A visit to the August Schell Brewing Co., during our recent trip to New Ulm, Minn., was an enthralling experience for the WPI class of 2022, a few of whom were inside a brewery for the very first time.
Some even a got a tad tipsy, after a remarkable tasting session that comprised seven kinds of the brewery’s top-tier products. But such scurrilous minutiae are best excluded from the ambit of this blog.
The quaint brewery in southern Minnesota was founded by August Schell, a German immigrant from Durbach, in 1860 – a year before the Civil War began. It is the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, established 31 years after D.G. Yuengling & Son, in Pottsville, Pa.
Born in 1828 in the Grand Duchy of Baden, Schell moved to the United States at age 20. He worked in Cincinnati as a machinist before relocating to New Ulm.
At age 32, he, along with Jacob Bernhardt, founded the brewery along the Cottonwood River to serve the growing German immigrant population around them.
In 1862, much of New Ulm was destroyed in the Dakota War, but the brewery escaped unscathed. In 1866, Schell bought out Bernhardt and took sole ownership, starting a long chain of family ownership.
Schell died at age 63, leaving the brewery to his wife, Theresa, and their son, Otto. The son continued to modernize the brewery till 1911, when both he and his mother died. George Marti — the husband of August and Theresa’s daughter, Emma — took over.
The year 1919 brought with it the implementation of Prohibition. The brewery struggled at first, but soon pivoted to producing “near-beer” — a low-alcohol beer still permitted – besides soft drinks and candy. By the time Prohibition ended 14 years later, Marti had kept the brewery going, but died almost immediately after, in 1934.
His son, Alfred Marti, took over and ran it till 1969. Following his retirement, his son, Warren, took command.
Over the next few decades, the industry went through phases of consolidation and upheaval. At one point, the brewery managed to stay afloat only by cutting down a large black walnut tree on its grounds, to sell its lumber.
Warren’s son, Ted Marti, took the helm in the mid-1980s, and Ted’s oldest son, Jace, became a brewmaster in 2010.
In 2002, Schell’s expanded its reach by acquiring Grain Belt Beer.
Today, the brewery produces more than 145,000 U.S. beer barrels annually, with nearly 20 kinds of beer. It’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the production facility, the brewery grounds house a picturesque family mansion, a gift shop, a biergarten, and a deer enclosure.
In summation, while in Minnesota, the historic New Ulm brewery – less than 100 miles from Minneapolis – is a must-visit.
In a world beset by difficulties and conflicts, the Schell’s tour offered us a bit of an escape, even solace, in its traditional offerings of the convivial, frothy beverage from simpler times.