Sour beers -- tart framboises and red ales and sour krieks -- are swiftly taking hold of the craft beer scene.
In response, August Schell Brewing has announced the purchase of an 11-acre farm near its current brewery for the construction of a taproom and sour barrel brewing facility dedicated to the production of sour beers. The lineup includes raspberry Framboise du Nord and Black Forest Cherry beers in the Noble Star series. The sours will age in wooden tanks made of cypress wood.
Ten cypress barrels, which held Schell's Deer Brand beer until they were taken out of use in the 1990s, were found in storage at Schell's primary brewery. Head brewer Jace Marti, a sixth-generation Schell, has overseen restoration of the first two tanks since 2008. The two finished barrels were in the worst shape of the ten, says Marti.
"Most breweries today are making their sour beers in used wine barrels or foudres," Marti says. "Those barrels/tanks are made almost exclusively out of French or American oak. Oak is pretty much the standard choice in the wine industry because of the nice vanilla and caramel notes that they impart in the wine. These tanks are unique," he adds, "because cypress was chosen for the exact opposite reason." The wood offers a "flavor neutral" tone, which fit the lagers being produced in the 1950s.
The current brewery offers a tasting room for samples but is not a taproom with commercial sales. So Schell's will install a taproom at the new site instead -- Minnesota brewers are allowed only one taproom license per company -- and Schell's wants to showcase the history and craftsmanship behind the tanks.
"We want visitors to be able to enjoy these beers and be able see these beautiful tanks up close," says Marti. "We want people to be able see where these beers came from, and to touch and see the incredible craftsmanship that went into building these tanks nearly 80 years ago."
Moving the barrels offsite also allows for a separation of the sour beers from Schell's regular lineup, which minimizes risk of cross-contamination with their regular beers.
Groundbreaking at the new farm will take place next month, and restoration of the final barrels will continue. Schell's will then begin aging the beers.
"We will try to get the tap room going as soon as possible too, so people can come and see how the progress in the restoration is going," Marti says, adding that they will offer a number of beers as restoration on the remaining eight tanks is completed. "These beers take anywhere from six months to two years to produce, so it will be at least two years before we can try beer from all ten tanks, but there will be others that will be coming out before that."
The plan is to produce a regular lineup of sour beers along with seasonal experimental recipes. The beers will be available in various forms, with some limited to the taproom and others in 750ml bottles and kegs. Black Forest Cherry, the most recent release, will be available in kegs.
Keeping with Schell's long local tradition, the new site was originally owned by a barrel cooper employed at the brewery roughly 100 years ago.
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