Schell’s Expanding Sour Program, Ground Broken on “Star Keller”

Jace Marti standing in front of the cypress tanks // Photo courtesy August Schell Brewing Co.

Jace Marti standing in front of the cypress tanks // Photo courtesy August Schell Brewing Co.

August Schell Brewing Company has broken ground on a new facility that will house 10 cypress lagering tanks and an expanded home for Schell’s’ popular new series of sour beers. Schell’s acquired an abandoned farm on the outskirts of New Ulm and has begun building an additional 12,000 sq ft facility there.

“My dad is kind of a pack rat. He just never throws anything away,” laughs Jace Marti. The sixth generation brewmaster at Minnesota’s oldest brewery recalls how that trait frustrated him when he was young. Well, Ted Marti’s penchant toward saving relics from the yesteryear of the historic brewery are about to pay off for his son—and for fans of Schell’s’ Noble Star series of beers.

Original receipt of purchase for Schell's Cyprus Tanks // Photo courtesy of Schell's Brewery

Original receipt of purchase for Schell’s Cyprus Tanks // Photo courtesy of Schell’s Brewery

Half of the new space will be occupied by 10 large cypress wood tanks that had been all but forgotten until a couple years ago, when the younger Marti took an interest in the old wooden fermenters and began the process of refurbishing them. Considering the tanks had spent more than 50 years in production and almost 20 years in storage, they were in fairly good shape but in need of some serious TLC. After consulting with a local cooper, Schell’s began the process of restoring the first two 140-barrel beauties to their original glory. To Jace Marti’s knowledge, when all 10 are refurbished they will be the only cypress tanks in the world used for brewing.

I remember visiting Schell’s in early 2013 and the excitement Jace exuded about his new “passion project.” Over samples of an unfinished version of the Star of the North straight from the tanks, Jace shared stories that you could only hear at the nation’s second oldest brewery. One day they needed a tool for hammering rungs into place. Modern devices couldn’t do the trick, so they got the era-appropriate tool they needed in the only place they could think to look—the brewery’s museum.

The rung pounder usurped from the Schell's museum for use in refurbishing tanks.

The rung pounder usurped from the Schell’s museum for use in refurbishing tanks.

Now, after finding success with the series of beers originally birthed by these venerable vats, Schell’s will start the process of building a dedicated facility for the sour program. The multi-acre site, on Highway 29 on the northern edge of New Ulm, will house all 10 of the tanks slated for reconditioning and a tasting room. If all goes as planned, a beer garden and even a few crops of hops, barley, and wheat will sprout up there as well.

Those eager to visit the new facility or taste the new beers will have to be somewhat patient. Schell’s has title to the land and will begin pouring a foundation in October, but eight additional vessels still need to be reconditioned. Having again consulted with a cooper, this time from Black Swan Cooperage in Park Rapids, and getting the news that the tanks are in “surprisingly good condition,” Jace is optimistic that the process will go smoothly. “The tanks we still have in storage are actually in better shape than the tanks we have already worked on,” he said. The remaining tanks will need to be swelled and “dry-ice blasted,” to ensure sanitary conditions for the expanded line of sour beers.

How can you get a taste of the Noble Star collection? Schell’s has already released four beers in the series, including a Berliner weisse, a raspberry framboise, a Märzen-style Berliner weisse, and the most recent release, their Black Forest Cherry. The beers in this series need a lengthy amount of time in the tanks—approximately two years—so it will be a while until you see the more experimental beers Jace has in the plans. He hopes to work on a Grand Cru and some blended beers in the future.

Schell's Cypress Unconditioned Tanks // Photo courtesy of Schell's Brewery

Schell’s Unconditioned Cypress Tanks // Photo courtesy of Schell’s Brewery

Schell’s currently has beer in the two tanks that have already been refurbished. “We are planning on bottling [the next beer] in October,” says Jace. “It is a strong version of a Berliner weisse.” The 7.5–8% ABV beer is the first in the series that will feature a new strain of Brettanomyces. “It’s very fruity with a lot of pineapple and pear. I’m really excited about this one.” Can’t wait until October to taste the “Starkbier?” Jace says that he’s so eager to have you try it that they will release a limited amount at this month’s Autumn Brew Review.

The other tank is playing host to an American Adjunct Lager brewed in the same fashion as a Berliner weisse—an homage to the brewing history of the eighth-generation brewery. If all goes as planned, you should start to see this crafty concoction hit store shelves this winter.

Schell’s will also make use of the space saved at the old brewery when the new facility is ready. They are planning to add some horizontal steel lagering tanks and some additional packaging space. And although he wants to make sure the current Midwest distribution is taken care of first, Jace does not rule out the possibility of expanding Schells’ distribution footprint in the near future.

“We’ll see how it goes first in our current territory, but Chicago would be a logical first place to look since it’s so close. Colorado, California, Oregon are all great craft beer states, and then there’s Florida with their new Florida-weisse craze, so that could be an option, too.”

UPDATE: SCHELL’S BREAKS GROUND ON NEW “STAR KELLER”

 

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