Chances are the logo for Gluek Beer is embedded somewhere in your memory.
Maybe you grew up seeing its timeless script adjacent to the scoreboard at Metropolitan Stadium. Maybe you remember seeing a pinstriped cone-topped bottle in your dad’s hand at a family cookout. Maybe you recall seeing headlines in 2010 when, after 153 years in production, the traditional German lager was taken off the market.
It’s this nostalgia that lifelong Gluek’s devotee Linda Rae Holcomb is hoping to tap into when she re-releases the classic beer brand to Minnesota this Memorial Day in honor of its 160th anniversary.
“Gluek is still alive in the hearts and minds of beer drinkers across the nation,” Holcomb says. “So many people have a Gluek Beer story. For people who care about the history, I can take them there and back again. It’s delightful.”
Despite the fact that Gluek’s Bar in Downtown still serves beer under the Gluek’s name and exists as a shrine to the pre-Prohibition brand, Gluek Beer has not been commercially produced since Cold Spring Brewing Co. (now Third Street Brewhouse) retired the brand seven years ago. It was a sad and unfitting end for a beer that’d been slaking the thirst of Germanic-minded drinkers since Minnesota was only a territory.
“It’s a 160-year-old brand,” Holcomb says. “It’s pre-Civil War. It’s pre-landing on the moon. Throughout American history -- through World War II and all that -- Gluek Beer has been there. They were one of the first beers to be sold to the military. They were one of the first brands to ever have refrigeration. They were the first to ever patent a malt liquor in the United States.”
Gottlieb Gluek, an immigrant from Allmersbach, Germany, founded the Mississippi Brewing Company in 1857 in northeast Minneapolis. It was the first production permit issued in Minnesota at the time, but Gluek wasn’t the first to brew beer in Minnesota. Yoerg’s, the first Minnesota-brewed beer, came on the market nine years prior, and Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company was founded two years prior to Mississippi Brewing. But along with those brands and Schell’s, Gluek became an enduring emblem of drinking culture in Minnesota.
It became more than just a beer brand. It stood as an identifier for the Minnesotan people across the 27 states where it was sold.
In its time, the rebranded Gluek Brewing Company would survive the death of its founder, a devastating brewery fire, the temperance movement, and four ownership changes. Cost-cutting seemed like an unfitting end for the brand, so Holcomb picked up the lapsed brand and decided to give it a revival befitting its legacy.
“The brand was just dead; they said, ‘Nobody cares about Gluek Beer,’” she says. “That’s why it’s kind of a modern day love story. Gluek Beer is finally in the hands of someone who cares.”
Holcomb grew up in the Minneapolis bar industry, and so she’s been working under a neon Gluek’s sign for most her life. Though she’s trained as an international yoga and nutrition teacher, she still has the love of that industry flowing through her. Now, she’s the sole employee of Gluek Beer, and she’s nurturing the sudsy phoenix with the mission to “toast to a life fully lived.”
Holcomb has positioned Gluek as a lifestyle brand in the vein of LaCroix or Lululemon, centering on shared social experiences. She’ll look to yoga retreats and 5Ks to promote Gluek as the beer of the balanced life. This holistic, yogic approach may seem at odds with Gluek’s blue collar background, but Holcomb sees it as necessary for the budget beer’s survival in the 2017 craft scene.
She knows she can’t just sell a good, cheap beer to millennials and hope they pick it up on nostalgia alone. Though some of them may recognize the iconography of the can or recall the beer’s historic goat mascot, she knows has to engage deeper or risk another downturn in Gluek’s erratic history.
“I’m lifestyle-driven; I’m experience-driven,” Holcomb says. “I’m not about the Gluek Beer, I’m about the Gluek Beer drinker.”
Though Holcomb wanted to keep Gluek’s production in Minnesota, she couldn’t find a local co-packer to take her on. In the craft beer Renaissance, contract brewing has fallen out of favor, and smaller breweries only have capacity for their own brews. So she struck a deal with Denver’s Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. to produce and package the beer. Gluek will begin rolling out in Colorado and Minnesota next week, but Holcomb sees the brand reclaiming its spot as a national mainstay over time.
“I’m gonna bring it back to those 27 states that used to have Gluek,” Holcomb says. “Once I have those states, I’m bringing it back it back to Germany to where Gluek Beer belongs. I’m bringing it back home.”
The 2017 version of Gluek Beer (5.25% ABV, 32 IBU) is a totally different recipe than the previous iterations, though. Holcomb sourced her Munich malts and Saaz hops through BevSource and worked very closely with a team of cicerones and a brewing chemist to get a recipe that has a deep appreciation for old-world German customs while still tasting relevant to the drinkers of 2017.
The result is a pale pilsner that has none of the markings of its budget kin. While the body is light, clear, and easy to drink, it maintains a sturdy bitterness and a healthy effervescence. It doesn’t smell like your dad’s old fishing cooler -- it’s fresh and colorful without the tinny Schlitz corn flavor that eventually drove the brand into the ground. The cans represent the beer’s legacy -- they were even designed by a former Gluek label designer, Tom Jahnke -- but their tallboy stature shows a consideration for contemporary drinking habits.
“My whole mission is to find the perfect balance,” Holcomb says. “The yoga teacher in me wants to build relationships and nurture them. It’s about sharing. That’s my vision for the brand.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Gluek was at one point responsible for 95 percent of the beer sold in Minneapolis. That is incorrect. Gluek sold 95 percent of its beer in Minneapolis. The story has been updated.
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