Duluth Brewing & Malting

Duluth Brewing & Malting facilities, ca. 1902, after the construction of the malt house (far left) was completed. [Image; public Domain]

Reiner Hoch (pronounced “hoke”) fell into brewing when his parents settled in Milwaukee after emigrating from Prussia, Germany, where he was born in 1852. Two of Hoch’s brothers followed the same path, as did Carl Meeske (pronounced “mess-key”), born in Germany in 1850—and two of Meeske’s brothers, Otto and Gustav. Hoch and the Meeske brothers tried to start a brewery in Milwaukee. After Otto and Gustav set out on their own, and Hoch and Carl Meeske (pronounced “mess-key”) made enough money to purchase the Concordia Brewery in Marquette on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1878. Soon after they expanded the operation by purchasing the J. J. Kohl & Co. Brewery in Negaunee, eleven miles west. Both breweries were renamed the Upper Peninsula Brewing Company in 1890.

By then the timber and copper mining industries on the UP were dwindling, and following the Panic of 1893 Hoch and Meeske set their sights on the Zenith City. The Duluth News Tribune announced Hoch and Meeske’s plan for a brewery in Duluth in October 1895. Hoch moved to Duluth while Meeske remained in Marquette. In early November they had settled on a site at Twenty- Ninth Avenue West and Helm Street in Duluth’s West End. Brewery architect Maritzen’s plans showed a brewhouse and malt house. Most of the buildings were to be faced with red brick made in West Duluth and brownstone pulled from Chambers Quarry in Fond du Lac. The six-story brewhouse itself would be capable of producing fifty thousand barrels of beer a year.

The facility would also include an ice-machine house, a boiler house, a cellar house, a wash house, a shipping house, a bottling house, an office building, an ice-storage house, and a stable and barn capable of housing twenty horses, but it would take several years before the entire complex was complete. The proposed malt house would produce 250,000 bushels of malt annually, and employ roughly another thirty men. It would be one of just two Minnesota breweries that made its own malt. The other, St. Paul’s Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, was the state’s largest brewery. The malt house would not be complete until 1902. The company was named Duluth Brewing & Malting and promised that only the best ingredients would be used, including water drawn from an artesian well.

Before 1896 had ended, ads declared DB&M was delivering beer to accounts in “Duluth and West Superior and at all the adjacent towns thereto, and on the Iron Ranges.” They sold 8,257 barrels of beer in their first four months. Two years after it opened, the brewery expanded, installing fifteen new tanks, five each for fermenting, cleansing, and storage. By then it employed eighteen men. In 1901 DB&M made enough beer to require another storage facility.

That year more DB&M ads appeared in local newspapers, including promos for DB&M’s Moose Brand Beer, a repackaging of its malt-heavy standard beer. As the story goes, a large bull moose wandered through the brewery yard, causing a stir and inspiring Hoch to change the name. The moose soon became closely associated with the brewery and appeared on all of its products, whether or not it was Moose Brand Beer. Some locals began calling DB&M the “Moose Brewery.”

Construction of the long-anticipated malt house finally wrapped up in February 1902. It could produce 500,000 bushels a year, twice as much as the facility’s original plans called for and much more than DB&M itself could use. The rest was sold to other brewers and makers of industrial alcohol, creating another income stream. DB&M shipped malt to accounts throughout the U.S. and England.

DB&M’s brewing capacity had reached 150,000 barrels a year, and in 1904 the company bottled 1.1 million quarts of beer, and its payroll contained 125 names. New brewmaster John Lingelbach, a product of he Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology, had previously practiced his trade in Chicago and Milwaukee. Meanwhile the brewery’s sales reached the Iron Range, where the brewery built some tied house saloons and hotels. The brewery expanded again in 1906, and by then it was shipping 200,000 bushels of malt to eastern breweries every year. A new bottling house opened the next year. But as the bottling works went up, a fire destroyed the facility’s malt house and grain elevator. DB&M was rebuilding by November.

A 1908 profile of the company that appeared in the News Tribune claimed the company employed over 200 people, 115 of them in Duluth, and operated sixty branch houses in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, and Kansas. By 1911 DB&M was using two kettles to keep up with demand, one that could hold 150 barrels, the other 416—at the time, the second largest in the nation.

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