Maybe it’s because of an influx of German immigrants in the late 1800’s, maybe it’s because of the easy access to wheat or maybe it’s just because Minnesotans like beer. Whatever the reason, this great State has consistently found itself at the leading edge of brewing. Even now, as Craft Beer has gained traction in the industry Micro-brewers have seen great success in Minnesota. It was a tour that I volunteered on with Preserve Minneapolis this past spring that sparked my interest in the history of our breweries. I intend to have somewhat of a series of blog posts, each featuring a different Minnesota Brewery and the first in this series is Grain Belt.
Grain Belt is a name synonymous with Minnesota Beer. In 1891 four prominent Minneapolis Brewers entered into a merger that resulted in the formation of the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. Orth, Heinrich, Norenberg and Germania Breweries needed to build a facility that was large enough to sustain the production of their new brewery. More than practical, they wanted the building to make a statement about their company. The result was what is now known as the Grain Belt Brew House in Northeast Minneapolis.
RFP Architects did not allow pictures within the buidling, so if you want to see the interior you’ll have to take the tour!
The building features four distinctly different architectural styles that represent the four companies. The complex included a brew house, bottling houses and stable for delivery horses. Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company introduced what would become its signature beer titled Golden Grain Belt Old Lager in 1893; the name would later be shortened to Grain Belt. By 1910 Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company was the 2nd largest brewery in Minneapolis, second only to Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul. By the 1960’s it was listed as the 9th largest brewery in the United States.
Many breweries met their end during Prohibition from 1920 to 1934. During this time Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company adapted and found a way to thrive. The company changed its name to Golden Grain Juice Company and made the majority of its revenue from its production of “Near Beer” which contained less than .5% alcohol. The Brewery was maintained in family ownership up until 1975 when it was sold to Irwin Jacbos, a local Real Estate Developer, in April. Jacobs affirmed that he had intentions of continuing the Brewery’s tradition. It wasn’t long after he took ownership that it became apparent that he had no such intentions. By November of 1975 he had sold off the Grain Belt label, inventory and wholesale organization to G. Heileman Brewing Company based in St. Paul, Minnesota. The former home of Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company would bottle its last beer on Christmas Day 1975. Jacobs gave the employees at the Brewery less than two week’s notice of the closure. Since the sale of the Grain Belt label it has passed through a few owners but is now brewed in New Ulm, Minnesota by Schell Brewing Company.
View of Downtown Minneapolis from Brewery’s rooftop deck
The Brewery building would become known as the Grain Belt Brew House and spent the next 24 years sitting vacant. That is, if you don’t count the animals that took up residence within its walls. It proved to be a difficult building to retrofit. In 1988 the neighborhood surrounding the building was up in arms when the owner began to demolish the Brew House. Public outcry resulted in the City of Minneapolis purchasing the property that same year to save it from destruction. The City would have just as difficult of a time finding a proper suitor for the complex, but during their time as owner they took steps to ensure its safety as a Minneapolis landmark. In 1990 the Grain Belt Brewery Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Finally, in 1999 Minneapolis found an investor in Ryan Companies. Together with RSP Architects the building’s renovation began. Restoring and renovating the structure would be a difficult task. During my tour the guide described the building when she first entered it before the restoration began, saying that it was “disgusting”. The floors covered in animal waste, bats, birds and millions of kinds of bugs had made the Brewery their home. Moisture infiltration resulted in mold and mildew that’s sent was potent from the parking lot. Enter the Grain Belt Brew House today and you will see no remnants of this state of disrepair. The renovation of the structure won The National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award in 2006. It maintained the majority of the existing layout and character. RSP Architects and Ryan Companies consulted with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the Minneapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the National Park Service during the renovation to ensure they met the minimum standards and honored the Brew House’s history. Meticulous measures were taken such as removing the grand stair case, cleaning and repairing it and then reinstalling it in the main entry.
RSP took residency as Ryan Company’s tenant in 2002. The former Wagon Shed is now the Pierre Bottineau Branch of the Minneapolis Public Library. Minneapolis still owns the former “Control Center” that is located across the street from the Grain Belt Brew House and is working to find a suitable investor. It was built in 1893 and includes a 1910 additional and adjacent parking lot. A sign in the basement of the building reads “bier und Brot mocht die Wangen rot” which is German for “beer and bread make the cheeks red”. Preserve Minneapolis will be hosting another tour of the Grain Belt Brew House Spring of 2013, if you’re interested in attending stay tuned for details!
Thanks for stopping by!