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Sunday
May052019

The Minneapolis Brewing Company

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

Grain Belt, the friendly beer. It’s hard to find anyone in Minneapolis who doesn’t enjoy a cold and refreshing Grain Belt. While it is very popular around the Twin Cities, it has had its fair share of trials and tribulations, so let’s take a look at how Minneapolis’ beer came to be.

Minneapolis was quickly growing during the late 1800s. The milling industry offered thousands of jobs for immigrants, and what do people who work long hours love after an exhausting day on the job? Relaxing with a nice and flavorful beer. As lumber and flour mills were popping up left and right along the Mississippi riverfront, so were breweries. On July 15, 1890, four of the city’s most popular breweries, Orth Brewing Company, The Heinrich Brewing Association, F.D. Norenberg Brewery and Malt House, and Germania Brewing Association, consolidated to form the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. Soon after, the newly formed company realized using four separate facilities was not very efficient. They consolidated their equipment and resources and built a brand new brewery on the site of John Orth’s original brewery he started in 1850 that was also the first brewery in Hennepin County.

The Minneapolis Brewing Company brewery taken on 13th Avenue NE looking west.

The $500,000 brewery, or over 14 million after inflation, would go on to produce 300,000 barrels a year, and additions in the coming decade would see production grow to over half a million a year. The brewery had five main brands, Gilt Edge, Weiner, Kaiser, London Porter and Extra Pale, and it wouldn’t be until after the 1893 Nicollet Island-Northeast Fire when they would introduce their Golden Grain Belt Old Lager. The newly renamed Minneapolis Brewing Company would go on to be a beer powerhouse in the Midwest and they were the 2nd largest brewery in the state after Hamm’s.

Like every brewery in the country, the Prohibition Era was not kind to the Minneapolis Brewing Company. To make ends meet they started the Golden Grain Belt Juice Company where they would make near beer that was labeled as Minnehaha Pale Ale. They used a specialized process to take the alcohol out of the beer and then made rubbing alcohols, toilet preparations, and barber’s supplies. However, these new products could never bring in the money like beer did, so in October of 1929 they liquidated the company.

Golden Grain Belt Juice Co crate

Once the 18th Amendment was repealed, the Minneapolis Brewing Company began producing beer once again in 1933. This time they would make their Grain Belt Old Lager the face of the company, and the famous slogan “The Friendly Beer with the Friendly Flavor” was created. It would take another twenty years for Grain Belt Premium to hit the shelves. This new beer was made to please the “younger, more fickle consumer.” If only they could taste craft beer now.

Grain Belt label from 1945

In April of 1975, Irwin Jacobs purchased the Grain Belt brand and eight months later, sold it to the G. Heileman Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be until 1991 when Grain Belt would come back to Minnesota when a group of investors bought the brand and the old Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul, and started the Minnesota Brewing Company. During this time, Grain Belt had a short-lived resurgence not only in the Midwest, but nationally too. In 1994 they won a gold medal in the American Lager category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Unfortunately, the company could not continue to run, and on June 24, 2001, the Minnesota Brewing Company closed down for good. However, Ted Marti of the August Schell Brewing Company noticed how passionate Minnesotans were about Grain Belt, and he bought the brand shortly after the closing of the Minnesota Brewing Company. Since then, Schell’s has done wonders for the Grain Belt brand. To honor the beer’s heritage and original location they created Grain Belt Nordeast, my favorite beer. Six years later they started making Grain Belt Lock and Dam in honor of the closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, and around the same time they made a special beer for the Minnesota State Fair, Grain Belt Blu. This beer became very popular and now you can find it on tap and in stores.

The story of the Minneapolis Brewing Company and Grain Belt has its ups and downs, but there’s one thing that will always stay the same, it is one of Minneapolis’ great staples. From enjoying a Grain Belt Blu on a restaurant patio looking out over the Minneapolis riverfront on a summer evening, to cracking open a cold Nordeast in the backyard around a bonfire, Grain Belt is as Minneapolis as it gets.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 6+ years.

He can be reached at mrainvillejr@comcast.net.

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