Toured – Fitgers Brewhouse

Toured – Fitgers Brewhouse

A few weeks before we embarked on our Duluth trip, the wife turned to me at the supper table and said, “I was thinking about our trip, and we should try to make it to Fitgers for a tour while we’re up there.

Brilliant woman.

Founded in 1884, Fitgers has a rich history as an iconic Duluth industry, producing over 120,000 bbls in the 1940s. Having survived prohibition by producing soda instead of beer, they were ulimately forced to close their doors in 1972 after the state enacted new pollution rules requiring equipment the brewery was unable to afford. Fitgers reopened in it’s present state in 1984 and is now home to four restaurants (try the elk burger), several shops, a hotel, a day spa, and of course, the brewery.

Fitgers Boil Kettle

Duluth is one of a shrinking number of cities that still provides a large-scale steam utility. The 10bbl brewhouse uses this steam directly instead of needing an on-site boiler.

Our tour guide was enthusiastic, and fairly knowledgeable about the brewing process. After a brief history of the brewery, the group of nearly 20 tucked into the brewhouse, which is quite a tight squeeze. After the business re-launched in the 80s and the brewery began ramping up production, they began installing pipes to transfer wort around the building, and it takes quite a lot of pipe. Despite the modest annual production compared to a large packaging brewery such as Summit, they’ve squeezed fermenters and aging tanks in nearly every corner of the building. After walking us thru the brewhouse and explaining the brewing process, we made our way to the cellar.

Fitgers Cellar

We were given our Official Tasting Glass and offered a sample of one of two beers on tap in the cold room: their flagship American Pale Ale and a Brown Ale. With beer in hand, we jumped across the hall to the merch store and growler room. Fitger’s growler wash and fill station is one of 3 produced in the world.

Fitger's Growler Sales

The opposite side of the room was lined with pallets of empty casks, stacks of malt bags, and boxes of hops which, mixed with the slight musk of an old basement, created a smell that was unique as far as I know, and is something I wished I could bottle and bring home with me.

Fitger's Growler Room

After the tour we were invited to grab a corner in the pub and “talk beer for a while”. Our guide grabbed 4 different pitchers of beer and walked around treating us to samples of their El Nino IPA, Apricot Wheat (which was amazing and I intend to brew a similar beer this spring), Big Boat Oatmeal Stout, and the XXX Extra Special Bitter.

After the group, the wife and I hung around and grabbed a bite to eat in the pub. Our Official Tasting glasses were good for a free refill of “anything on tap”, which turned out to be anything but the Framboise. With a little coaxing, I was able to talk the waitress into bringing me a full sample of their Edmund Fitzgerald bourbon barrel imperial stout, which was worth the haggling.

Highly recommend the tour if you’re ever in Duluth. It may not be the most informative from a brewing perspective since it’s geared toward non-brewers (as are most tours), but having a chance to learn some history of one of the most iconic buildings in Northern Minnesota, and getting to try a great selection of beers from one of the Hoops brothers makes it worth the trip.

Fitger's Growler Room