ST. PAUL, MN - Anthony Yoerg Sr. was born in Gundelfingen, Bavaria, in October 1816. He emigrated to the United States in 1845, working in the Pittsburgh mines for two years before moving to Galena, Illinois, and St. Paul shortly after that. He opened the state's first commercial brewery.
In 1849, after heading back to Illinois, Yoerg decided to return to St. Paul and make it his home. He became a butcher, starting a business with a partner in the city. Later that same year, his partner left, taking enough money to bankrupt the company. January 6, 1849, Yoerg started over, opening a small brewery in his home at 80 South Washington street.
He married Elovina Seitzsinger at the home of Hon. Henry M. Rice in July 1953. She was a nanny to the Alexander Ramsey family and traveled to the city when Ramsey was appointed Minnesota's Territorial Governor in 1848. Yoerg and his wife ground malt in a coffee mill and bottled the beer. He then hauled the finished product to neighborhood customers. It was the epitome of a small-scale, family-run operation.
His location was in the city's heavily German Uppertown between Eagle and Chestnut streets. Yoerg was trained as a brewer in Bavaria, so returning to his roots wasn't out of the ordinary. The Yoerg Brewery began as a small operation run out of the family home but eventually became large enough to necessitate a larger space.
Then something incredible happened. In 1860, the city's German population exploded. The demand for Yoerg's beer, a Bavarian-style lager reminiscent of their former home, pushed the couple beyond the limits of their small space on Washington Ave. In 1871, Yoerg built a brand new stone brewery across the Mississippi River at 229 Ohio St, near Ohio and Ethel streets.
Yoerg's Brewery comprised three buildings and nearly a mile of multi-level underground cooling caves carved out within the area's bluffs. The second location, another German-prominent neighborhood, was as receptive to his product as his former locale across the river.
The brewery's 'Cave-Aged' lagers were produced using Minnesota-grown barley and one hundred percent Washington state hops. They made it using the steam process, brewed at warm temperatures with lager yeast and cooled at 47 degrees in the caves. The final product was a great beer widely considered the best in the market.
Soon his new brewery, with its hearty, Bavarian-styled beers, produced up to fifty barrels daily. By 1880, it boasted an eight-HP steam engine and a staff of twelve employees, a large majority of Bavarian descent, helping to produce 20,000 barrels of beer a year. At the beginning of the next decade, that number rose to 35,000 barrels yearly.
Although it grew in size, the company remained true to its humble beginnings. The Yoerg Brewery was, at its core, a family-run venture. Yoerg and his wife had seven children, five boys, and two girls. At one point, all were involved with the brewery.
On July 5, 1896, after a short illness, Anthony Yoerg Sr. passed away at age 79. Because his sons- and sons-in-law were already involved in the business, the day-to-day operations remained in the family's hands. Frank, the third-eldest son, served as the company's president.
In 1919, National Prohibition forced the brewery to pivot from producing beer to stay in business. The Yoerg Brewery shifted to making soft drinks, milk, and very low-alcohol near-beer to stay afloat. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the company returned to selling its flagship beers. However, after some initial success, changes in the industry landscape soon spelled its end.
Gone were the days of 'rushing the growler.' Once found only at saloons and breweries, consumers could now buy beer at the local grocers. Updates in manufacturing allowed competing companies to save money on production costs, allowing them to produce a less expensive product than Yoerg offered. The brewery, already fighting a weakened financial position because of National Prohibition, struggled to adapt.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 1941, but ever-lagging sales kept it from returning to its former glory. A union jurisdictional strike that lasted for months in 1944 and 1945 halted production and had the brewery seriously contemplating closing for the first time.
Times were tough. The Yoerg Brewery was no longer a high-production facility. The company that had produced 35,000 barrels in 1890 only matched that output in 1948. Simply put, the industry, now committed to being both faster and cheaper, had passed it by.
In 1952, historic flooding of the Mississippi River surrounded the brewery in floodwaters and once again stopped production. This natural disaster proved to be the death knell for the company, which, after failing to sell, voted to dissolve in November 1952. Despite its over one-hundred-year history and pedigree as the first in the state, the brewery was no more.
The remaining members of the Yoerg family sold virtually all the brewing equipment at auction in August 1953.
Today, no trace of the former brewery remains near Seven Corners or along the West Side bluff side. The name, however, lives on. In 2016, business partners Thomas Keim and Carole Minogue revived the historic Yoerg brand and its recipes. Today, they operate the Yoerg Brewing Co. Saloon in the city's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.
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