In last year’s Ultimate Minnesota Beer Bracket, Schell’s — the state’s oldest brewery and one of the nation’s longest running — stunned everyone with upset after upset to seize the crown, taking down the top two seeds en route to victory.
So how does an institution that’s been barreling beer since 1860 come from behind?
Good question, says Ted Marti, the latest president in a long string of relatives to man the family-owned brewery that also owns classic label Grain Belt.
We talked with Marti about the loyalty of Schell’s drinkers, what’s on tap for the Minnesota mainstay and how he thinks his brews stand up against the craft beer scene.
Q: After we instigated our Ultimate Minnesota Beer Bracket last year, Schell’s was one of the breweries we thought best mobilized its fans. How did you do it?
A: We have a really active following. We get a lot of response on social whenever we post. And we’re kind of the outstate brewery. Most publicity gets targeted to the Twin Cities market and all the breweries popping up there. To be honest, there’s a little resentment on our part. So when these opportunities come along, we kind of go for it. We certainly think we deserve it.”
Q: You were pitted against Surly in the second round. Did you think you had a chance?
A: Surly gets a lot of press, and it always has. So we were pretty surprised. And another one that really surprised us was Castle Danger making it that far because they’re still pretty small.
Q: How would you describe Schell’s in the Minnesota beer scene?
A: I guess we’re like the old grandpa sitting in the corner. You know he’s there and you know has been through everything — and you can always look back and ask for advice. Kind of like that.
Q: What does your victory say about your beer?
A: In general, we have a pretty loyal fan base. We’ve been here a long, long time, and we’re not quite as fickle as some other brands might be. We make German-style lager beer, and that’s where we hang our hats.
Some other breweries make nearly every style there is, and maybe dilute their product a little bit. So I think our drinkers and fans are loyal because of our consistency. We don’t go too far to this side or that. We have a direction that we want to go and we have a strong belief in what we’re doing.
Q: Schell’s is the longest standing brewery in Minnesota. What does that distinction mean?
A: It’s certainly very important to us. The industry has its ebbs and flows. Everything is a cycle. But we’re family-driven, we’re family-owned. We always have been. There’s no cashing in, there’s just moving forward. I think it’s important to people to see a brewery like us continue.
Q: What’s your role among Minnesota beermakers?
A: I think we add a lot of credibility to the Minnesota beer scene in part because of our longevity. We have suffered through just about everything history could have thrown at us, and we’re still here. You certainly don’t do it just on luck. We have the hard work
and the creativity and just the dedication to continue.
Q: As an old favorite, how do you stay relevant and cool?
A: You have to adapt or change will run right by you. And it’s difficult. We’re sitting out here in the Hinterlands, so we have a smaller base to work with. A lot of word of mouth with breweries comes from the taprooms, and if you’re sitting within five miles of one, it’s a lot easier to go visit. That’s part of the challenge. We certainly do a lot to try to stay relevant, but we haven’t gone into the old IPA craze because it doesn’t fit our roots. We do make a lot of different beers, but they’re innovations on German styles.
Q: What’s on tap for Schell’s?
A: We’re always experimenting with new styles and new innovations. One of our newer beers — Star of the North — is a Berliner Weiss style beer that we make in old wooden fermenters and aged in barrels from 1936. I don’t think anyone else is doing something like that. We think it’s pretty special. It’s authentic, and it’s certainly ahead of the curve.
Q: As for this year’s Beer Bracket, can you repeat your success?
A: Well, we’ll try. We probably awoke some giants out there.