People’s Brewing Company

This image of People’s Brewing Co. appeared in the 1916 publication The booster book: West Duluth in 1916. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

On January 30, 1931, the Superior Evening Telegram reported that People’s Brewing Co. had been sold at public auction the previous day by order of the district court. The new owners consisted of “a group of former stockholders.”Those new owners/former stockholders included Secretary-Treasurer M. J. Doyle, Vice President Gust Anderson of Hibbing, and President Carl O. Hanson.

Hanson was no stranger to business. Born in Norway in 1886, he had immigrated to Duluth with his family and eventually became vice president of Duluth hardware wholesale giant Kelly-How-Thomson. Even under Hanson the company struggled until Prohibition ended, but his finely tuned business skills had People’s up and running—and delivering beer—by July 1933.

The following year People’s labels advertised its beer as People’s Choice, an “old style” beer. In 1938 People’s re- placed Choice with Stag Beer, an extra-pale pilsner. At about the same time People’s also began brewing a short-lived pilsner named Carleton Club. In 1937 Hanson contracted for People’s to become the region’s 7-Up distributor and later added Royal Crown Cola to the product line.

Longtime People’s brewmaster Frank Luckow, who retired in 1940, died in March 1942. Hanson replaced Luckow with twenty-seven-year-old Howard Ruff. Ruff proved to be a solid brewmaster and introduced a new beer to the People’s line dubbed Ruff’s Olde English Stout, not a malt liquor with an alcohol content of 6 percent. Despite the popularity of Olde English, Ruff lasted just three years at People’s. But before he left Duluth, Ruff made one lasting contribution to the People’s story by introducing the brewery’s flagship pilsner: Regal Supreme.

Hanson replaced Ruff with thirty-five-year-old Ted Wollesen, who had served as Fitger’s assistant brewmaster from 1940 until 1943. In 1947 Ruff’s Olde English Stout was repackaged as Olde English 600. The brewery enjoyed strong sales of both Olde English and Regal Supreme, and his 7-UP franchise was expanding as well. As the 1940s came to a close the People’s machine seemed to be ring on all cylinders, but less than seven years later its engines would grind to a halt.

Despite its efforts People’s simply could not compete against the strong regional and national competition it faced. Its Olde English 600 did find its way into stores in the Pacific Northwest and, surprisingly, Puerto Rico, but the cost of shipping likely made such distribution unprofitable. In 1957, less than ten years after People’s modernized its facility to “keep up with demand,” Carl Hanson decided to call it quits and closed the brewery. Hanson would later say that “People’s Brewery [was] one of those which have disappeared due to overwhelming national competition.” While competition and state and federal regulations ate away his profits in the beer business, he was doing quite well selling 7-Up. Hanson made the soda franchise People’s parent company, so closing the brewery served as a tax write-off.

Hanson managed to sell the Olde English 600 label to Spokane, Washington’s Bohemian Breweries; the Miller Brewing Co. has been making it since 1999. John Sorenson leased the People’s facility from 1961 to 1969 for his Duluth Filter Company, In 1965 Sorenson and Hanson entered into a partnership to dismantle the brewing equipment and sell it as scrap. “It was sad to see this beautiful, historic equipment that had provided a living to so many being cut up for scrap,” Sorenson recalled in 2018. The process took them nearly the entire winter.

Carl Hanson died in 1973. The wrecking ball tore down most of People’s Brewery complex two years later. The o ce building still stands and today serves as the offices of Brock White Construction Materials. To the east, the original keg house has become the home to a Serv-Pro Restoration franchise. Some of the brewery’s aging tanks, missed by Sorenson’s 1965 cutting crew, still stand inside the building.









Read more of this story: 1 2