America the Beautiful is a song about the land we love; a simple, melodic tribute to the natural beauty that surrounds us and the bounty of goods that make ours the greatest nation on earth. I am often reminded of this song when I traverse the nation in search of beer and, in one recent instance, history. Traveling south from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota airport, I drove past endless fields of corn and open pastures with a specific, historic destination in mind: August Schell Brewing Company, located in the small town of New Ulm.
Minnesota Brewing History
August Schell Brewing is a large operation, ranking in the top 25 among all American breweries based on barrels of beer produced. The grounds of the August Schell Brewing Company are as impressive as one might expect, with a separate museum, brew house, and mansion. The beautifully landscaped gardens are a sight to behold as well, made even more eye- catching thanks to the perfect summer weather in the area when I paid a visit.
I took the brewery tour and learned much about August Schell Brewing and the challenges it has faced over the years, from devastating fires to potential conflicts with Native Americans. I also learned that the August Schell family actually co- founded the city of New Ulm and, in more recent years. they instrumental in rescuing the local brewery known as Grain Belt from near certain extinction. Probably most important of all is that August Schell is the second oldest family owned brewery in existence. Founded in 1860, right around the time Lincoln was elected president, August Schell Brewing is second only to Yuengling in terms of longevity.
Here’s to the Beer
Any good brewery tour always involves tasting beer and August Schell’s tour does, indeed, end in the tasting room. It’s a little different from what I’m used to. With most other breweries, the tasting area doubles as the bar used by taproom guests, but not at August Schell Brewing. There is no open taproom down here on the lower level, beneath the museum. It is strictly a tasting room for tour participants and special events.
Here is a quick summary of the beers I sampled, in alphabetical order by name, followed by the style and my Untappd rating on a five point scale:
- Firebrick, Vienna Lager, 3.50
- Fort Road Helles, Helles Lager, 3.75
- Goosetown, Gose, 3.25
- Hefeweizen, Hefe, 3.75
- Original Light, Adjunct lager, 2.5
- Pilsner, Pilsner Lager, 3.5
- Schell Shocked Grapefruit Radler, 3
Overall Average Beer Rating: 3.32
Among the beers I tried, I liked the Fort Road Helles the best, with the Hefeweizen following closely in a virtual tie for first place. Most of the other beers were okay, with only the light beer falling below average, mainly due to its blandness, although it is actually not bad when compared to others of similar style.
Brewing Days of Yesteryear
August Schell Brewing is an historical brewery with many great stories to share. I knew about the age of the brewery before visiting and even though it was a lengthy, nearly 2 hour drive from Minneapolis, I felt the visit would easily be worth it, both to see a piece of American brewing history up close and personal and to learn more about August Schell and its influence on the local and state beer scene.
New Ulm, Minnesota has a population of about 13,000 people and August Schell is easily one of the dominating- if not the dominating- businesses in the city. Entering the city from State Route 14 from the east, I followed my GPS, passing through South Park on my way to Schell’s Road; a winding, paved pathway that leads to the brewery. It was a warm, sunny, and pleasant day, perfect for viewing the lovely landscaped grounds and partaking in a tour of this important brewing operation.
One fact that sets August Schell Brewing apart from other breweries I have visited is the nature of the tour itself. With almost all other brewery tours, the focus is typically on the brewing process, with a quick educational lesson on malted barley, hops, mash tuns, bottling, and the like. But at August Schell, the focus is on the history, with the tour guide explaining everything from the brewery’s foundation in the 1800’s to the challenges of prohibition to the modern- day resurgence of craft beer and Schell’s place within the industry. You get to learn about German immigrant August Schell and his determination to create a slice of Germany here in the USA. You learn about the different generations who have operated August Schell Brewing over the past 150 years. And, of course, you get to learn about the beer and sample several from the present line- up at the end of the tour.
Walking through the August Schell Museum is a trip back in time and I could have easily spent several hours here, reading about and learning about beer and the ever- evolving brewing industry. Things have certainly come a long way as technology has improved the production process, resulting in more consistent batches of beer. But one thing has remained the same, and that is the August Schell commitment to product and community- a commitment that shows in its facilities and finished product.
The United States is a nation of scenic wonder. America the Beautiful?- Yes, she most certainly is, and August Schell Brewing and the great state of Minnesota are perfect examples of what America was and ever shall be. I don’t know exactly what the authors of America the Beautiful had in mind when they added the ‘for amber waves of grain’ lyric, but now that I have visited August Schell Brewing, I feel like I finally have a good idea. Pay a visit when you’re in southern Minnesota and get your fill of 19th century American brewing, right here in New Ulm. And tell them Great Beer Now sent you.