Roadtripping to New Ulm to Find the Definition of a Craft Beer
By Jason DeRusha
Craft beers are all the rage. It’s almost an expectation that any new restaurant will have at least a dozen tap lines (maybe 30! maybe 40!) with local and craft brews.
We have more and more taprooms opening in the Twin Cities—Summit will finally sell pints in their brewery in St. Paul on Fridays, Indeed Brewing will open its Northeast Minneapolis taproom on August 10 (The taproom will be open Thursday through Friday from 3 to 10 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m). I’ve visited Harriet Brewing’s taproom off Hiawatha and Lake, and Fulton’s Taproom in the shadow of Target Field. There’s something cool about drinking a craft beer just feet away from where it was brewed.
So it’s interesting that Schell’s brewery is trying to position itself as a “craft beer,” to appeal to the younger generation that is obsessed with it. My wife and I just visited New Ulm and took a tour of the brewery (Pro tip: The tours sell out quickly! We almost didn’t get in.). The tours are just $3, and you don’t get to see that much of the brewery (most of what you see is a video in the tasting room), but the tasting was eye-opening as to the quality of many of Schell’s beers.
The Pils has been around since 1984, and it’s a fantastic beer. Super drinkable, with a great hoppy finish. It’s sneaky in its excellence—because there’s not a strong taste to it at first. The great flavor comes in at the end. FireBrick has been around since 1999, and it’s a tasty amber lager. And the Stout is killer—it tastes like it should be an ice cream, with a really nice chocolate taste, very balanced.
But is a brewery that’s been around since 1860 really a craft brewery? Microbreweries are places that make less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year. That’s not Schell’s.
"Craft breweries" is defined by the Brewer’s Association as “small, independent and traditional.” They say production should be less than 6 million beer barrels a year. By independent, they mean it can’t be more than 25% owned by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer. And by traditional they mean 50% of sales have to be all-malt beers.
Clearly, Schell’s is a craft brewer. But just like many people don’t think of Summit as a craft brewer, because they have been around for so long relative to all the upstart microbrews, Schell’s has the same perception issue.
What matters most to you? Is it the local aspect of the beer? The name on the label? The taste of the drink? To me, it’s a combination of the three. I like drinking local beers, to support the local brewing community. I like drinking new beers, from names I haven’t heard of. But mostly I like drinking delicious beer, wherever it might be from. And now, that includes several of the beers from a 150-year-old Minnesota company… that clearly knows its craft.