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Brewing locally has great history

Upper Peninsula Brewing Company letterhead is shown. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — The local brewing scene is currently undergoing a powerful revival. New breweries are producing quality beers for an increasingly discerning consumer base. As we enjoy the renaissance of Marquette County’s brewing industry, we should look back at its past, and appreciate that good beer is part of our local heritage.

The importance of brewing to our past is apparent in local place names. Two streets in Marquette are named for brewers. Rublein Street, running between West Washington Street and Grant Avenue, is named for George Rublein (1823-1891). Meeske Avenue, which runs between Werner Street and Highway 41 near its intersection with Washington Street, is named for Charles Meeske (1850-1921). These two prominent Marquette County brewers put Marquette beer on the map before prohibition shuttered small brewing companies all across America.

George Rublein, born in Bavaria, was one of Marquette’s early pioneers. Rublein came to Marquette County in the summer of 1849, the year that mineral speculators from Worcester, Massachusetts including Edward Clarke, Waterman Fisher, and Amos Harlow joined Robert Graveraet and Peter White from Mackinac Island in forming the Marquette Iron Company. Rublein was part of a wave of German settlers who came to Marquette County from Milwaukee with encouragement from the Marquette Iron Company investors.

Rublein paid one dollar for 160 acres on what would become County Road 492 near Negaunee, and established a thriving farm. He built the county’s first brewery on this site. By 1869, his Franklin Brewery offered to ship beer to any station on the Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad.

In 1872, George Rublein purchased five acres closer to Marquette, on an extension road from Washington Street. On Dec. 13, 1873, Rublein hosted a grand opening of the new facility. Crowds enjoyed a lively band and admired the new brewery.

Rublein’s new brewery boasted modern machinery, including an impressive engine made at the Iron Bay Foundry in Marquette. The brewery spent $800 per year to have ice hauled from Lake Superior to cool its beer.

In 1875, the Franklin Brewery changed its name to the Concordia Brewery. Rublein put in a beautiful beer garden, and hired private security guards to help ensure a family-friendly atmosphere.

At its peak, the Concordia brewery produced 15,000 barrels of beer per year. However, economic conditions deteriorated and pressure from Milwaukee brewers increased. The Concordia Brewery closed in 1878.

When Rublein left the business, Peter White held the controlling interest in the defunct brewery. He brought in Charles Meeske and his partner Reiner Hoch to reestablish the business. Meeske, the son of a German brewer, had experience running a brewery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Meeske and Hoch reopened the brewery in 1879, and acquired a Negaunee facility in 1881.

Meeske and Hoch purchased the company from Peter White in 1882. In 1888, they changed the name of the brewery to the Upper Peninsula Brewing Co. Their signature beer, Drei Kaiser, featured labels depicting three happy kings with mugs of beer.

Meeske and Hoch built the Upper Peninsula Brewing Co. into a magnificent facility, adding turrets, stained glass, a dance pavilion, and a separate office to their electrified, modern brewery.

A wave of anti-German sentiment swept the United States during World War I. In 1913, Drei Kaiser beer, known as the “beer that made Marquette famous,” was renamed Castle Brew. The new name reflected the impressive sandstone brewery structure that stood at the end of Washington Street.

Michigan passed statewide prohibition in November of 1916. Meeske bitterly protested the decision, predicting that the move would merely benefit Wisconsin alcohol producers at the expense of Michigan brewers. The Upper Peninsula Brewing Co. shut its doors in 1918.

The famous, castle-like sandstone structure remained a Marquette landmark until it was dismantled in 1974-1975. Only Meeske’s office still stands, near the intersection of West Washington Street and Highway 41, an elegant reminder of Marquette’s brewing past.

Join us at the History Center Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. to learn more about our brewing history. Russ Magnaghi, Jim Koski, and Bill Van Kosky will lead us in a celebration of Marquette County beer and nightlife. Ryan Engemann, part of the team reviving the Upper Peninsula Brewing Company name with a new facility in Negaunee, will share some new local brews. Tickets are $35 and proceeds benefit the Marquette Regional History Center.

Call 906-226-3571, go to www.marquette history.org, or stop in at 145 W. Spring Street to get your tickets. Thanks to Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery and History Center Board Member Jim LaJoie for helping to make this event possible.