The race is won! Almost. There has been a lot of jockeying this past year for breweries that want to claim the title of “First Minnesotan Sour-Only Brewery” and it looks like we have a winner: It’s going to be Schell's Starkeller Brewery in New Ulm, and it looks gorgeous.
Starkeller Brewery is both brand new and completely familiar. You know how the oldest son of Schell’s Brewing, Jace Marti, has been making a series of world-class sour ales down at Schell’s, under the Noble Star label? They’re incredible, finely bubbled, lively, energetic, and clean-tasting sour beers. To make them, Marti has been restoring Schell’s old wooden tanks, and laboring in a little building far from the main brewery, to keep all his funky sour beer yeast and bacteria away from the main production facilities. Well, they wanted to give the Noble Star beers their own taproom, and create something new and cool for the next generation of both beer lovers and Martis to grow with. So Starkeller was born, a subsidiary of Schell’s, formed around the success of the Noble Star beers.
It’s so cool. One reason it’s so cool is that it’s giving a second life to big chunks of Minnesota brewing history. The bar itself at Starkeller is just a breweriana museum come to life: It’s made from the remains of an 1885 Schell’s copper kettle, attached to a bar top of vintage Schell’s beer crates, and using the gorgeous steampunk-looking assemblage of lauter tun ports. The wall sconces are vintage carbonation stones. What are vintage lauter tun ports and carbonation stones? You will see. For now, just know they’re cool things that have been kicking around Schell’s for a hundred years, and have now found a new life. “When you run a family place like we do, you never throw anything out—you don’t know when you’re going to need it,” Marti told me.
The tap-room will be lined with ten old pre-Prohibition tanks, reconditioned for the big-batch aging of beer as it is never done anymore, allowing Starkeller to have new beers, and in greater numbers than we’ve seen. Now, the crazy news: The farm where Starkeller is located was once the home of Ezra Arndt, one of the original Schell’s pre-Prohibition coopers, and Arndt himself very likely built these wooden cypress tanks which now stand on his farm. Would he be proud? Well, Marti has been trying to figure out why these cypress tanks are oval and not round, and the only answer he’s found is that it was to show off the cooper’s skill; oval tanks are harder to build. This May will mark the 80th anniversary of the date on the receipt from when the tanks were delivered. Wow!
And remember, this is a farm brewery. The University of Minnesota is going to use some of the Starkeller farmland to do barley trials, and Marti himself is heading into his second season of growing big, big crops of barley with which to brew; expect the beers made with that barley to start appearing next fall. He’s also planning on planting an orchard of cherry trees outside Starkeller to use for cherry-aged beers—so in maybe a decade we might just have an all-Minnesota-grown kriek lambic. I told you, it’s all just cool!
Starkeller will likely only be open on Saturdays and Sundays, and Marti is currently shopping for champagne coupes (the short, wide champagne glasses) to use in the taproom. He has 200 vintage champagne coupes ready for people who buy a bottle—so yes, bottle service comes to New Ulm! And in the no-one-saw-this-coming files, when Marti was in Berlin learning to brew he fell in love with techno, so you can expect a mellow Berlin techno vibe to be the soundtrack for Starkeller. Is there a sour-only, bottle-service specialist, Berlin techno taproom coming to New Ulm? Yes, and soon.