LITTLE FALLS -- Anyone seeking a history of the Kiewel's Brewery in Little Falls would do right to start with Chris Anderson.
Even though his only experience with the brewery itself was using it as an abandoned play place with his friends when he was 8 years old, today Anderson is the owner of an impressive collection of memorabilia from throughout the Little Falls-based brewery's existence from 1898 to 1961.
"I grew up six blocks away from Kiewel's Brewery and we used to go in there because it was empty," said Anderson. "I was not a collector at that time, I was a destroyer."
Now Anderson has a room in his Little Falls home dedicated to Kiewel's, makers of Kiewel's Standard, White Rose and eventually White Label beers.
The room marks the history of the brewery as dozens of advertisements spanning 60 years line the walls, beer cans and bottles fill shelves, kegs and wooden cases are stacked on the floor, and lighted signs sit atop furniture. In all, Anderson figures he has more than 300 Kiewel's pieces, including the framed diploma the brewery owner's son received when he became a brewmaster and the first license issued to the brewery.
But Kiewel's memorabilia wasn't how Anderson got into collecting.
A life-long Little Falls resident, Anderson started as a collector of stoneware items. While at a convention, another collector asked him if he had ever heard of Kiewel's Brewery and when Anderson learned there was an interest in such memorabilia, he started seeking it himself.
He's been seriously collecting Kiewel's items for the past 12 years. The first pieces he acquired were a couple of beer bottle labels, a wooden case and two lights bearing the Kiewel's name. The lights, which now include several old neon signs, remain his favorite Kiewel's pieces.
"They're always so hard to find," Anderson said.
Favorite beer: Grain Belt Premium. "But we usually by Michelob Golden Draft."
Collectibles aside from Kiewel's memorabilia: Little Falls memorabilia, advertising items, stoneware and glassware. "But I focus a lot on Kiewel's and the stoneware."
Hobbies other than collecting: Fishing, especially ice fishing, farming and building. "I love to build. If I think I can build it, I'll build it."
Favorite food: "Anything my wife (Kelsi) puts on the table for me. When you got a wife that likes to cook would you want to go out and eat?" His favorite meals are a good grilled steak and a fresh piece of fish.
Ideal job: The one he currently has, as owner of Anderson Siding and Windows. "I just feel that being self-employed is anybody's dream."
Best piece of advice he's ever given: "To be true and honest to people will get you anywhere in life you want to be."
Most proud moment: Being self-employed and meeting his wife. "When I met her I knew she was going to be my wife. I just had that feeling."
Anderson began asking people around Little Falls, many of whom he knew had a connection with the brewery while it was open, to see if they had kept any Kiewel's items.
"I'm a local boy so I know a lot of people and that's been the thing," he said. "It also doesn't hurt that people know you have a collection and would rather sell to me than to someone just looking to make a buck off them."
He said many people are interested in his collection and on occasions he will show his room dedicated to Kiewel's. A few years ago he even had the opportunity to show the descendants of the original owner, Jacob Kiewel, his collection. He had fun with the Kiewel descendants by putting old Kiewel's labels onto new beer. He said they were shocked at first, thinking the beer was still being made, but even after learning that the labels were old the Kiewel heirs wanted to keep the bottles.
As such an avid collector, Anderson himself has had only one chance to taste Kiewel's beer. Several bottles he has are full and about two years ago one of them broke open. He said the beer smelled fine, but fear of getting sick outweighed his desire to taste the beer.
As told by those who drank Kiewel's, the only beer that comes close to it in taste is Grain Belt Premium, Anderson said. He noted that two of Jacob Kiewel's sons served as president of Minnesota Brewing Company, the makers of Grain Belt beers, and the rumor is that the Kiewel recipe went into Grain Belt Premium. To add further to the speculation, Anderson points out the similarities between the bottles of the two beers.
"I don't know, but there are guys around still today who swear it's Kiewel's," Anderson said.
For now, Anderson said he's happy to continue to collect. He and his wife, Kelsi, live in a historic Little Falls home that he and previous owners have been working to remodel and he owns his own business, Anderson Siding and Windows. He said as long as he can keep up the work he plans to never retire. As for selling his memorabilia, Anderson said it's not in the cards -- yet.
"Maybe one day down the road I'll sell this stuff like people have been selling to me and turn it back into money somehow," he said. Until then, he said he will continue to hunt down Kiewel's items to add to his collection.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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