Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Duluth's historic western breweries: In Heaven there is no beer, but there's plenty in Duluth

People's Brewery: 4230 W. 2nd St. Duluth, MN
By Jim Heffernan
With the new craft beer operations seemingly opening on a regular basis, especially in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood, I thought I'd reprint a piece I wrote for Zenith City Online in 2015.  As the column points out, Duluth has a storied past in brewing even as it moves today into the forefront of craft brewing in the Upper Midwest. 
Now that Duluth is one of the major centers for craft brewing in the Upper Midwest, perhaps it’s time to take a glance back at Duluth’s storied brewing history, together with shifting attitudes toward drinking today and in the past.

Duluth has a rich history of beer brewing going back to its earliest settlement in the 1850s, with small breweries popping up and fading in the last half of the 19th century before what I’ll call the “big three” established themselves here in large brick edifices, two of them in the city’s western neighborhoods.

About a century later, by the mid-1950s, Duluth was the only city in Minnesota hosting three major breweries, but their days were numbered.

The best remembered today—Fitger’s—was not in a western neighborhood. Major portions of that brewing company’s imposing structure at 600 East Superior Street remain as a hotel and shopping and dining facility including Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille, an operation befitting the complex’s 135-year history. 
Fitgers Brewery, Duluth, MN


Major brewing elsewhere in the city was located in West End (now Lincoln Park) and West Duluth (now Spirit Valley), where hardly any traces of their operations exist today. Duluth Brewing and Malting stood at 231 South 29th Avenue West (adjacent to today’s Clyde Iron/Heritage Sports Center facility) and the People’s Brewery operated out of 4230 West Second Street, a block south of Grand Avenue.

Like Fitger’s, both were housed in imposing castle-like buildings, with Duluth Brewing and Malting

operating in a six-story brick building a stone’s throw from today’s path of Interstate 35 through that part of Duluth. According to Lost Duluth, Duluth Brewing and Malting’s headquarters had at least three towers and was trimmed with stone quarried at Fond du Lac.

I remember the building, usually called the “Royal Brewery” (after one of its popular brands) in my lifetime. It contained a taproom where parties and wedding receptions were held well into the 1960s. Royal went out of business in 1966, with most of the property purchased by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for Interstate 35 construction.

Royal’s West Duluth neighbor, the People’s Brewery, was established in 1908 by socialist entrepreneurs (a seeming oxymoron) “to avoid having to buy beer from Fitger’s and large national breweries and so they could…resist the evils of capitalism,” according to Lost Duluth. That didn’t stop them from erecting a five-story, castle-like structure for their brewing operation. 


And for socialists, the People’s people seemed pretty impressed with European royalty, as were their competitors a few block eastward at Duluth Brewing and Malting. The People’s Brewery’s best known beer was named “Regal Supreme” while Duluth Brewing and Malting produced a popular product called “Royal Bohemian” which later became “Royal 58.” That brewery also developed the “Rex” trademark, which later was sold to Fitger’s where it became one of the brewery's most popular beers. Rex has a strong royalty association as well—“Rex” is Latin for “king;” The beer’s full name was “Rex ImperialDry Beer.”

Portions of these huge complexes remain today. Carlson Duluth Plumbing is housed in what was once the offices of Duluth Malt and Brewing, and Brock-White Landscape Products and Serv-Pro operate out of remnants of the former People’s facilities. In fact, the brewery’s tanks are still inside the building Serv-Pro owns, as the walls would need to be partially demolished to remove them.

With modern brewing methods, it no longer takes multi-story, rambling factory-like buildings with scores of employees to produce beer. Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood alone houses two of the many craft beer producers that have cropped up in the Zenith City over the past several years: Lake Superior Brewing Co. at 2711 West Superior St., which bills itself as Minnesota’s oldest microbrewer, and Bent Paddlebrewing at 1912 West Michigan Street. Several other microbreweries—including the Brewhouse, Carmody Irish Pub & Brewing, Blacklist Brewing, and Canal Park Brewing Company—operate out of brewpubs found downtown and in the Canal Park business district, where you will also find a microdistillery.

Beer, beer everywhere, and plenty of varieties to drink, unlike those days of yore when there were just three breweries in the city, housed in massive buildings. They were three too many, though, as far as folks clinging to temperance attitudes were concerned.

Prohibition, the American experiment that likely spawned more beer brewing than we have even today—but undercover—ended in 1933 after 14 dry years, but the attitudes it promulgated lasted well into mid-century and beyond. Protestant (but not Catholic) churches, in particular, condemned “demon rum” (as all drinking alcohol was often called) and Duluth had an active chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union until well after World War II.

In the Lutheran environment I was reared in, any drinking of alcohol was soundly condemned from the pulpit, with card playing and dancing not far behind. And while that message received lip service by many congregants, plenty of booze rendered its own lip service in the confines of people’s homes. And of course, for those less concerned about the religious attitudes toward drinking, the city’s West End offered plenty of taverns for open defiance of drinking strictures laid down in the churches.

Even in the 1960s, when, as a young newspaper reporter in Duluth I would cover meetings of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Board, its members—led at the time by a Lutheran minister—tried to keep a tight lid on all purveyors of malt beverages and spirits.

Today, thanks to the most recent session of the Minnesota Legislature, you can even buy a growler of beer to take home on a Sunday, a move that remained controversial due partly to those blue-nosed attitudes of the past, which continue to prohibit, in Minnesota, off-sale beer and liquor sales on the Sabbath.

Those attitudes are fading fast, though, as more and more small brewing operations compete for a public that today views beer drinking in moderation as an innocent libation and not a ticket to eternal damnation.

So today we can celebrate this new era of Duluth’s brewing history by raising a glass of local brew without fear of the afterlife—and we should do it while we can, for as the song says, “In heaven there is no beer.”

Originally appeared on August 16, 2015 in Zenith City Online

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Political memoirs of a ‘distinguished’ ex-journalist...

By Jim Heffernan
I covered a lot of political campaigns in my days as a distinguished journalist. Umm, distinguished? Well, distinguished from, say, garbage man or woman, or doctor or nurse.

Now we again find ourselves in the midst of a hotly contested political campaign in Duluth, the Eighth Congressional District, the State of Minnesota (also Wisconsin, if you’re inclined that way). Everything but the “president.” (Quotation marks intended.)

My journalism career covering political campaigns started way, way back in 1964, briefly covering the campaign of Congressman William E. Miller for vice president of the United States of America. (What other United States would I be referring to? More on that later.)

Some readers — oh, I’d say just over 99.9 percent — do not remember William Miller, but I do. He
William E. Miller
was the running mate of Barry Goldwater in Goldwater’s bid for the presidency in 1964. Some readers — oh I’d say about 42.3 percent — do not remember Barry Goldwater either, but I do. The Republican Goldwater-Miller team was facing the Lyndon B. Johnson-Hubert H. Humphrey team fielded by the Democrats. All ancient history…like me.

Miller visited Duluth late in the campaign, drumming up votes for Republicans in perhaps the most concentrated Democratic region of the country. Some might recall Johnson-Humphrey won. I was assigned to follow Miller, mainly around UMD, where he held an impromptu press conference on the lawn outside Kirby Student Center, where as a recent student I had spent a lot of time smoking cigarettes and not hitting the books.

There have been many, many campaigns between then and now during which I had contact with incumbents and hopefuls in my journalism role. After a while you begin to notice certain similarities among people who run for public office, especially the big-timers seeking the higher offices.

All of which brings up the current campaign, which I am viewing from the sidelines, having retired
from active journalism some time ago. Certain themes never change, and today I thought I’d share a few that I’ve noticed over the past half century, give or take a decade or two.

This is a nonpartisan report. Candidates for the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, Reformists, Martians, any other, all often say the same things, lacing their pronouncements with the same declarations. Here are some I’ve noticed:
·      Let’s begin by picking up on “United States of America.” They hardly ever just say “United States” when they refer to our beloved country. Is there anyone within hearing distance who needs to be told they are talking about the United States of America? Yet they seem incapable of just saying United States without the “of America.” Maybe there are other “United States” somewhere on the planet but I can’t think of any.
·      All candidates roll up their sleeves a lot. Standing before rapt (or unwrapped) audiences day after day, they call for “bold reforms” of just about anything and vow that when elected they are going to roll up their sleeves and tackle the problem or maybe all problems. Some make these pronouncements jacket-less and wearing short sleeves. Ah, metaphor.
·      All Americans are “hard working,” when referred to by candidates. Are they? I am not a hard working American. I’m retired. Others still in the workforce might slough off a lot. There are some acknowledged exceptions cited by candidates of a certain stripe: Americans collecting welfare are not hard working, nor do they roll up their sleeves.
·      Military personnel are all “heroes” in the words of many politicians. This includes active or reserve personnel plus anyone who has ever served in the military, known as veterans. All are heroes on the campaign trail. Well, I served in the military and never achieved hero status. In fact, while serving in the military I never met anyone I consider to be an actual hero. There are some, of course. But very few.
·      When things get tough (and the tough get going), politicians never fail to “pick themselves up, dust themselves off” and tackle the problem. What problem? Any problem. Our society has a lot more problems during the political campaign season.
·      Woe betide the candidate who doesn’t pick him or herself up, dust off and pin a teensy-weensy American flag on their lapels, provided they are wearing jackets. Sometimes they must doff their jackets to roll up their sleeves to come to the aid of hard-working Americans or heroes who serve or have served in the military.

To conclude: In my own years as a distinguished journalist (distinguished from, say, accountant or bartender) I must say I always sought to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. Hmmm, that has a ring to it.