Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault’s long-standing historic appreciation for Fleck’s beer February 19, 2013

YOU NEEDN’T LOOK FAR to see the notable imprint the Fleckenstein breweries made on Faribault.

A downtown Faribault mural featuring Fleck's beer.

A downtown Faribault mural featuring Fleck’s beer.

In the heart of Faribault’s historic downtown, a mural at 513 Central Avenue features Fleck’s beer barrels stacked upon a horse-drawn wagon in one of seven historical-themed murals created by the Mural Society of Faribault.

Kitty-corner across the street at the State Bank of Faribault, 428 Central Avenue, bank President John R. Carlander’s personal collection of Fleckenstein/Fleck’s memorabilia is displayed.

The Fleckenstein building houses Twin City Underwriters in the south front with empty space for lease in the other half.

The Fleckenstein building, home to several businesses including an  insurance company, photo studio and salon. If anyone knows the story behind the Fleckenstein family’s connection to the building, I’d like to hear.

Two blocks away in Faribault’s Historic Commercial District, the Fleckenstein building stands at 220 Central Avenue.

Across town at the Rice County Historical Society, 1814 N.W. Second Avenue, you’ll find a permanent Fleckenstein breweries exhibit.

And who knows how many locals own pieces of Fleckenstein history from the breweries of brothers Gottfried and Ernst Fleckenstein. The two began as partners, opening the Fleckenstein Brewery along the banks of the Straight River in 1856. There they aged and stored their beer in caves.

Eventually the two split, Gottfried’s brewery remaining at the original site at 222 Third Avenue N.E. Meanwhile, Ernst moved farther north along the Straight River and established Ernst Fleckenstein Brewing Company in 1872. That would continue in operation until 1964. Gottfried’s brewery, which had been passed along to his son, Louis, closed in 1907.

Chris Voegele, left, and Noah Strouth inside the space that will house Patriot's Brewing brewery.

Chris Voegele, left, and Noah Strouth inside the space that will house Patriot’s Brewing brewery.

With 108 years of business history in Faribault, it’s no wonder the Fleckenstein breweries made an impression upon locals like Noah Strouth and Chris Voegele who will bottle Fleck’s branded beers at Patriot’s Brewing Company, set to open this fall in downtown Faribault within blocks of the first Fleckenstein brewery. You can read about that new brewery by clicking here to a previous post.

The two plan to eventually open a tap room which will feature Fleck’s/Fleckenstein memorabilia culled from their personal inventory and from the collections of others who’ve already offered their historical pieces for display. I don’t expect Strouth will show his 1958 unopened bottle of Fleck’s beer. But it’s interesting to hear his claim that this 55-year-old bottle has always been kept cold. He knows that, he says, because of the beer’s clarity.

If anyone knows Fleck’s beer, it would be Faribault resident Brian Schmidt who owns more than 300 collectible pieces from the Fleckenstein breweries and has created a Fleck’s website. (Click here to reach that.) Schmidt grew up on Faribault’s north side and remembers digging for bottles in the Fleckenstein brewery “bottle pit.”

Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck's beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour.

Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. The brewery also made soda.

I’ve yet to see Schmidt’s collection, although I’ve viewed one piece, a 1976 brewery painting by my artist friend Rhody Yule of Faribault. Schmidt brought the artwork, which he purchased for $90 at a local auction, to “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” exhibit in January 2011 at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Click here to read my post about that brewery painting and another piece Schmidt shared at Yule’s show.

Equally as interesting are the brewery related stories shared by locals, including that of a 92-year-old friend who wished to remain anonymous. The Faribault native remembers her sister picking tight-bud peonies from the family farm in June and storing the flowers inside a brewery cave until her early July wedding.

This I learned when I phoned to ask about the Fleckenstein-donated stained glass windows which grace my church, Trinity Lutheran, along Fourth Street in Faribault. My friend couldn’t offer any details on the windows, or even if the Fleckensteins were Trinity members. But I certainly appreciated hearing her sister’s wedding flower story.

Likewise I spoke with another longtime Faribault resident who knew members of the Fleckenstein family—Al, Ruge, John and Chauncey—from his days of bowling against the Fleck’s Brewery team. In his early 20s at the time, my friend recalls the Fleckensteins, 15-plus years his senior, as strong supporters/sponsors of bowling in Faribault. Several generations of Fleckensteins operated the breweries.

Hearing stories like this reinforces the results of a Faribault Main Street downtown market analysis report prepared in September 2011. According to that report by (IN)ALLIANCE, LLC, “downtown Faribault would be an ideal location for a craft brew pub.”

The report went on to state this:

Given the history of brewing in Faribault and its consumer who is attracted to culture and history, naming a brewpub solicitation as “Fleckenstein Brew Pub” would prove to be a good promotional tool.

Chris Voegele , left, and Noah Strouth, owners of Patriot's Brewing Company

Chris Voegele , left, and Noah Strouth, owners of Patriot’s Brewing Company

When I interviewed Patriot Brewing owners Strouth and Voegele, I mentioned the market analysis (of which they were unaware) and they concurred with that important historic connection and Faribault promotional aspect. “People in Faribault seem to like their history,” Voegele said.

With the opening of a brewery and a tap room (not a brewpub), Patriot’s Brewing will assuredly add to the beloved history of Fleck’s beer in Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling