German immigrants arriving in Minnesota already knew a thing or three about beer. Founded in 1860, the August Schell Brewing Company claims to be the second oldest brewery in the U.S. still run by its founding family. August Schell is responsible for not just the brewery but settling what is today the town of New Ulm, Minnesota.
Although his first job was in a flour mill, Schell was an entrepreneur at heart. When he couldn’t find a good German beer, he did what any maker does: He set out to make his own. Once he partnered with a brewmaster, the rest became history.
The brewery’s early success was due in part to the natural resources that Minnesota provided. Built on the Cottonwood River, the brewery had access to spring water and blocks of ice. The ice was stored in caves and provided natural refrigeration for the brewing process. The brewery went on to endure Prohibition and remained open by shifting production to “near beer” (with little to no alcohol content), soda, and even candy.
The rise of craft beers and smaller breweries in the 1980s and ’90s shifted production once again when Schell’s offered contract brewing to generate cash and upgrade the facility. Schell’s became arguably the first brewery in Minnesota to produce craft beers. Its own line of German craft lagers marked another Minnesota first.
In 1984, Schell’s made the first wheat beer since Prohibition, a recipe that today is the seasonal Hefeweizen brew. The brewery has over 20 beers in rotation annually, but the lagers are what draw folks to its annual Oktoberfest, held at the brewery. The brewery has just over 100 employees and more than 30,000 visit the brewery annually.
Since its origin, Schell’s has understood its impact on the environment, believing that being good to it will result in good grain and water for beer. For example, in 2016, Schell’s partnered with a New Ulm farmer to grow barley that was used for beer. Fort Road Helles was released as the first beer made at Schell’s with 100% locally grown barley. Using locally grown grains reduces the carbon footprint of the brewery.
Today, the company is shifting from fifth- to sixth-generation leadership as another chapter begins. Schell’s president Ted Marti prepares to transition the company to two of his three sons, Kyle and Franz. Meanwhile, their brother, Jace, has followed in the entrepreneurial spirit of the family and launched New Ulm’s Black Frost Distillery.