August Schell Brewing Company is the second-largest family-owned brewery in the United States, second only to Yuengling in Eastern Pennsylvania. Schell is currently in the sixth generation of family ownership. Schell’s tour was so comprehensive that I will need to break this post into a few sections: Brewery History, Beer Reviews, and Pictures. Feel free to scroll to the header that interests you most.
The tour lasted about 90 minutes. The route started in the Museum and Gift Shop and wound around the campus to the original Schell mansion, where the family lived in the earliest days of the brewery. We returned indoors to the old brewhouse, where we saw the bottling and canning lines, as well as the original copper mash tun and the old-fashioned equipment that used to make the beer.
The tour did not include the current brewing facility for a couple of reasons. It is too small to accommodate such large groups, so safety becomes an issue. When I heard that the first time, I felt so grateful that they didn’t want to expose me to the risks of brewing. In the event of a brewery mishap, the family would rather be the ones injured so that the rest of the beer-drinking public continue in safety, instead of seeing tours of their space and risking their lives. Not all heroes wear capes. The final stage of the tour is the taproom in the basement of the Museum and Gift Shop.
Schell’s history is very much woven into the history of Minnesota and the Midwest. The brewery is named for August Schell, a German immigrant to New Ulm. He married his wife and started a family in Cincinnati, Ohio before coming to Minnesota. The town of New Ulm was largely made up of German immigrants, so naturally there needed to be a brewery. Beer production started in 1860, only two years after Minnesota statehood.
Working down the generations, eventually the brewery fell into the hands of the in-laws. The Marti family has been running the brewery ever since. During Prohibition, many breweries lost their businesses. The management at Schell made a wise business maneuver and invested in root beer production. By using the equipment they already had, they started a classic root beer brand. You may have heard of 1919 Root Beer, and maybe that’s the silver lining about Prohibition. Of the 1,900 breweries that existed before Prohibition, only 600 survived. Shearon Suds has visited 2 of those 600, the other being Anheuser-Busch in Saint Louis, MO.
Jumping forward a couple years, in the middle of World War 2, the restrictions on rubber and other supplies were causing stress within the company. In 1942, the New Ulm newspaper published an article notifying the city’s residents that due to rationing, the breweries in the city could no longer afford to deliver beer to everyone’s front doors. In my opinion, it’s 2017. If we can put a man on the moon, deliver hot pizzas, and deliver steaks, why can’t we find a way to deliver cold beer to thirsty customers? Consider that for a business idea.
Schell is not immune to the relatively recent surge in microbreweries, but the management was prepared. They began trying new recipes that reflected the desires of their customers. There is now a unique lineup of options available for those who are tired of traditional American-style lagers. A complete listing of their beers can be found online here.
In 2002, Schell Brewing Company bought out a Minnesota classic, Grain Belt Beer. Grain Belt had come upon tough times financially. This brand had been brewed in Minneapolis since its founding in 1893. Since its inception into the Schell Brewing family, all Grain Belt products are brewed in New Ulm.
Both of these brands are the essence of what it means to be Minnesotan, and it was a privilege to experience this brewery in its purest form. Microbreweries are fun and they have unique ideas that put their spins on the industry, but as my parents always told me: Respect your elders.
Like I stated earlier, the brewery tour at Schell is very well done. They’ve had over 150 years to master it, so I would be disappointed if it was not! The final stage of the tour leads the guests to the taproom, where visitors get 6 2oz. samples and a full pour off the tap. Those underage are free to try the 1919 Root Beer instead. Here I will just list the samples we had and give a brief history of the name, and very casual remarks about the quality of the drinks.
Schell’s Original Light: This drink was created in the 70’s in response to growing demand for light beer. It has 100 calories, but more taste than an average Big 3 light lager.
Schell’s Dark: By roasting the grains for different lengths of time, brewers can achieve this level of color. This amber hue gives it some of that “hair on your chest” taste that you expect from a dark beer. Light malty profile.
Schell’s Firebrick: This beer is named for the color of the bricks that used to be on the walls in the old brewhouse. This Vienna-Style Amber Lager has a hint of sweetness that is met well with mild maltiness.
Schell’s Goosetown: Named for a neighborhood in New Ulm, the Goosetown is a playful jab at the flocks of birds around the Goosetown neighborhood. To pay tribute to the original recipe, the water is actually artificially injected with salt and other minerals to mimic the water from that part of town. It is a respectful testament to the origins of the company that have remained intact through the generations.
Schell’s Oktoberfest: This Märzen-style beer is one of the truest embodiments of Oktoberfest that I have ever tried. Its origins are literally from Germany, and the recipe stays true. A classic Oktoberfest option for fall, it’s lively hop profile has not overpowered the traditional nature of the drink.
Schell’s Pils: The Pilsner stands out for the hop profile. It’s a great way to reflect a Czech tradition in an American environment. The hoppiness will surely encourage IPA fans to give it a try.
Schell’s Deer Brand: This beer is the closest you’ll get to a Budweiser or Old Milwaukee. This brew has literally been produced continuously for over a century. Think about that for a second. Although I wasn’t blown away by the flavor, this is a piece of Minnesota history. If you consider yourself a beer person, you have to try this. This was one of the original craft beers!