Anthony Yoerg started Minnesota’s first commercial brewery in 1849 at a spot near what is now the parking ramp for the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. (A few later accounts place the founding in 1848.) While he was soon surpassed in volume by other brewers, demand was still strong enough to encourage Yoerg Brewing Co. to move in 1870 to a new, larger location across the river at 229 Ohio Street.
Yoerg beer had a devoted following in St. Paul and throughout the state for many years. Like most pre-Prohibition breweries, it made several different styles of lager including Pilsner, Kulmbacher, and export. The company survived Prohibition by moving into the dairy business, though this was never particularly lucrative. Yoerg resumed brewing when beer became legal again in 1933 and offered several brands, including their annual bock, but was ultimately not large enough to compete with neighboring giants Hamm and Schmidt. It ceased brewing in 1952 with Anthony’s grandson Alfred Yoerg still in charge—a family business to the end.
This time-honored name is returning to St. Paul in the new Yoerg Brewing Co. Saloon, which is licensed as a brewpub and occupies the former Strip Club Meat & Fish restaurant building near Metropolitan State University in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. The people behind revival of the historic brand are business partners Thomas Keim and Carole Minogue.
After a hitting a wall at their previous location on St. Paul’s West Side near to where the historic Yoerg brewery once stood, Keim and Minogue turned their attention to the East Side where they fell in love with the 1885 building and its architecture, especially the small balcony which will be able to seat about 12 to 14 people in comfy armchairs.
While the interior hasn’t changed dramatically from its days as Strip Club Meat & Fish, Minogue has made the Saloon their own, decorating with reproductions of Yoerg photographs and advertising as well as a few original artifacts. The update also included commissioning a “ghost mural” of an old Yoerg sign by Rodney Thompson. While the look of the space is pre-Prohibition, the feel of the bar is designed to evoke a neighborhood lounge of the 1940s or ’50s. “I wanted a bar like my Dad would have walked into 50 years ago,” Keim says. To that effect, the playlist will usually feature artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Mel Torme. (Though Keim is contemplating doing a “Motown Monday.”)
Keim’s path to resurrecting the Yoerg brand began as a boy working in the basement of the old Maple Leaf Liquor store. He came across and even kept a couple of bottles from the brewery, which had already closed some years before (although his mom eventually found them and threw them out). After many years as a wine merchant who also handled beer, he was tired of working with craft beers that moved in and out of the market every few years and was looking for a brand he could develop into a long term relationship. Eventually, Keim discovered that the Yoerg brand was available, and, after a long process, he was able to secure the rights to use the name. For the last two years, Keim has had the Yoerg brands brewed and bottled under contract at Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, Wisconsin, near Madison. He has plans to bring production back closer to the Twin Cities, but first is focusing on opening the Yoerg Brewing Co. Saloon.
The saloon will offer the opportunity to expand Yoerg’s product line by crafting small batches of seasonal and specialty beer on a 2-barrel Blichmann system. In charge of brewing operations is Mike Spores, who has earned numerous awards as a homebrewer and was interested in developing a brewing program that focused on traditional German styles. The saloon will typically feature four house beers on tap: Steam Beer, a hoppy lager named after an old Yoerg brand (not a California Common like Anchor Steam); Bock, which will be a year-round dark beer; Landbier, a rotating Pilsner; and a Bavarian roggenbier (rye beer), which will be among the first seasonals. Keim and Spores also plan to include doppelbocks and rauchbiers in the rotation.
The house beers will not be ready until about a month after the saloon opens (which the owners hope will be at the end of November), but early patrons will be able to enjoy a small but select list of imported European beers. Most, like Weltenberger Kloster of Germany and Pivo Bernard of the Czech Republic, are seldom seen in the Twin Cities. More than one hundred wines by the bottles and several others by the glass will also be available, each choice informed by Keim’s many years in the wine trade.
The food menu will be limited by the size of the kitchen, but will feature the likes of Usinger’s sausages, Sterzing’s potato chips, and pate and terrine from D’Artagnan. They will also offer cheese and charcuterie plates, locally made pizzas, and, to emphasize the old tavern feel, pickled eggs.
Keim and Minogue are already working on the next phase of development: a rathskeller in an adjoining room. “I want history to be a big part of this place,” Keim proclaims. Yoerg Brewing Co. brings several eras of history together and promises to be great place for the neighborhood to gather and pay tribute to Minnesota’s pioneering brewer.
Brewer: Mike Spores
Beers: Four house beers, including a Steam Beer, Bock, Landbier, and Bavarian roggenbier
Address: 378 Maria Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55106