Duluth’s oldest craft brewery, Lake Superior Brewing Co., has shuttered after a quarter of a century of business.
While no official announcement has been made by the company, Lake Superior Brewing Co.’s brewery and taproom in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has been locked since December and its state brewery license expired in August 2019 according to the Alcohol & Gambling Enforcement’s license database. Neighboring businesses have confirmed to Duluth News Tribune that brewing ceased in October and the taproom was opened until the end of November. The landlord for Lake Superior Brewing Co.’s space says that owners Lars Kuehnow and Lisa Blade hope to sell the brewery. The Growler was unable to reach Lake Superior Brewing Co. for comment.
Lake Superior Brewing Co. was one of the state’s early craft brewers that set the stage for the craft beer boom in the 2010s. The brewery introduced several beer styles to the market that were relatively unknown at the time, including Kayak Kölsch and Old Man Winter Warmer Barleywine.
The company was established in 1994 by Bob and Laurie Dromeshauser with investors Don and JoAnne Hoag, John Judd III, and Karen Olesen as a homebrewing supply store inside the historic Fitger’s brewery complex on Superior Street in downtown Duluth. According to “Naturally Brewed, Naturally Better: The Historic Breweries of Duluth & Superior” by Tony Dierckins and Pete Clure, a few months after opening, Bob Dromeshauser, Don Hoag, and Judd “began brewing one six-barrel batch of beer every Sunday.” Soon local homebrewer Dale Kleinschmidt joined them as a volunteer brewer and in 1996 was hired as an official employee of Lake Superior Brewing Co. In 1998, the company expanded and moved operations to the city’s Lincoln Park district, which today has become a “craft district” and the home to breweries Ursa Minor and Bent Paddle and cideries Wild State Cider and Duluth Cider.
Kleinschmidt became a part-owner in 2001 when the Dromeshausers left the company, and the remaining ownership team grew the brewery’s annual production to over 2,000 barrels in 2014, after which point the brewery experienced a continued year-over-year decline in annual production, according to state tax data. By the end of 2017, production had fallen to 1,273 barrels and the business was sold to new owners Lisa Blade and Lars Kuehnow.
Updated 01-14-2020: The chart has been updated with production figures for years 2004–2011.
The new owners said they hoped to inject new life into the historic brand by focusing efforts on growing the brewery’s distribution footprint and marketing efforts, which included a rebrand of the company’s logo, bottle and can designs, and website. The brewery hired Ryan Woodfill as the new head brewer in the summer of 2018, taking the reins from Kleinschmidt. Despite these efforts, the brewery’s annual production continued to flag, falling to just 736 barrels in 2018.
The brewery is one of just two Minnesota breweries to close in 2019, joining Lowertown St. Paul’s 12welve Eyes, which closed in June.