Behind the shopping center and suburban sub-development in Waconia, Minnesota, Airport Road changes from asphalt to gravel and offers a reminder of how steeped in agriculture Carver County was even a generation ago. Amidst the farmland is a patch of land on the north shore of Reitz Lake. The southern-facing slope is ideal for growing grapes, which inspired Aaron and Ashley Schram to move there, plant 4,000 grape vines, and start a vineyard. In 2014, in addition to creating a variety of white and red wines, the Schrams began brewing beer on a pieced-together 1.5-barrel system. A year later, Aaron and his brewing team have an automated seven-barrel system, six to eight regular beers and occasional specialties on tap, and big plans for the future.
The standard lineup of beers includes a blonde ale, a well-balanced red ale, and a couple of pale ales. Beyond those standards are beers that hint at the variety soon to come, such as a smoked porter using beechwood-smoked malt. (The Schrams plan to start smoking their own malt with other types of wood soon, including grapevine.) Another creation is the Brett and Barrel Sour Saison, fermented in French oak wine barrels. As a winery they have plenty of barrels with which to experiment—though Aaron laments they have had the same difficulties obtaining enough of the desired barrels that every other small brewery or winery has had. Nevertheless, more barrel-fermented and barrel-aged beers are on the way. The Schrams also hope to experiment with some beer and wine combinations, given their unique access to both products.
This desire to source ingredients locally extends beyond the brewery’s popular Mocha Monkey Coffee Ale, a Northern English brown ale infused with coffee from Waconia’s popular Mocha Monkey Coffeehouse. In addition to the brewery smoking their own malt, the Schrams and their team have a goal of becoming the first farm brewery in the region to brew a beer where everything was produced on the estate—not just growing the grain and hops but also doing the malting on site. They are experimenting with growing barley between the vine rows, and training the hops horizontally like grapes instead of the traditional vertical method. The Schrams bring their willingness to experiment to the fermentation process, too. Aaron is hoping to build a prototype concrete brew tank, which would create different temperature conditions for yeast and therefore different flavor traits.
The Schrams’ brewery, winery, and spectacular tasting room, complete with a view of the vineyard and lake, have brought a couple hundred “guests” to their backyard on weekend afternoons—a new reality that the couple welcomes. Although having a winery and brewery has led the Schrams through a regulatory jungle, as well as opened their eyes to the need to juggle the differing expectations of wine people and beer people, they aren’t slowing down any time soon. Their next adventure is to tap firkins on Fridays and begin growler sales as soon as the next set of legal obstacles is cleared.
Even after they clear these hurdles, you’ll still have to get the beer straight from the source. But with a setting like this, why would you want to get it anywhere else?
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