Here’s a toast to 150 years of Schell’s Brewery

Published 11:40 am Friday, May 14, 2010

There aren’t too many Minnesota business firms that can celebrate a sesquicentennial this year. Thus, the August Schell Brewing Co. of New Ulm deserves special attention for its 150th year as an interesting part of regional life.

The brewers of Schell’s beer and other beverage products can take pride in being the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the nation. (The oldest family-owned brewery is the Yuengling firm of Pottsville, Pa., started in 1829.) Also, Schell’s is now the oldest brewery in Minnesota. And since 1860, this brewery, now being operated by family members of the fifth generation, has been a important part of history and life in New Ulm.

“New Ulm was founded by two groups of Germans who arrived here in 1854, both looking to create a ‘utopian German community on the American wilderness,’” is how the 2010 visitors guide describes the origins of this Brown County city.

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In 1860, August Schell came to the new community and established his brewery to the south of this frontier settlement near the Cottonwood River. Some of his neighbors at that time were Sioux Indians.

It’s obvious the Indians didn’t speak German and Schell couldn’t speak Sioux. However, he did treat those Indians with respect, gave them blankets and food, and allowed access to the spring water being used to brew beer. Schell’s kindness was to pay a real dividend two years later.

During August 1862, the Indians living along the Minnesota River started a conflict called the U.S.-Dakota War and the Sioux Uprising. The new community of New Ulm was attacked twice, on Aug. 19 and again on Aug. 23. Most of this settlement was destroyed. As a result, the people actually left the town after the second battle and went to Mankato for a few weeks. Those two battles resulted in 34 deaths and 60 citizens being wounded.

This particular conflict, taking place during the nation’s Civil War, is still considered to be the nation’s most deadly of the frontier conflicts with 800 to 1,000 settlers being killed.

Yet, the small Schell’s Brewery was bypassed by the Indians and since that time has continued to brew beer and other beverages.

During the past 150 years this brewery has coped with Prohibition when beer production ceased and soft drinks and near beer became the main products for about a decade and a half. There were also two world wars, the Great Depression and a more recent Great Recession to endure for this firm.

At the present time this brewery produces 14 German-style craft beers. And in 2002 Schell adopted the famous Grain Belt label. “I’ll have a Premium” is the common way Minnesotans order the beer, referring to Grain Belt Premium or Grain Belt Premium Light.

The August Schell Brewing Co. is one of the most interesting places to visit in New Ulm. There are brewery tours, a brewery gift shop, a museum of brewing with strong emphasis on Minnesota, and several special celebrations scheduled during their sesquicentennial year.

For more information, call (507) 357-5528 or (800) 770-5020.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.