A Toast to the Old North Star Brewery

German immigrants were one of the first large groups of immigrants who flooded into Saint Paul when Minnesota became a Territory in 1849. And, as it turned out, they knew a great deal of the “inns” and outs of beer-making they brought with them from the old country. St. Paul turned out to be an almost perfect place for breweries. Before electricity, underground refrigeration was a necessity and the soft sandstone of the city river bluffs made for easy digging. There also was an abundance of pure water that flowed out of artesian wells.

One of the earliest breweries in the Saintly City was the North Star Brewery. It was opened in 1855 by the team of Edward Drewry and George Scotten, Scottish and English immigrants who, unlike the Germans, favored the production of ales. They located their new enterprise below the bluff near Commercial Street and Hudson Avenue. Starting with two 50 by 75-foot buildings and one tiny cave, they eventually expanded to a kiln for drying grain that held 120 bushels, a small malt house and cellars in the limestone cliffs.

As one early writer described it, the ale cellars "are cut into the sand rock from a series of gallerys connecting the basements of the several buildings and give a large storage room, with an equitable temperature the year round." Soon they were selling their product as far away as Chicago and Milwaukee.

The history of the brewery is complicated. Starting in 1866 the brewery was sold few times, and the German influence soon predominated with their preference for making lager beer. It appears that for a short time in the late 1860’s it was not operating. When German born Civil War veteran Reinhold Koch became an owner, he hired Jacob Schmidt, an experienced German brewmeister. Schmidt did such a good job increasing production that by the 1880s the North Star Brewery was the second largest brewery west of Chicago, producing at an annual clip of 16,000 barrels.

Schmidt was brought in as a partner and in 1884 he became the sole owner. He continued to run the successful company below the bluff until 1900, when a major fire destroyed the plant. He then removed the firm to the West End, where the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company remained for decades. While the North Star Brewery has vanished, people can still see the cave they used, a small remnant of one limestone wall on the northern section of the park and recently-added gravel outlines of where the buildings once stood below the bluff.