Kyle Marti is Vice President of Operations at August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, Minnesota. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
When my great-great-great-grandfather, August Schell, traveled from Germany to Minnesota, he was set on achieving the American dream. He was foundational in settling the city of New Ulm, and in 1860, he established the August Schell Brewing Company. It was the 11th business trademark filed in our state’s history, and to this day, my family still proudly operates the brewery.
Schell’s has survived prohibition, a great depression, and two world wars. While we consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be just another historical marker in our family’s story, it’s put our business in a position we haven’t experienced before. My brother and I have stepped in to guide the brewery through the uncertainty created by the pandemic and begin a new era of leadership. Part of this next chapter involves Schell’s joining the Alliance of Minnesota Craft Breweries to call for the removal of the Growler Cap.
As a brewery in Minnesota, you can’t sell growlers if you produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer in a year. Because of the cap, growlers are a revenue stream Schell’s has never been able to tap into. It didn’t exactly feel like a punishment when the law was implemented, but their importance to our business has become clear during the past year when we’ve had to close our taproom doors. For a small town like New Ulm and a family-owned brewery like Schell’s, it’s been an incredibly difficult time.
The growler cap labels us a “big brewer” that’s too successful to fail. It puts us on the same playing field as Sam Adams, another craft brewery that, for reference, brews around 4 million barrels of beer per year in comparison to our 120,000 barrels pre-pandemic. Our family operation in New Ulm is nowhere near that level, and it would take a lot more than growlers for us to get there. We’re a 60-person business, yet state lawmakers put us in the same category as these big corporations. Allowing all Minnesota breweries to sell growlers would help celebrate and strengthen the historic industry we have built in our state.
Schell’s is the oldest employer in New Ulm and the main tourism draw to the area. Growlers give people a reason to come back and visit again. After touring our brewery, they might stop by a local bar or restaurant, get gas, or stay for the night and continue to support our local economy. Selling growlers won’t hurt the three-tier system, either. We’re a union brewery and we’ve both supported and benefitted from the three-tier system since it was established. For our customers, being able to take a Schell’s growler home with them, enjoy our freshest beer, and proudly display our growler until the next time they decide to make the trip to town is what our business is all about.
For our employees and the residents of New Ulm, it’s a huge point of pride to travel to the Twin Cities and see the fruits of their labor being sold at bars and restaurants across the state, or to see the Grain Belt sign lit up across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. The people of New Ulm really pull for us, and we pull for them. Bar and liquor store owners in town have told us they can always tell what we’re sampling on tour, because they’ll see a spike in requests at their businesses the same day. That’s the beauty of beer. We still have that small-town American dream you don’t always see in this day and age.
We are incredibly grateful for the community that built us and continues to support the brewery’s success. We’ve always needed your support, and we always will. Now, it’s time for beer fans and small-town lovers to rally and help Schell’s continue for another six generations.
Together with Indeed, Lift Bridge, Surly, Fulton, and Castle Danger, we are working to remove the growler cap for all Minnesota breweries. Visit SupportMNBreweries.com to contact your lawmaker and help preserve Schell’s and the craft beer industry’s legacy in Minnesota.