When walking down any given Twin Cities street, one is never more than a stone’s throw away from a microbrewery. But beer brewing was not always such a popular activity in Minnesota, in fact, it has a long and sordid history.
The first Minnesota brewery was opened by Anthony Yoerg, who arrived in St. Paul in 1848 and began construction on the brewery near where Washington Street and Eagle Street once met, now the St. Paul Civic Center area. They sold their first beer in the spring of 1849, according to History on the Web.
Yoerg died on July 5, 1895 and his family continued to operate Yoerg Brewing Co. even throughout Prohibition, when they produced soft drinks. The brewery closed in 1952 after the last Yoerg son died.
In 2016, Thomas Keim and Carole Minoque decided to bring back Minnesota’s first beer and reached out to Wisconsin’s Octopi Brewing. Yoerg’s is now back in St. Paul brewing beer on site at their site at 378 Maria Ave.
Keim started the project to bring back Minnesota’s first beer in 2015, putting out their first Yoerg in the summer of 2016. Keim spent a lot of time going through the Yoerg family’s paperwork looking for their beer recipe, finding where they got their hops and learning they steamed-brewed their beer.
From this information, Keim and his team did their best to recreate Minnesota’s first beer. Today one can find the recreated Yoerg beer at 40 to 50 liquor stores in the Twin Cities area, along with the Yoerg’s brewery.
According to History on the Web, over 1,000 breweries operated in the United States prior to National Prohibition in 1919. When the 18th Amendment was repealed, only 31 breweries were operating in the U.S. Brewery numbers would not reach their pre-prohibition levels again until the 1980s or 90s.
The author of "Land of Amber Water," Douglas Houverson said many Minnesota breweries shut their doors during Prohibition, with some staying open and making near-beer or sodas.
“The majority of the ones that were open before Prohibition closed or went to other products,” Houverson said. “There were a number of them that made near-beer. To make near-beer you make beer and then dealcoholized it. So it was really easy to skip the last step and send a batch out to your trusted accounts.”
According to Houverson, several of these breweries were raided and shut down during the Prohibition era.
Houverson just finished writing a book on the history of brewing history of Wisconsin and noted that during Prohibition, Minnesota produced more whiskey while Wisconsin produced more beer.
Summit Brewing Co. was the first new brewery to start operations in the Twin Cities since Prohibition, opening in St. Paul in 1986. Mark Stutrud opened Summit Brewing as a small brewery on University Avenue.
According to Houverson there are many interesting facts about Minnesota and its brewing history, but to him what stands out most is how brewing is a family business in Minnesota, implemented primarily by immigrants.
“They were immigrants trying to come over to reproduce the family business,” Hoverson said. “They probably dreamed of making it rich but not at the level that some of them did.”