Christopher Stahlmann Cave Brewery (1855–1897)

Christopher Stahlmann Cave Brewery (1855–1897)
Stahlmann Brewery employees, 1870 Mill City Times

Christopher Stahlmann was born on June 19, 1829, to a well-known and wealthy family in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany. When he was seventeen, his father went bankrupt, losing everything — including Christopher’s inheritance. Stahlmann, no longer afforded the head start to success that accompanied his birthright, saw few attainable prospects available. He decided to leave his family and the only home he’d known for the United States.

In 1846 Stahlmann landed in Canada with little to his name. He then traveled to Indiana, where he stayed for two years. Stahlmann’s next stop was in Ohio, his home for the next five years. In 1853, he made his way to Iowa. It was here Stahlmann married his first wife, Katharina. Stahlmann found employment throughout his journey using the beer brewing skills he’d learned in Germany. He started a brewery in Iowa City in 1853, but the venture proved unsuccessful.

Stahlmann soon set his sights on moving north to Saint Paul. He felt the climate and landscape were well-suited for brewing lager beer. There was land available, a growing population, and a community of German immigrants to help his business succeed. The Stahlmann’s arrived in the city in 1855, and Christopher set out to find land suitable for a new brewery. He acquired a remote, multiple-acre plat three miles west of the city limits of Saint Paul. It provided access to a significant supply of artesian water, sandstone caves to assist in the lagering process, and the Mississippi River.

He built his brewery near the intersection of Fort Rd. and Oneida St. The building was a 40’ x 110’ two-story stone structure located approximately where the Bremer/Stahlmann house stands today. It was named the Cave Brewery, highlighting the significance of the caves that existed underneath the land and the role they played in the lager beer brewing process. The brewery officially opened for business on July 5, 1855. Stahlmann later added a malt house and bottling facility.

With business prospects settled, Christopher and Katharina began to grow their family. The couple welcomed their first son, Henry, into the world on August 6, 1856. The Stahlmann’s eventually had four boys, Henry, Conrad, George, and Christopher Jr. George passed away before his fourth birthday. On October 22, 1874, at the age of forty, Katharina succumbed to illness. Years later, Stahlmann remarried and became the stepfather of a son and a daughter. His children would each be involved with the brewery in some capacity during their lifetime.

Sometime after 1860, Stahlmann had a series of caves excavated underneath the brewery. Tailor-made for the beer lagering process, these cold underground spaces allowed stored beer to ferment and mature. Eventually, the caves accommodated eight malt and two drying rooms, fifty tubs for fermenting and two hundred storage casks. Two large boiling tanks, driven by steam engines, made over one-hundred-and-twenty barrels of lager beer each day. Two artesian wells located hundreds of feet below the surface provided a steady supply of water.

Like his peer John Orth, owner of the Orth Brewery in Minneapolis, Stahlmann was a well-known, respected public figure who was active in Minnesota politics. The Democrat served two terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing District 1 in 1871 and District 27 in 1883. Stahlmann was also a Ramsey County Commissioner in 1870, as well as other local offices.

By 1861 Stahlmann’s Cave Brewery was considered the top brewery in the state. It is credited with being one of Minnesota’s first breweries to bottle its beer, as well as the earliest to ship product out of state. The company exported lager beer as far away as Memphis, Tennessee. Production from 1877 to 1879 grew from 7465 barrels of beer a year to 10440. It was the first brewery in Minnesota to produce over ten thousand barrels of beer in a single year. By the mid-1880s, the brewery would increase its production to over 40,000 barrels a year.

For many years, much of the lager beer in Minnesota had been imported from Milwaukee and St. Louis. By the 1880s, it had become a primarily exported item. The incredible success of the Cave Brewery necessitated expansion, and in 1881 a second, larger facility was built across Fort Rd. The finished 140’ x 250’ stone structure allowed the brewery to produce up to 60,000 barrels of beer a year. When completed, it was the largest lager brewery west of Milwaukee.

On December 31, 1881, the company legally incorporated as the Christopher Stahlmann Brewery. The removal of ‘cave’ from the business name coincided with advances in refrigeration that made the underground caves less essential to the lagering process. By 1883, the brewery was delivering to any part of the city and many surrounding territories free of charge. Though it would soon be surpassed by other breweries for supremacy in the state, the wildly popular brewery showed no signs of slowing down.

Unfortunately, a series of personal tragedies within the Stahlmann family impacted the future of the brewery. On December 3, 1883, owner Christopher Stahlmann passed away after a brief illness. Local newspapers had varying reports on the cause of death, some described it as tuberculosis, and others wrote Stahlmann had died from an inflammation of the bowels. George Mitsch Sr., Stahlmann’s son Henry’s father-in-law, was installed as the brewery’s new president.

After their father’s passing, the Stahlmann children became more involved in business operations. Unfortunately, tuberculosis wasn’t finished with the family. Over the next decade, each of the remaining Stahlmann children would succumb to the illness. Henry died in California on May 2, 1887. Bernard, the second oldest son, lost his battle with tuberculosis only two months later, on July 3, 1887. Christopher A.J., the youngest son of Christopher and Katharina Stahlmann, died from the same disease on December 27, 1893.

Those losses, coupled with a changing business landscape, devastated the Stahlmann Brewery. In December 1896, after years of success, the company couldn’t pay its mounting bills. Soon after brewery officials declared bankruptcy. On Nov. 7, 1897, the Stahlmann Brewery was sold at auction. The brewery, its equipment, and the nearby Stahlmann house were purchased for $3500. The new owners renamed the site the St. Paul Brewery and resumed operations.

In 1900, after three years of lackluster sales, it was sold to North Star Brewery owner Jacob Schmidt for $75000. Schmidt built a new state-of-the-art complex on the land and named it the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co.