Breweries, creameries rare in South Dakota

Farm Forum

PIERRE — Local breweries and creameries once dotted South Dakota, but beer and ice cream are now produced almost entirely outside the state’s borders., according to presentations on April 30 at the South Dakota State Historical Society annual conference.

There has been a gradual return of small brewers offering craft beers. But generally they aren’t turning out the volumes once seen from factories in many South Dakota communities.

Prohibition twice shut down or forced product changes at South Dakota’s breweries.

Voters approved state prohibition in 1889 and repealed it in 1896.

But state voters reinstated state prohibition effective July 1, 1917. National prohibition followed two years later.

Not until the federal Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, ending prohibition, did commercial-scale local brewing return to South Dakota.

By then it was almost too late, according to Ken Stewart, who oversees the archives section of the state Cultural Heritage Center.

He said South Dakota companies tried to come back where they could. But larger regional breweries from neighboring states pushed in, and national brands did, too.

“The bigger companies were taking over the product distribution and sales,” Stewart said. “These little companies couldn’t compete with that.”

As local brewers disappeared, local creameries happened to rise in number. Creameries that churned their own butter peaked in the 1950s at about 90, according to Howard Bonnemann, the dairy plant manager and instructor at South Dakota State University.

Dairies in a few South Dakota communities made ice cream during past decades, but today SDSU is the only commercial maker of ice cream in South Dakota, he said.

While the dairy program at SDSU has trained students for more than 100 years in ice cream making, only in 2004 did the university leadership allow the dairy program to sell its ice cream off-campus.

The university still doesn’t allow Bonnemann to approach businesses about selling SDSU ice cream, but businesses can ask to sell it.

SDSU moved into its current dairy building in 2011. Its plant is designed for 90,000 gallons, but the actual production is about 28,000 gallons.

Bonnemann said the Wells Blue Bunny plant in Le Mars, Iowa, makes about 80 million gallons a year.

“We don’t make a difference to their market. It works out for both of us,” he said. The SDSU sales are intended to cover the cost of the program. “It’s self-support. It’s a business within.”

The Dairy Bar remains a popular spot on campus. The university has about 135 milk cows in its Campanile breed herd that are used for student training.

The program supplies milk to the student food service and also produces cheese. When there’s excess milk, the extra is picked up by a local cooperative.

Over the years, the SDSU students have produced more than 100 flavors, including jalapeno.

“There were no repeat customers,” he joked. “There’s lot of possibilities. A lot don’t make it.”