The Fitgers Brewery and the History of Brewing

Fitger’s luxury lakefront hotel is hailed as a distinguished landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its distinctive industrial smokestack and water tower with the iconic Fitger’s name and star emblem is a familiar feature of the Duluth skyline – but that wasn’t always the case.

What started in ancient Mesopotamia as a curious barley concoction traveled the world to shape the monastic brews of medieval Europe and soon found a home all over the globe. Beer has flowed throughout human history, knowing no borders, nourishing civilizations, and shaping cultures.

We’ll touch upon the fascinating history of beer, how it took root in Duluth, Minnesota, and the remarkable role that Fitger’s Brewery played in making it an integral part of our history and community.

The Historical Tale of Beer

The earliest evidence of beer production dates back to ancient Mesopotamia – the cradle of civilization – around 5,000 BCE.

Sumerians are considered the earliest known brewers. They concocted it from barley through a process of fermentation. Beer, in those times, was not just a recreational beverage but held religious, social, and even medicinal significance.

The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 in Bavaria marked a pivotal moment. It set standards for purity that was adopted across continents.  Is it any wonder that the Germans are famous for their beer?  Or that August Fitger himself was German?

The Industrial Revolution mechanized production to propel beer into global markets. Yet, it’s the craft beer renaissance of our era that has blossomed in the Northland. Small breweries champion quality and innovation. Across millennia, beer remains more than a beverage—it’s a vessel of shared experiences that binds humanity in a timeless toast to shared experiences.

Exploring Duluth’s Brewing Heritage

The brewing legacy of Duluth has its roots in 1857 when Sidney Luce laid the foundation for the city’s inaugural brewery. It’s merely a block and a half away from our present location.

Luce leveraged the natural resources of a nearby pristine brook, later christened as Brewery Creek. With time, the brewery flourished and caught the attention of Michael Fink, who assumed ownership in 1881.

Under Fink’s stewardship, a grand vision materialized. He orchestrated the construction of a new, expansive brewery on the exact site where Fitger’s proudly stands today. Eager to uphold brewing excellence, Fink enlisted the expertise of August Fitger, a gifted brewmaster from Germany, freshly graduated from esteemed brewing institutions.

The Founding and Early Years

The origins of Fitger’s Brewery trace back to the aftermath of the Depression, a time of economic uncertainty in Duluth. In response, plans emerged for a brewery aimed at generating employment opportunities. Sidney Luce provided financial support, and construction commenced near a stream feeding into Lake Superior. Over time, the brewery changed hands, eventually coming under the ownership of Nicholas Decker.

Fitger and Anneke, the Brewing Pioneers

By 1876, Fink assumed control of the brewery, renaming it M. Fink & Co. Lake Superior Brewery.  In 1883, Percy S. Anneke, known for his contributions to Schlitz Brewing Company, acquired Fink’s shares. He established A. Fitger and Company. The partnership laid the foundation for ambitious expansion efforts, which significantly increased the brewery’s capacity.

Technological Innovation and Prohibition Era

A significant milestone occurred in 1891 when Fitger and Anneke introduced Minnesota’s first ice refrigeration machine to their brewery. It modernized production techniques and product quality.

The Prohibition in 1919 brought about challenges for Fitger’s Brewery. But the brewery changed its focus to produce beers and non-alcoholic beverages to adapt to these times.

Post-Prohibition Resurgence

Fitger’s wasted no time in resuming brewing operations. it experienced a surge in business throughout the 1930s. By 1940, production had soared to impressive levels. It cemented the brewery’s reputation in the market.

The brewery ceased operations on September 30, 1972, despite it all. That was the end of a storied chapter in Duluth’s brewing history.

Revitalization and Renewal

The Fitger’s Brewery Complex was revitalized in September 1984. The complex reappeared as a hub of activity that was initially refurbished with a hotel, restaurants, and retail spaces.

Later in 1995, a group of influential entrepreneurs from Duluth took ownership of Fitger’s Brewery Complex. They injected renewed vigor into the establishment and preserved its rich heritage.

The Legacy and Fitger’s Today

Today, Fitger’s Brewery Complex is an undisputed champion in the region’s hospitality sector. We offer visitors a luxury hotel experience steeped in history and tradition.   Now that you know something of our history, compliment your stay by enjoying a craft beer brewed onsite with a delicious meal  –  August Fitger wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Our humble beginnings helped shap the cultural fabric of Duluth with the spirit of innovation and community. Our doors are open to anyone willing to experience the true luxury, hospitality, and historical charm of the Duluth community. Book a room at Fitger’s today and visit us for a unique stay and craft brewery experience.