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Documentary will explore Duluth’s beer beginnings

Long before Duluth’s craft beer explosion there was a handful of production breweries between Duluth and the Iron Range.

Fitger Brewing Co., People’s Brewing Co., Duluth Brewing and Malting, Iron Range Brewing Co. and the Virginia Brewery were among them, capitalizing on the “great water” provided by Lake Superior, said Karen Sunderman, producer of the PlayList at WDSE/WRPT.

Through a documentary, Sunderman is exploring the region’s early beer-making history as a way to show how it connects to today’s area brewers.

“It was a whole bunch of entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity, and people who had a passion for beer,” she said, same as the people behind today’s Lake Superior Brewing, Bent Paddle, Fitger’s Brewhouse, Castle Danger Brewery and Blacklist Brewing.

Sunderman will explore the 1857 beginnings of beermaking in Duluth, what breweries did to survive more than a decade of Prohibition, and show connections between the old breweries and the area’s modern breweries. A George Hunter stout from Castle Danger is so named for an ancestor of a company founder who worked for Iron Range Brewing, Sunderman said.

Fitger’s was the last of the older generation to make beer, ending production in 1972. It took more than two decades before Lake Superior Brewing picked up the production brewing mantle, starting out inside the Fitger’s building. They started small with dairy equipment, stirring with a canoe paddle, Sunderman said.

“They started in the simplest way and are still making good beer in the city of Duluth,” she said. “It’s an interesting history.”

The documentary will air in March, and Sunderman is seeking people who either worked at one of those breweries or have some connection to one to be interviewed on camera at Clyde Iron Works on Wednesday.

If you go

Share your stories and photographs with the PlayList at Clyde Iron Works, 2920 W. Michigan St., from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday.