beer

Schell’s Brewery worker Billy Hutchinson pulls the millionth case of Schell’s beer off the line. Owner Ted Marti said Schmaltz’s Alt waschosen to fill the millionth case because it was his father’s nickname.

The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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You didn’t have to be a beer lover to appreciate the magnitude of what was about to happen.

The millionth case of Schell’s beer for 2007 was about to be boxed, and a handful of Schell’s officials, workers and media were there to document it.

Think about that for a moment. One million. A million cases of beer from a small brewery with a 153-year history, a history that spans the Great Depression, the Dakota Conflict that burned down the town, Prohibition, and other hurdles to economic prosperity.

“This means a lot,” Ted Marti said. “We’ve had some tough times over the years.”

They’ve never stopped bottling. Even when it was just root beer, they never stopped. And now, after so much work, so many generations, so many years of brewing great beer, the millionth case was about to roll off the belt.

Television cameras aimed down the row of approaching green Schmaltz Alt boxes, a row that rolled and jerked as a machine pulled the boxes forward. Directly above, beer bottles clink-clanked their way to a machine that would drop them into waiting boxes.

And then it happened. The special box — the one that would later carry beer bottles downtown to be shared and celebrated in the town that has embraced the brewery since its inception — came rolling along.

Emblazoned with the celebratory “1,000,000th case of Schell’s Beer,” the case that brought the newspaper photographer, the television cameras and even the town mayor down to the brewery, the case heard around Minnesota arrived.

Bottles tucked neatly inside, it rolled down the belts where it was placed on a pallet like any other case. (Why Schmaltz Alt? That was Marti’s father’s nickname, and they adjusted the brewing schedule to make sure Schmaltz Alt-filled bottles were filling up when the millionth case happened.)

On the pallet, it was sandwiched in the middle of a 20 other cases. A forklift picked up that pallet and then ... It was picture time.

Schell’s owner Ted Marti posed for a photo. So did town Mayor Joel Albrecht, whose smile seemed as wide as a field of hops as he stood next to the case — the Holy Grail of beer cases in this city — and waited for all the media to take his picture.

“It’s our oldest industry,” Albrecht said. “Being a good German community, we should have a brewery. We’re very, very fortunate the family was able to keep it going through the tough spots.”

Schell’s is the oldest brewery in Minnesota and the second-oldest single-family-owned brewery in America.

Marti said the entire workforce at Schell’s has gotten behind the millionth case enthusiasm, as has the town. He said the community has been good to the family business, which is why the millionth case didn’t get set aside to collect dust on the family mantle.

Instead, the Martis took the case on a tour of New Ulm taverns, sharing the beer with the people who have stood by them since the brewery opened.

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