The Klinkert Brewing Co.

This ad for the Klinkert Brewing Company appeared in the 1892 Superior City Directory. [Image: Zenith City Press]

When North Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889, its counties voted to prohibit the sale and manufacture of alcohol, which forced Fargo’s Red River Valley Brewing Company, owned by John Klinkert and Louis Rueping, to look for a new home.

In 1865, when he was just sixteen years old, Klinkert had emigrated from Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, to the U.S. Several years later he returned to Germany to attend the Brewers Academy in Frankfurt. Back in America he found employment in Milwaukee working for a number of breweries, including Phillip Best Brewery, which became Pabst in 1889. He married Emilia Pabst in 1870 and while that sounds like a marriage made in beer heaven, there is no evidence that she belonged to the Milwaukee brewing family. Seven years later Klinkert invested in Racine, Wisconsin’s City Brewery, which became known as Schilling & Klinkert. Schilling left in 1878 and two years later he sold the outfit to his brother Ernst and headed to the Dakota Territory.

We know less of Louis Rueping. He too was a native of Germany, born in Prussia in 1839. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1854 and by 1880 he was living in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, working as a leather tanner and, with his wife, Ida, parent- ing four children. Hoverson reports that the Rueping family also owned a malt house in Fond du Lac, an ideal complement to the brewery business. Censuses indicate Rueping never lived in North Dakota or Superior, and just how Klinkert and Rueping first got together remains a mystery.

When brewing went bust in North Dakota, Rueping was likely aware of Superior’s population explosion and that only one brewery served the booming community. Klinkert moved his large family to Superior. Rueping remained in Fond du Lac, tanning hides, making malt, and providing financial support.

Klinkert set up shop at 702 North Eighth Street and boarded nearby at 815 Catlin Avenue. When the brewery opened in 1891, his sons joined in; Albert took on bottling duties and Ernest acted as engineer. Several early descriptions of the facility, estimated to cost $50,000, painted
a picture of success. By 1893 it would consist of five buildings powered by an eighty horse-power power plant, including an ice machine that produced thirty-five tons a day. Water was drawn from an artesian well, and the malt came from their malt house in Fargo. Between fifteen and twenty men worked at the plant, producing twenty-five thousand barrels of beer in four varieties—lager for kegs and an export, wiener, and “special stock” in bottles. (Wiener beer is an amber lager, darker, heavier, and less hoppy than a pilsner.)

Early on the brewery had established “a very large local trade…with the leading families and saloons.” An 1892 report in the Superior Citizen claimed Klinkert’s trade “extends to all cities and towns tributary to Superior, and does a big shipping business in the territory west of Fargo, on the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroad lines.”

Following the Panic of 1893, Klinkert and Rueping began falling apart. In July 1894 the Superior Evening Telegram mentioned that Louis Rueping had applied for receivership of the firm, implying it stood on very unstable financial footing. Yet the following September the same newspaper ran a lengthy, glowing description of the brewery, calling it “one of Superior’s thriving industries.” It mentioned that Klinkert operated its own cooperage to make barrels and that “as far as the process of making beer is concerned the Klinkert plant can be surpassed by none in the state.” Shortly thereafter, Klinkert announced his retirement from the brewing business, and for a brief time the brewery was called L. Rueping & Co.

Klinkert had sold his interest in the brewery to Rueping, but news of his retirement was premature. In fact, a month before the old Klinkert Brewery became Northern, he had leased the former Kenyon Woolen Mill at Twenty-Fourth Street and Scranton Avenue and traveled to Chicago to purchase brewing machinery. In May the Superior Inter-Ocean newspaper ran this description of the repurposed facility, to be named Klinkert Brewing & Malt:

The old woolen mill building…has been thoroughly remodeled and equipped with the latest machinery for the manufacture of beer. The capacity of the plant at present is fifty barrels per day, or 15,000 barrels per annum. There are thirty storage vats with a storage capacity of 2,000 barrels. The first and second floors are filled with machinery and other appliances, while the third oor will be used for storage purposes…. The plant will give employment to fifteen men.

Klinkert spent $30,000 turning the woolen mill into a brewery. The facility’s capacity of just fifteen thousand barrels a year indicates that Klinkert did not intend to compete with the two large Duluth breweries and hoped to carve out enough of the Superior market to feed his family and workforce, which were one and the same. The Klinkert clan made the new brewery a family a air. Ernest and Albert had worked at the old brewery in various capacities, from engineer to bottler to bookkeeper. With the new facility, John managed the plant while Albert served as head brewer, and Ernest as secretary and treasurer while Lillian did the bookkeeping. John Klinkert’s brother-in-law Frank Pabst came onboard as vice president. Pabst had been in Fargo with Klinkert and made the move to Superior where before joining the new Klinkert brewery he operated the Exposition Saloon at 1222 Tower Avenue.

As Northern expanded its size and market, Klinkert Brewing & Malt appeared content to stay small and local. Both the business and the family took a hit in April 1904 when Albert unexpectedly died at thirty-two years of age. The brewery remained a true family business, as daughters Juliette and Molly and son Adam began working for the brewery, and they all lived in a house next door. Frank Pabst, while still serving as the brewery’s vice president, had moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to work as brewmaster for the Montgomery Brewing Company.

In 1905 John Klinkert began having frequent trouble with the local constabulary by selling beer to minors and selling beer on Sundays. His troubles with the law continued until 1909, when the Northern Pacific Railway offered to purchase the facilities and property, and Duluth Brewing & Malting purchased the brewing equipment, horses, wagons, and saloons. In June, workers demolished the former brewery and woolen mill.

John Klinkert died in 1915 of complications following surgery. He was eulogized by his fellow Elk Solon Perrin, who said that “in Germany, [Klinkert] was a German. In Milwaukee, he was a German-American. After he came to Superior in 1890, he was a just an industrious, successful American.