The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 28, 2008

Schell's brewery great with tourists

By Shane Frederick

NEW ULM — Not every guide at the Schell’s brewery starts his or her tour the same.

Dick Wilbrecht, a New Ulm native, likes to start at the beginning, as in 1860, the year August Schell first started making beer below the bluffs of the Cottonwood River.

“I was born and raised here,” said Wilbrecht, who has been giving tours for 10 years since retiring from 3M. “I’ve always had a keen interest in New Ulm and its 150-year history. ... The No. 1 attraction people come to see here is the brewery.”

Several guides start their tours outside the old brewery’s newest building, the 2-year-old visitor center, which houses a museum, gift shop and post-tour tap room. But Wilbrecht begins inside, in front of the portraits of five generations of Schell and Marti families who have operated the brewery since the beginning, making it the United States’ second-oldest family-owned.

From there, the tour goes outside to the brewery gardens and mansion, to an older section of the brew house and, finally, back to the visitor center for a video on the brewing process. No tour is complete without tasting the product.

Asked what he appreciates most while giving tours, Wilbrecht said:

“Just the rich history of the brewery, the fact that it’s still going after 148 years and that the outlook is very promising for it to continue.”

Schell’s gets about 50,000 visitors a year, according to president Ted Marti.

“Actually it’s been as good as it’s ever been (this summer),” Marti said.

While a brewery tour may not sound family friendly, there is something for tourists of all ages.

Schell’s makes the popular 1919 root beer, and kids — as well as teetotalers — can sample that while the adults are sipping a few of the brewery’s signature suds, including its Light, Firebrick, Pale Ale, Zommerfest and Stout (Schell’s makes 16 varieties of beer, including seven seasonals and Grain Belt Premium, plus brews and bottles several others for other companies).

Wilbrecht even found a couple of peacock feathers — peacocks roam the brewery grounds and gardens and deer are penned behind the mansion — and gave them to the kids in the group at the start of the tour.

“We’ve always seen young families come here,” Marti said. “The gardens are very friendly for kids and for everyone.”

Wilbrecht said he has taken many brewery tours, including some of the big breweries like Budweiser and Miller and others in Germany, where August Schell was born in 1828. All of the tours, he said, have their high points, but his hometown brewery ranks at the top of the list.

“The whole package together is really unique,” he said. “I’ve seen some good tours. I think our gives you the personal side. We stay with people, from the beginning when we greet them until they leave.”