Prohibition forced Brainerd brewery to shut down

The Brainerd Brewing Co. began in 1880 as a brewery on the east shore of Boom Lake near where Kiwanis Park is today. The beer was mostly enjoyed locally. But Prohibition put an end to the brewery in 1914.

The Brainerd Brewing Co. was located on Boom Lake near where Kiwanis Park is located today. The beer was mostly consumed locally before Prohibition forced it to shut down production.

Enjoying a beer by the lake is not uncommon in the Brainerd lakes area today, and a brewery by a Brainerd lake used to supply locals with a cold one.

The brewery was started in 1880 by Peter Ort along the east shore of Boom Lake, near where Kiwanis Park is today.

Boom Lake south of Kiwanis Park along East College Drive remains unfrozen Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“Four men were excavating for the foundations of the new brewery, near the east bank of the Mississippi, south of the bridge, and had dug some distance into the bank, when a large mass of earth fell, covering them all,” according to the July 15, 1882, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune.


Two men died in the 1882 accident, and the Brainerd Brewery burned down on July 12, 1886. The building was worth about $22,000, and there was $2,000 worth of beer stored in the building, according to the Brainerd Tribune, but there was $5,200 insurance on the building.

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George Donant re-opened the plant, but Fred Hoffman soon purchased the brewery from Donant, according to author Carl Zapffe.

“If more good quality lager beer was drunk, and less whisky, there would be a better understanding between the stomach and head, and folks’ legs would not become tangled so badly as is too common nowadays,” according to the March 2, 1872, Brainerd Tribune.

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Zapffe wrote “Brainerd 1871-1946,” which was published in 1946 by Colwell Press Inc. of Minneapolis, and described Hoffman’s enterprise as prospering.

“It grew to larger proportion as more lumbermen, more loggers, more lumberjacks and more river drivers came to town to ‘hoist a few,’ in the parlance of that day,” Zapffe wrote.


The Brainerd Brewing Co. was in operation from 1880 to 1914 along Boom Lake in Brainerd. The Brainerd History Group put a marker along the walking trail that runs alongside the lake to commemorate the brewery. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

According to the May 3, 1889 edition of the Brainerd Dispatch, “It seems that Brainerd people are bound to have beer and such being the case it is much better for the prosperity of the town to have it manufactured here rather than to send the money to outside places.

Hoffman joined forces with Edward Boppel, brewer for the Little Falls Brewery. Boppel learned the beer-making business in Germany, according to the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971), and most of the malt used was produced in Minnesota.

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“Mr. Hoffman is not only a man of good business ability but has had five years experience in the brewing business at Red Wing, before coming to this city. Mr. Boppel, who will have charge of the brewing, is a first-class brewer, and the outlook is certainly good for the new firm’s success,” according to the April 16, 1897 edition of the Brainerd Dispatch.

Dr. Werner Hemstead purchased the interests of Hoffman in the Brainerd Brewery Co, and “it continues to grow, having a capacity of 10,000 barrels a year in 1910,” according to Zapffe.

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“The beverage turned out here is of a superior quality and finds a ready market in Brainerd and adjacent towns in Crow Wing, Aitkin, Cass and Todd counties,” according to the Sept. 2, 1910, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.


It was reported the best domestic hops were obtained from the Pacific Coast, while a “considerable quantity” of German hops were also imported each season.

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“A supply of the purest water, so essential to the production of the best beer, is obtained from an artesian well … below the bed of the Mississippi River. The ice used is cut from Boom Lake, which adjoins the premises and is fed by living springs,” according to the Brainerd Tribune.

The beer produced was consumed locally before Prohibition put an end to the brewery in 1914.

“Saloons were raided. In some cities, beer and liquor were dumped into the gutters in the smashing-up campaign which the federal agents had to pursue to enforce the edict,” Zapffe wrote.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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