Faster, higher, larger: Lake Superior Brewing Co.’s historic expansion

On a snowy day in December 1994, Bob Dromeshauser’s dream of owning his own brewery finally came true as the first beer at Lake Superior Brewing Co. (LSBC) was brewed. His decision to birth this company on a shoestring budget of only $20,000 had several tough hoops to jump through before becoming what it is today.

“No one had done it before, so there were no rules or regulations for a lot of it,” Dromeshauser said. “There was nothing to look up.”

Dromeshauser’s company was breaking into unknown territory in the early 1990s. A book by Tony Dierckins titled “Lost Duluth” explains that when Fitger’s Brewing Co. closed in 1972 after 91 years in business, no beer had been commercially brewed in Duluth until LSBC was established.

Dromeshauser found his passion in 1987, saying he constantly brewed beer as much as he could as a home brewer.

“I was always doing test batches,” Dromeshauser said. “There was a lot of research work that I did in the two years prior before selling the first product.”

His first big break came in 1991. On November 22, a Star Tribune article reported that a Minneapolis restaurant and brewery called Sherlock’s Home was hosting a home brew sampling with Michael Jackson, a British beer expert and author.

Dromeshauser decided to trudge down to the cities from Duluth with a home brew that eventually became the Lake Superior Special Ale, which is now sold at LSBC. Dromeshauser said that when Jackson tried it, he gave him two thumbs up.

This motivation gave Dromeshauser the push he needed. He found a small 200-square-foot area behind a coffee shop at Fitger’s to start putting the brewery together. His apprentice, Dale Kleinschmidt, now owner of the company, recalls the experience.

“It was pretty crowded,” Kleinschmidt said. “Smaller than a lot of people’s bedrooms.”

Dromeshauser said that the company was hands on, and they still are after 18 years. When the company first started, all the brewing was done in a large soup burner. Batches were stirred with a paddle, and those stirring frequently burnt themselves in the process. Dromeschauser said there was no fancy equipment whatsoever.

“I would be driving around, and if I saw a dairy tank lying out on the farms in Wisconsin or Minnesota, I would ask ‘How much do want for this thing?,’ and that’s where we got a lot of our equipment,” Dromeshauser said.

In September 1998, the company moved to a 4,000-square-foot location where they currently reside. According to the LSBC website, this upgrade tremendously increased production by doubling its volume.

“I can make 30 barrels by myself in one day,” Kleinschmidt said. “Back in the original brewery, 30 barrels would have been five weeks’ worth of work for four guys.”

Kleinschmidt said that the move allowed the company to bottle its beers and sell them in cases instead of kegs. Bottled beer now represents 60 percent of their overall profit. This allowed the company to expand from the original six accounts that included only restaurants and bars to over 300 accounts that include liquor stores statewide.

As one of four microbreweries in Duluth today, LSBC wants to keep up. Kleinschmidt said they want to expand to a 10,000 to 15,000-square-foot building as long as they can add on to it. Their ultimate goal is to expand the building to a 25,000-square-foot facility. This would allow the company to produce more varieties of beer and possibly add to the seven world beer medals they’ve already won in the beer championship.

The city of Duluth has a rich history in alcohol and brewing companies. The dollar growth for breweries was up 14 percent in the first half of 2012, and the total brewery count in America hit a 125-year high, according to the Brewers Association report.

Beer-passionate aficionados, like Dromeshauser and Kleinschmidt, are opening breweries at an extremely fast rate. The Brewers Association reported that last time this type of growth was seen was when Prohibition ended.

“I’m glad I was a part of it,” Dromeshauser said. “Everybody says we can do it again, and I said I would do it right now if I had a big bucket of money.”

After a long pause, he added, “It’s the only thing I had a passion in my life for, more than anything in the whole world.”

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