Minnesota Brewing closes

Former Schmidt brewery closes after 150 years; Grain Belt brand may survive

June 25, 2002 - The debt-ridden Minnesota Brewing Co, one of the last old-line regional breweries, shut down operations Monday.


Minnesota Brewing Chief Executive Officer Jim Freeman called Monday a sad day in the St. Paul plant's history. German settlers first made beer on the site of the former Jacob Schmidt brewery in 1855.

Ruth Suttles, a 22-year veteran of the bottling line, said she was operating the pasteurizer when production was halted. "All the cans are still in there, everything just stopped," she said.

Although the brewery faced $14 million in debts, workers were surprised by the swift action. Minnesota Brewing filed for bankruptcy protection in February, and there were hopes of a turnaround. However, the brewery couldn't keep up with production orders for its largest customer, the owners of Mike's Hard Lemonade. Mike's was made under contract at the St. Paul plant.

The brewery recently employed up to 160 full-time workers during peak summer months. An ethanol plant, built in 1999 with the help of state subsidies and designed to save the brewery by sharing overhead expenses, will remain open. It employs 14 people. It was "Now all Minnesota has left is a stinky ethanol plant near downtown St. Paul," said Jay Mitzuk, a brewery worker since 1972.

The brewery's best-selling brand, Grain Belt Premium, may survive. Mark Stutrud, founder of St. Paul-based Summit Brewing Co., said he would be interested in acquiring the Grain Belt label if it is priced reasonably. New Ulm-based August Schell Brewing Co. also has expressed some interest.

"It's a sad state of affairs," Stutrud said of Monday's plant shutdown. Stutrud pointed out that plants such as Minnesota Brewing as huge compared to Summit. They were built in an era when regional beers such as Grain Belt, Schmidt and Hamm's had large market shares. When Budweiser, Miller and Coors took hold as national beers, the old regional plants were left with too much unused capacity, Stutrud said.

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