Fitger Brewing Company

A postcard of Fitger’s Brewery c. 1900-1915. The artwork came from the company’s letterhead and includes some buildings that were never constructed, and a roof-top garden above the offices that was also never completed. (Image: Zenith City Press)

On November 11, 1882, Michael Fink hired August Fitger as the brewmaster of his 1881 Lake Superior Brewery along Superior Street at Sixth Avenue East. Only six months after Fink hired Fitger, the new brewer purchased half of Fink’s Lake Superior Brewery. Fitger’s friend Percy Anneke, a salesman for Milwaukee bottling company Voechting, Shape & Co., agreed to buy the other half when he had enough money, and in the spring of 1885 he was ready to invest.

Carl George August Fitger was 17 when he left his hometown of Delmenhorst, Germany, to emigrate to the U.S. in 1871. Within three years he was working for Milwaukee’s Phillip Best Brewing Company. Fitger then spent several years in Munich, Germany, attending the Weihenstephan Brewing School. He returned to Milwaukee in 1879 and by 1882 was brewing for the Samuel Wainwright & Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, when Fink lured him to Duluth.

Percy Shelley Anneke, named by his feminist mother for the British poet, was born in Milwaukee in 1850. In 1880 he began working for Voechting, Shape & Co., who bottled the beer brewed by Milwaukee’s Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. Exactly when and how Fitger and Anneke first met remains unclear. Anneke’s mother died in November 1884, and after her estate was settled, Anneke settled with Fink. In 1885 the brewing outfit became known as the A. Fitger & Co. Lake Superior Brewery.

Fitger’s First 35 Years

One of the pair’s first actions was to start bottling beer, which was relatively new in the 1880s and becoming more important to a brewery’s success in the U.S. The Lake Superior Brewery began selling bottled beer in November 1885. Like other brewers, Fitger & Co. called their bottled beer an “Export Beer,” which then meant it was pasteurized for longer shelf life— and therefore could be shipped or “exported” to customers. The next year Fitger and Anneke broke ground on a new two-story stock house faced with local bluestone and months later began building a three-story storage facility also faced with bluestone. As Duluth’s population grew, so did the Fitger facility, with a dedicated bottling house in 1888.

By 1890 the brewery was advertising itself as “the largest in the state of Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities.” That year they built a boiler house and an engine house to generate DC electricity. The engine house contained another important device: the first ice machine put to use in a Minnesota brewery. Two years later work began on a new brewhouse, and four years after that a new settling room.

A year after Duluth Brewing & Malting opened in Duluth in 1896, the News Tribune reported that Fitger’s had remained the city’s largest brewery and that “over half of the beer consumed in Duluth is brewed by this firm.” The next year the brewery built another stock house to keep up with demand. That July Fitger’s alma mater, Germany’s Weihenstephan Brewing School, awarded him a medal for his twenty years of experience in the brewing industry—the first time the medal had been given to an American.

Fitger & Co. started out the 20th century by constructing a 135-foot chimney atop the boiler house. The next year they built new four-story brew-and-mill house along Superior Street faced with local bluestone and trimmed with brownstone to match the stock house. The new facility was built adjacent to the original 1881 brewery, and improvements included a new 240-barrel copper kettle.

With a new brewing facility, Fitger and Anneke decided it was time they invested in a new brewmaster. They found John Beerhalter working in a brewery in St. Louis, just as Fitger had done. Beerhalter was born in Germany in 1874 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1891 after spending a few years working for a German brewery. He attended Chicago’s Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology and excelled academically, reportedly earning the highest scores the school had ever recorded. After graduating, he took a job with Anheuser-Busch. While his surname seemed to symbolize his profession, it actually translates to “berry holder.” During his first four years, Beerhalter remodeled both stock houses, the boiler house, and even the new brew-and-mill house and added a wash-and-racking house.

In 1904 Fitger and Anneke changed the company name to the Fitger Brewing Company, with Fitger as president and Anneke secretary and treasurer. That year Fitger’s sold 50,000 barrels of beer, though it now had the capacity to brew 100,000 barrels per annum. it also operated more than twenty-five agencies on the Iron Range and in northwestern Wisconsin, owned saloons and hotels on the Iron Range and a cold-storage facility in East Grand Forks.

In 1906 the company built a new three-story wooden icehouse, and the next year a three-story bottling house again faced with bluestone and trimmed with brownstone. When the bottling house was complete, the Fitger’s Complex stretched 340 feet along Superior Street, including an empty space of thirty-five feet. In 1908 it was filled by a three-story office building that also matched the other new buildings. Finally a modern stable/garage was constructed: Trucks had started to replace wagons.

Fitger and Beerhalter continued to make investments in the brewing facility. In 1910 they hired a German chemist to set up an in-house laboratory to improve quality control. Duluth brewing historian Coopen Johnson gives the chemist’s name as von Sternberg and credits him for “the largest and most successful investment Fitger and Anneke would ever undertake”—a field of sediment in California.

More specifically, a deposit of diatomaceous earth, made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of microalgae. The fossils form a soft sedimentary rock, which becomes a fine white powder when crushed. It is used in metal polishes, toothpaste, cat litter, thermal insulation, and as a stabilizer in dynamite. More important to the brewery, diatomaceous earth also makes for a wonderful filter material. It was also called “kieselguhr,” the same name as a company in Lampoc, California, that mined it. Fitger and Anneke purchased the company, both sell the diatomaceous earth and also to use it to improve their beer. Beerhalter used it in his Fitger Kieselguhr Filter, a nickel- plated machine that used 254 sixteen-inch-long filter tubes, each three inches in diameter, to “correct the evils of pasteurization,” by purifying beer without using steam. It made “draught beer in bottles” and prompted a name change: In 1914 the brewery relabeled its Export Beer as Natural Beer. By then Fitger’s was making deliveries as far west as Montana and employed 225 men in Duluth alone.

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