Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Father’s day trip to Schell’s Brewing Co.

Though I definitely wear my interests on my sleeve, let me just say my wife has the process of catering to those down to a science. This past Father’s Day (my first), she surprised me with a beer flight holder a friend spotted at a craft fair and a trip down to New Ulm, MN to visit the second oldest brewery in the country, Schell’s Brewing.

Schell’s is a two hour drive from Minneapolis, making this a perfect day trip. This historic brewery and well-kept grounds have been featured in various magazines, most recently in the March issue of All About Beer magazine. We arrived a bit early for the tour so we drove into town and had lunch at Joni’s restaurant and catering. I was surprised at how tasty their “New Ulmer” burger with sauerkraut was, especially because the decor of the place was quite… humble. It’s worth a taste if you’re ever in the ‘hood.

Back to the brewery! The tour starts with a walk ‘n talk through their Schell’s memorabilia museum then  moves onto the old brewery, now used to simply heat the water that they pump over to the new brewery’s mash tun. I was surprised to hear that’s as far as we’d go. What?? We don’t get to see the actual brewery? Hmm… Sorry Schell’s. The second most important element of a brewery tour is seeing the actual brewery (of course, the first is free beer). Major faux pas. The rest of the tour focused on the well-maintained grounds of the facility and a generous tasting of a handful of their beers.

I believe the tour guide told us the brewery was so compact that it didn’t allow space for tours. Coming from someone interested in the process just as much as the product, this was a major letdown. I’ve been on multiple brewery tours and the best ones include the following:

  1. Beer samples paced throughout the tour, not in rapid-fire succession at the end
  2. Led by a tour guide knowledgeable of the process and who might be able to share some insider info on new product development or refinement of current portfolio

Point number three should go without saying.

Of all the beers we sampled, I’d have to say Schell’s Dark was my favorite. It was the most distinct of the bunch. I thought it was an odd decision to package it in a clear bottle, as even though this beer isn’t hop-heavy, there is still opportunity for it to skunk in a clear bottle (hop oil exposure to UV rays is what skunks beer in a nutshell). Seems like an unnecessary risk. As far as the rest of them, I’ve heard multiple people in separate situations mention Schell’s beers taste very similar. Maybe it’s their yeast strain, maybe they’re using a similar subset of hop varietals in most of their beers… not sure but something’s a little off here and I’m not the only one thinking it.

I got a kick out of the server girl when I asked to try their Deer Brand lager marketed to quite a different audience than most of their “crafty” beers. I was just curious as to how bad it could be. She says “Are you sure? Do you want to try a sample first?” Deer Brand was about what I expected: an adjunct-heavy American lager. The similarity in basic flavor held true here though as well. Yes, their Maifest is much more tolerable, but I could taste some similarity in Deer Brand. It’s got to be the hops or yeast.

Overall, this was a fun day trip. Nice to get out of town and try something different. Though now that it’s checked off my list, I wouldn’t go back.

The retired mash tun, now only used for boiling water

Growing hops for show

Happy Father’s Day to me!


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