Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beer, brats & bare feet January 24, 2014

RIGHT NOW YOU’RE likely wondering about that title, Beer, brats & bare feet. What’s the connection?

The commonalities, my friends, are the letter “b” and Minnesota.

Let me explain.

The other morning a customer stopped by the automotive machine shop which my husband runs in Northfield, Minnesota. Nothing extraordinary about that. Customers filter in and out all day.

Imagine wearing sandals right now outdoors in Minnesota.

Imagine wearing sandals right now outdoors in Minnesota.

But this customer arrived in sandals. On a day when temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit and the windchill plunged the “feels like” temp even lower. This guy wasn’t wearing socks with his sandals, as you might expect, although he was wrapped in a winter coat.

Naturally, my spouse inquired about the bare feet and sandals. The customer replied (and this is not an exact quote) that he was tapping into his inner hippie.

Alright then.

My husband loves brats and grills them in the winter along with meats that I will eat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My husband loves brats and grills them year-round along with meats that I will eat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Over at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in rural Gibbon, Minnesota, parishioners are apparently tapping into our state’s Scandinavian and German heritages via a Sven & Ole Book Fair at an All You Can Eat Pancake & Bratwurst Dinner from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, January 26.

Bars made by Lutherans, but not from St. Peter's Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Bars made by Lutherans, but not from St. Peter’s Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Also on the menu are applesauce, cheese, cookies and bars. Yes, bars. How Minnesotan is that?

And how Minnesotan that the book fair comes via Sven & Ole’s Books in the nearby noted German city of New Ulm. And, yes, the proprietor’s name truly is Sven and his brother’s middle name is Olaf, Ole for short, according to the bookstore website.

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug.

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Now about that beer, which I think would be a better accompaniment for brats than pancakes. I like neither brats nor pancakes, although I am 100 percent German. But I do like bars, the kind you eat. And I enjoy an occasional mug of beer.

I learned through a recent column in The Gaylord Hub, a small-town newspaper where I worked as a reporter and photographer right out of college, about the Minnesota Historical Society’s “Beer and Brewing in the Land of Sky Blue Waters” lecture/workshop offering. It is funded through grant monies from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as part of the Minnesota Historical Society in the Libraries Adult Programming.

August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A “discussion of brewing history along with beer tasting by Schell’s,” a New Ulm brewery, was recently held at the Gaylord Public Library, for adults 21 and over with valid ID, according to info written by Gaylord’s librarian. Two days later, nearby St. Peter hosted the same beer event at its community center.

So there you have it. Beer, brats and bare feet in Minnesota. Cheers.


© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A questionable vintage beer ad September 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:27 AM
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WHEN I SAW this vintage advertising signage recently at the August Schell Brewing Company Museum in New Ulm, I had to wonder, “What were they thinking?”

But I expect that back in the early 1900s, peddling beer in this manner was socially-acceptable. Can you imagine the uproar, though, if this occurred today, and rightfully so?

What you can’t read in this photo are the words directly under the girl’s image: “A Lady of Quality.” That really got me. Again, I’m certain such word choice was not considered inappropriate for that time period.

I wonder what the public will think years from now about some of our current-day ads. I’m not talking Schell’s advertising. I’m talking advertising in general.

Will anyone wonder, “What were they thinking?”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hunting for deer at August Schell Brewing Company September 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:54 AM
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August Schell Brewing Company sign and deer by the corporate office.

I MUST ADMIT THAT prior to my recent tour of the August Schell Brewing Company, I had never really thought about the deer image that brands this New Ulm beer.

But, as our tour guide explained, company founder August Schell loved the white-tail buck.

Indeed he did. Everywhere I turned and walked and looked, I saw deer on the Schell’s company grounds. Only the real deer, which typically are visible to the public, were not around because of health issues, or something like that.

All of these deer got me thinking. Maybe the brewery could add a deer “hunt” to its tours as an activity for children and teens. I bet most kids don’t find the tour all that interesting because it’s geared primarily for adults. A deer scavenger-type hunt would provide an entertaining diversion for the younger generation, or for all ages. I saw grandparents with their grandchildren and I’m certain the elders would welcome a cross-generational activity like this.

So here’s my idea: Create a printed sheet of historical facts that lead to various deer on the grounds. For example, one clue might be “Welcome to the Black Forest, a re-creation of August Schell’s homeland.”

A stately buck statue stands on the edge of the wooded area which resembles August Schell's native Black Forest.

Or: Only the Schell’s company president can live here.

A deer image above an exterior door on the Schell's retirement mansion, where only the president may live.

Or: Land a bass when you find this deer.

A Schell's Hobo Band bass drum in the brewery museum.

Game participants would search for the deer, all the while learning about Schell’s and its history. And the brewery would be imprinting the deer brand upon the unsuspecting guests.

Of course, to reward the deer hunters, Schell’s could offer some little deer-stamped trinket to be claimed in the gift shop after the hunt.  (That would increase gift shop traffic, which could also increase sales.) The kids would be happy. The parents and grandparents would be happy.

What do you think? Should Schell’s give my idea a shot?

A deer-branded 150th anniversary beer mug in the gift shop.

A Schell's deer emblem on the door of the house that once was home to brewery workers during the company's early years.

Bottling Schell's deer beer, a museum display.

A successful hunt: Deer antlers form a light in the commons area that links the gift shop and museum on the main floor.

FYI: MANY DEER, a whole herd actually, also can be found in the Schell’s hospitality room. But because that room, where beer is served, remains closed except during the tour or for special occasions, none of those deer are included in my proposed hunt. But if they were, here’s one of the more interesting bucks:

A carved deer light in Schell's hospitality room.

AS A SIDE NOTE, in the book Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota by Doug Hoverson, you’ll find a photo of the original Schell’s family home, today the company office. Look closely at that image on page 35 and you’ll see deer antlers stuck on the front of the brick house, between the front first and second floor windows.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Learn a little history, drink a little beer on the August Schell Brewing Company tour August 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:45 PM
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Visitors line up for free tap beer or 1919 root beer following a Schell's brewery tour.

“OK, LET’S DRINK some beer,” our tour guide Matt says, pulling six-packs from a walk-in cooler and distributing bottles among tables in the hospitality/tap room of August Schell Brewing Company.

But before we pour and swig, our bartender instructs us to fill our plastic cups only to the black line, meaning we’ll get about 1 ½ ounces of beer per sample.

On this steamy summer day, the beer goes down fast among the adults who’ve just toured this second oldest family brewery in the United States.

The Schell's brewery is celebrating 150 years in business.

Schell’s has been a New Ulm mainstay since 1860, this year celebrating 150 years in the beer business. That fact surfaces repeatedly during the tour and during the beer tasting session when we are served Hopfenmalz, an amber lager style beer selected by popular vote as the company’s 150th anniversary beer. Matt also passes out other Schell’s beers like Hefeweizen, Pils and Dark, which “isn’t heavy in any way,” but earns the name because of its dark color, he says.

Given the “dark” label, I wouldn’t have tried this beer. Our guide is right, though. Schell’s Dark doesn’t taste dark and this is a beer even I’ll drink.

A sip of Hefeweizen, however, causes me to screw up my face and wish I could toss the sample. Instead, I grab another cup, abandoning the beer “with a beautiful balance of cloves and banana flavors.” I prefer bananas in banana bread, not beer, thank you.

That aside, I’ve enjoyed this historic tour of the brewery tucked in the woods along the banks of the Cottonwood River. The site was carefully selected by August Schell, the flour mill machinist turned brew master, for its natural beauty, artesian springs and riverside location.

Schell was recreating his home in Durbach, Germany, our guide says. I don’t ask, but from what I know of this area in the 1860s, few trees grew here, not exactly like the Schwarzwald back in Deutschland. Perhaps that explains why Matt later tells us that Schell brought pines here from the Black Forest.

German words can be found in numerous locations at the brewery, including this welcome sign above the doorway to the house once occupied by the Alfred Marti family. Just don't ask your guide to interpret the German.

He also informs us that caves were hand-dug under the brewery, into the hill and under our feet. We are standing on a paved area between two old brick homes and the original family home, now the current-day corporate office. Beer and ice, harvested from the Cottonwood River, were stored in the caves.

Disappointingly (but understandably), we don’t see any of today’s modern beer-making operation, only Schell’s traditional 1860s brew house, used until 1999. Here we view a hand-hammered copper vessel, Sud Kessel, purchased for $25,000 in 1895. It holds 3,500 gallons of beer, which translates to 38,000 12-ounce bottles or cans. Now that’s a lot of beer.

This is the only peek you'll get of the beer-making process: Schell's vintage Sud Kessel, used from 1895 - 1999.

But you can’t buy any beer at the brewery, our guide says, because it’s against the law to sell it on-grounds. The samples and a 12-ounce glass of beer or Schell’s 1919 root beer come with the $3 tour fee.

Plenty of history also comes with the guided tour and a visit to the company museum.

The Schell's museum is jam-packed with plenty of information, memorabilia and, yes, even beer bottles.

Among the more interesting facts I learned are these:

  • After the death of her husband, Emma Marti ran the brewery for six years until 1940. As our guide emphasizes, for a woman to run a brewery in that time period certainly ranked as unique. Perhaps Schell’s ought to name a beer in Emma’s honor. Or have they?
  • Company bylaws allow only the Schell’s president to live in August Schell’s on-site retirement mansion. Because he wants his privacy, current president Ted Marti lives elsewhere, Matt says. The home was last occupied in the 1990s. (Umm, I wouldn’t mind living in a mansion.)

August Schell's retirement mansion, currently unoccupied.

A close-up shot of the mansion, re-emphasizing the point that I could be happy living here.

  • Schell’s changes its “Snowstorm” beer recipe annually. The reason: “There are no two Minnesota snowstorms alike and therefore we are going to change our ‘Snowstorms’ every year,” Matt tells us, quoting president Marti. Ah, Mr. Marti, you clearly know your Minnesota winters as well as you know your beers.

Another view of the brewery. And, no, I don't know anything about the decorative post and failed to ask our tour guide. I had already asked more questions than anyone on the tour, so...

SCHELL’S WILL HOST a two-day 150th birthday celebration, Schellabration, on September 17 and 18. During that event, you can see areas of the brewery not typically seen on the regular tours.

WHAT’S WITH ALL the white-tailed deer at the brewery? Revisit Minnesota Prairie Roots for the answer and for photos and an idea I have related to those deer.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling