This week's kare11.com Microbrewery of the Week takes a trip to August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, Minnesota, America's second oldest brewery (behind Pennsylvania's Yunegling Beer Company). Schell's, longtime brewers of American lagers, also brews a variety of craft beers (and are the proud brewers of the Grain Belt beers). Fifth-generation brewery president Ted Marti and one of his sons, Kyle, talked us through the history - and the beers - of the 152-year-old brewery.
How did your brewery come to be?
Ted: August Schell came from Germany through Cincinnati like a lot of Germans in the 1840s and 1850s. He was a machinist. He came up to New Ulm with a group of Cincinnati Turners. The Turners were sort of Agnostics; they believed in sound mind, sound body. Obviously, beer was a big part of that. They were pretty well funded. The settlement in New Ulm was started by some Chicago Germans who were under-funded and under-manned. They were just about ready to fold up when the Cincinnati group came in. August Schell started in the flour milling business down by the Minnesota River. In 1860, he teamed up with a brewmaster named Paul and started the brewery. What's left of the original brewery is part of our office now.
August was a big part of New Ulm. He was part of the education system that they started in town. He was a mover and a shaker. He got rheumatoid arthritis fairly young and was confined to a wheelchair later in life. He built the big home in 1885 but only got to live there six years and then he died. That's when the presidency [of the brewery] was passed on to Otto, his son. Then [Otto] died relatively young in 1911 and his brother-in-law took over. That was George Marti. Then, [the brewery] stayed in the Martis. It's gone from George Marti down to his son Alfred Marti down to his son Warren Marti and down to me.
What's your favorite beer you make?
Ted: My sort of go-to favorite would be the Pils. My favorite seasonal is Oktoberfest, although I really like Hefe. Iti's kind of hard to pick favorites. I like Maifest. I'm not a big fan of huge, strong beers because it really wipes you out. It does me anyway. I'm getting older [laughs]. And then I really like a lot of the Snowstorms that we've done. And I like Schell's Light when you got to drink a lot [laughs].
Kyle: I'm a big fan of Schell's Dark. That's probably my favorite year-round. And then the Schmaltz's Alt is my favorite limited release.
What's your favorite beer someone else makes?
Ted: I like Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, but I've known [Sierra Nevada founder] Ken Grossman for going on 35 years now. Summit makes some nice beers. I'm not a big hoppy beer fan and I only occasionally taste some of their other brands but their EPA is a nice beer.
Kyle: When Schell's isn't available, I go with Summit's EPA or their Unchained Series. Those are pretty good.
What are your plans for the brewery's future?
Ted: Well, either you're growing or you're shrinking. So we want to grow. We've decided to have two portfolios; the American lagers and the craft side, and that presents some challenges. We want to grow both those sides, particularly the craft side. We want to really highlight here what nobody else has. We've got this history behind us, we have this great setting. There's a lot of opportunity to do some great things. We do have that taproom license now. We've always been a little reluctant to jump into that fully but we certainly could have a restaurant here if we wanted. We're a little reluctant because we have great customers downtown [New Ulm] and we don't want people sitting out here all day long and not supporting them.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you before you started?
Ted: I don't know that anybody's given me any sort of advice like in the movie "The Graduate." "Gotta go into plastics..." No, it was sort of osmosis. I remember my grandpa and then my father, and it was just a way of doing business that was sort of small and intimate. Treat the customer well and build that loyalty. Then return that loyalty. That's really sort of what we do. Everything is personal. We try to be one-on-one and build that relationship. Sometimes that's a slower build but it's the most solid build that you can get.
Kyle: Take care of your employees and they take care of you. Happy employees produce your employees and that, in turn, is displayed in the quality of your product.
What is the best piece of advice someone you can give homebrewers?
Ted: Beer is a living thing and if you don't treat it right, it doesn't come out right.
Describe the local craft beer scene in 11 words or less.
Ted: Exciting. Multi-faceted. Expanding. Educational. Food pairings. Variety. Something new. Challening.
Kyle: I'd say fast paced.
If you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
Kyle: Vodka tonic.
Ted: [Laughs] I drink vodka tonics, typically. I like a little Scotch once in a while. I like wine but I don't find the occasion very often for it. If I go out, I'm drinking beer typically.
August Schell's historic brewery - complete with peacocks and deer - is located in New Ulm, Minnesota. Tours of the brewery are available for a modest $3 but a walk on their picturesque grounds won't cost you a penny. Their many beers can be found throughout the upper Midwest and as far away as Pennsylvania.
Schell's - and Grain Belt - can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Previous Microbreweries of the Week:
Excelsior Brewing Company
Third Street Brewhouse
Surly Brewing Co.
Steel Toe Brewing
Boom Island Brewing Commpany
(Copyright 2012 KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)