legislature authorized the town of Minneapolis on the West Bank of the river. Minnesota became a state in 1858. In 1872, Minneapolis joined with St. Anthony on the East Bank and the two became one city. Orth, in the meantime, had continued to expand his business. By 1874, he was operating 18 breweries throughout the city and during the month of May 1876, he produced $10,000 worth of beer, according to a report in the Minneapolis Tribune.
But he was not alone in the brewery business for very long. One of his employees, Gottlieb Gluek, left the company in 1857 to found the Mississippi Brewery on 20th and Marshall. With another man, John Rank, they built an operation that produced about 1,000 barrels a year. Rank left to became a liquor dealer in 1862, and Gluek re-named the company for himself.
Gluek used caves on Nicollet Island to store and age his beer. He, too, drew his brewing water from a deep artesian well on the property. (Iris Lueck, who lived at 29th and Randolph In the early 1950s, recalled that many of her Polish neighbors would visit the well to get water for making pickles.) Gluek steadily expanded his business and built a fine mansion next door to the brewery.
As any grain elevator operator can tell you, grain dust is highly explosive. In 1880, a fire swept through Gluek’s brewery. Four employees jumped from the burning building. Fortunately for Gluek, no one died, and his beer was safely cached on Nicollet Island, so he had the wherewithal to rebuild. That same year, Orth moved his brewery to the corner of Broadway and Marshall and built the Minneapolis landmark we know today. It, too, suffered an explosion and fire in 1893.
The two breweries competed head to head. Minneapolis Brewing and Gluek Brewing had different marketing strategies. Grain Belt built a regional brand, with distribution in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas. Gluek built its brand with “tied houses,” bars that were supplied with everything from signs to furniture to food by Gluek and sold primarily Gluek beer. (One of the last remaining tied houses is Gluek’s Restaurant & Bar at 16 N. 6th Street in downtown Minneapolis. The Sample Room at 2124 Marshall was once Thies Hotel and Sample Room and was also a tied house.)
In 1893, Orth merged with four other breweries in the city to form the Minneapolis Brewing Company, but most people referred to it as Grain Belt, after the brewery’s most successful product. Although Gottleib Gluek died in 1880, his sons Louis, Charles and John continued to expand the operation. By the turn of the century, Gluek turned out 50,000 barrels of beer per year and had plans to produce 125,000 annually. In Northeast’s First Ward alone, there were 40 saloons.
Other pioneer brewers
Northeast hosted other brewers, but none with the staying power of Orth or Gluek. Joseph Hafflin operated a small brewery at Third and Prairie Streets (now 12th Avenue and Third Street NE) for about a year (1859-1860). A pair of Swedes, William Olson and Thomas Johnson, brewed weiss beer at the corner of Jefferson and Spring Streets during 1877-78. At the time, weiss beer was considered non-intoxicating because of its low alcohol content.
Dr. Peter Lauritzen founded the Lauritzen Malt Company in 1903 at 1900 Third Street NE to produce “healthful” products such as beer and malt for digestive purposes. A raid on a “blind pig” (an illegal saloon), found the bar selling Lauritzen’s North Star beer on draught. Because it contained more than 2 percent alcohol, it was deemed not a “tonic,” but beer. Lauritzen’s company changed its name shortly thereafter to Hennepin Brewing. It lasted until 1918.
John Tjerneld tried his hand at brewing at 2014 Central Avenue from 1901-1905. His company made Swedish Malt Drinks.
Prohibition and the invention of malt liquor
Bowing to social pressure, Congress enacted the Volstead Act in 1919, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, importation and sales of alcoholic beverages. History has proven it to be a disastrous social experiment that brought out speakeasy clubs, gangsters and homemade concoctions such as bathtub gin. In the 13 years that followed, smaller breweries went out of business.
As Prohibition wore on, Grain Belt and Gluek hung on by bottling and canning fruit juice and “near beer” with less than .05 percent alcohol, although Grain Belt shut down in 1929. The company sold some of its labels to Theodore Hamm in St. Paul. The Gluek family had other business ventures and was able to keep its brewing equipment running. Minneapolis Brewing was remodeling its production line when Prohibition ended on April 7, 1930. Gluek had its delivery wagons ready to roll at midnight, stocked with pilsners, lagers and ales.
The brewers barely had time to recover from 13 sales-less years when America entered World War II. Sugar, gasoline, nylon stockings and grain were severely rationed to aid the war effort. During the war years, Alvin Gluek patented the first-ever recipe for malt liquor. Known as “Stite,” the double-fermented high-alcohol beer came in a green can, which, coupled with its reputation for creating hangovers, earned it the nickname of “Green Death.”
The consolidation of the American brewing industry
Beer was dumbed down after the war. Consumers were persuaded that lighter beers were more civilized, and breweries produced beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content.
Most of Grain Belt’s market was a one-day truck drive from Minneapolis; Gluek’s market was even smaller. Even though the Northeast breweries worked hard to increase their market share, after the 1960s, larger breweries sought domination. They undercut local brewers on price, rendering them unable to compete. Despite its many innovations and sales in 27 states, Gluek was one of those brewers.
In 1964, Gluek sold out to G. Heileman Co. of LaCrosse, Wis. The brewery and the Gluek mansion were torn down in 1966; the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board acquired the land in 1978 and created what is now Gluek Riverside Park.
In 1975, Grain Belt, once the 18th-largest brewery in the nation, was purchased by businessman Irwin Jacobs. A year later, he sold the labels to Heileman. The Romanesque Revival style building was slated for demolition, but neighborhood activists lobbied the City of Minneapolis to preserve the building and have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The main brewery building serves as offices; the wagon shed and millwright shop were combined to create the Pierre Bottineau Library.
Micro brewing renaissance
Northeast made brewing history again in 1986 when attorney James Page founded the area’s first micro brewery at 1300 Quincy Street NE (now the home of Workshop, whose website describes their business as “designing experiences in culture and technology”). Page built his brewery with second-hand brewing equipment. Page produced a couple of beers that found favor with the brewing press, “James Page Private Stock,” an Oktoberfest-style beer, and “Boundary Waters,” made with Minnesota wild rice. Page didn’t have a bottling line, so he contracted his bottled beer to August Schell in New Ulm and Minnesota Brewing Company in St. Paul. He wanted to expand, and made a stock offering in 2000. He raised $855,000, but the money went to pay bills instead of toward bottling equipment. Page eventually sold everything to Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin. Page’s production never surpassed 1,500 barrels per year.
The rise and proliferation of craft breweries
The craft brewing movement started in the mid-1990s and, according to the Brewers Association, has grown to a $26 billion industry that involves more than 6,000 breweries and provides more than 135,000 jobs.
The passage of the “Surly Bill” in 2011 allowed Minnesota craft brewers to sell their beers in their on-site taprooms. Most of Northeast’s craft breweries started in a garage or a basement. Current breweries:
56 Brewing, 3055 Columbia
It’s a community sponsored brewery – CSB – and customers can pre-order their beer. The brewery first opened in 2015, and moved to its present location in 2017.
612 Brew, 945 Broadway
612 is one of the oldest breweries in Northeast, established in 2013. In 2015, it opened up its own canning line, which enabled it to sell in stores.
Able Seedhouse, 1121 Quincy
Able opened in November 2015 with a focus on using local ingredients and making their own malt. It supplies many area restaurants with beer.
Bauhaus, 1315 Taylor St. NE
Located in a former metal foundry, Bauhaus Brew Labs was started in 2013. It takes its name from the Bauhaus School of Art and Design.
Broken Clock, 3134 California St.
Opened in May 2018 after expanding the space first occupied by NorthGate Brewing and then 56 Brewing. The second brewing cooperative in Northeast, it has approximately 550 members.
Dangerous Man, 1300 2nd St.
Situated in an old bank building, Dangerous Man celebrated its fifth anniversary in January, and the line to get in to get a bottle of its Chocolate Milk Stout stretched around the block. The brewery has made a commitment to staying small; it brews ten barrels a day.
Fair State, 2506 Central
A cooperative, Fair State releases a new brew “almost” every Thursday. Operations began at the brewery/taproom in August 2014. In 2015, Fair State was named one of RateBeer’s 10 best new brewers in the world. The co-op recently expanded into a 40,000 sq. ft. production brewery in St. Paul.
Head Flyer, 861 East Hennepin
Based in the Miller Textile building, family-owned Head Flyer opened in April 2017.
Indeed Brewing, 711 15th Avenue
Opened in August 2012, Indeed is Northeast’s original taproom. The company is “on tap” to brew 16,000 barrels this year, and has distribution in Wisconsin, North Dakota and throughout Minnesota.
Insight, 2821 East Hennepin
Insight opened in 2014 with a 3,000-sq.-ft. taproom and the capability of producing up to 40,000 barrels per year.
NorthGate Brewing, 783 Harding
The five-year-old brewery closed abruptly March 1, 2018. Owners Adam Sjogren, Todd Slininger, and Tuck Carruthers had been in negotiations to sell the craft brewery to Tod Fyten, owner of the Stagecoach, Fytenburg and St. Croix brands of beers. The five-year-old brewery started out on California Street in the space now occupied by Broken Clock Brewing Co-op. It poured its first pints at Grumpy’s Northeast in 2013.
Hoverson, Doug, Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Winship, Kim, “A story without heroes: The cautionary tale of malt liquor,” All About Beer Magazine, May 1, 2005
Brandt, S., “Gluek’s history here predates the city,” Blog MPLS., Nov. 3, 2012
Gluek Building, ci.minneapolis.mn.us/hpc/landmarks/hpc_landmarks_6th_st_n_14_gluek_building
Tied houses, mprnews.org/story/2015/06/05/tied-houses-taprooms
James Page Brewing Company, Wikipedia
The websites of the current breweries.
Below:John Orth’s Brewery was the first in Hennepin County and Gluek Brewing seen from the river. The Gluek mansion was next door. The site is now Gluek Riverside Park. (Photos courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society); Grain Belt delivery wagon, from an undated postcard and Gluek Brewery workers in the 1960s. Irvin Lueck, the author’s father, is third from left. (Photos provided by Iris Lueck); An exhibit of Grain Belt Brewery memorabilia is on display at Pierre Bottineau Library through September.