August Schell Brewing Company - Basin of Attraction
- ABV: 5.8%
- Bottle Size: 750-ml
- Serving Temperature: 43–50° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Lambic Tumbler, or Champagne Glass
We’ve been impressed by every release we’ve gotten to sample thus far from August Schell’s Noble Star Collection, but this dry-hopped Basin of Attraction is the highlight. This one-time, limited-production brew has previously seen only light distribution in MN and ND, and we’re excited to have been able to work with Schell’s to be able to secure enough of it for our members. This beer is a blend of two traditional, mixed-culture Berliner Weisse interpretations, and hand-bottled and bottle-conditioned. There’s the refreshingly tropical and citrusy impacts from heavy doses of Citra and Denali dry-hopping, subtle wood contributions from the beer’s aging almost a year in the brewery’s 80-year-old cypress lagering tanks, and it’s just a beautifully executed take on the German Berliner Weisse style. With the weather hitting higher temps, we couldn’t ask for a better beer: bracingly tart, a complementary twang of complex sourness, and endless layers of refreshment. One of the best beers we’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with all year.
Basin of Attraction pours a deep, honeyed golden capped by off-white foam. Tiny bubbles serve to cap things, and there’s effervescence apparent from that initial pour. The nose lands perfectly: vibrantly tart but nicely complex in its fermentation character, with briny citrus and lemon rind and pear leading the aromatics. The grassy and tropical notes from dry-hopping fill out any remaining space not taken up by the core Berliner Weiss character, adding in an herbaceousness that makes this an incredibly appealing hoppy sour from first pour. Touches from the cypress wood contribute an oak-like structure, while that complex core tartness just continues to unfurl with fruit and funk: tart grapefruit and passion fruit, lambic-like salinity, like a jolt of salt and lemon. Impressively developed, without ever being too much tartness.
The flavor certainly follows suit. The best Berliner Weisse examples bring plenty of sour and citrus, but remain incredibly drinkable. And Basin of Attraction is a textbook example, with the added bonus of the dry-hopping element, which takes this up a whole other notch. The initial sip is bracing, like a tempered bite into a fresh lemon—but there’s so much else going on that one can’t help but take another sip. The subtle cypress wood and herbal notes from dry-hopping serve to round things out beautifully, while the depth of fruit mirrors the nose: fresh-cut pears, bright lemon-lime, elements of passion fruit, plus a further descent into the tropics—even some ripe cherries on the far end. Soft tannins provide exceptional structural support, while those grassy, tropical hop additions make this a transcendently good take on German-style Berliner Weisse. For us, this proved to be an unforgettable take on the style.
The acidity and bottle-conditioning of this beer will afford it some longevity in the cellar, but keep in mind that the ABV’s on the modest side and (more importantly) those dry-hopping elements will taper off quickly. We’d suggest enjoying this fresh. For food pairing, its combo of citrusy tartness, effervesence, and herbal, grassy edges have us looking for either especially rich fish tacos or a selection of fatty cheeses—maybe some Humboldt Fog or herbed chèvre.
August Schell was born in Germany’s Black Forest region in 1828. After studying to be a machinist, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1848—traveling to New Orleans by a steamer ship before stopping in Cincinnati, where he found work at the Cincinnati Locomotive Works, as well as his future wife, Theresa Hermann. They married in 1853, before leaving Cincinnati with their two young children in 1856 as part of a contingent from the Turner Colonization Society of Cincinnati, traveling by river boat to see what lay further west. Led by Wilhelm Pfaender, their group founded New Ulm in 1857, with August finding work in a flour mill.
That didn’t last long. In 1860, August partnered up with Jacob Bernhardt, who had served as brewmaster at Benzberg Brewery (later to become Minnesota Brewing Company…), and the two built a small brewery nearby right along on the Cottonwood River, producing about 200 barrels of beer annually. The new brewery grew steadily over the years, and the Schells would build a mansion on the brewery grounds in 1885, complete with elaborate gardens and a deer park—all currently still around and listed in the National Register of Historic Sites. August’s arthritis would eventually have him back off of daily operations, with his sons stepping in to manage things. After August passed away in 1891, his son Otto led the brewery forward.
Over the years, the extended Schell family would expand the brewery, upgrading and buying new equipment, including refrigeration. (Up until 1900 its brewing calendar was determined by the weather, with ice being collected from the Cottonwood River and stored inside caves under the brewery, controlling the fermentation temps, until the ice melted.) As Prohibition served to bring down a majority of breweries in the early half of the century, August Schell’s Brewing Company survived by transitioning their production line to making near beer (0.5% or so ABV), soft drinks, and candy. They kept a secret basement brewery for their workers.
The brewery survived many more challenges to follow, including a glut of new breweries in the 1970s and financial struggles in their myriad forms, but remained aloft and was the first brewery in Minnesota to produce craft beers in the 1980s, with German-style craft lagers. A wheat beer was added in 1984 (“the first wheat beer after Prohibition”), and by 1990 there were 38 different beers being produced by the brewery. A new state-of-the-art brewhouse was added in 1999, the classic Grain Belt brand was purchased and kept alive in 2002 (after Minnesota Brewing Co. went bankrupt), and a new gift shop and taproom were added in 2005. All throughout the years, the brewery continued to adapt to the changing beer scene.
In 2012—and particularly key for one of this month’s featured beers—Schell’s began their Noble Star Collection, a series of beers inspired by German Berliner Weisse. Cypress wood from brewery tanks dating back to 1936 were repurposed for the project, providing porous material that was perfect for brewing this style of beer, and these tanks are used for each of the beers in the Noble Star line, starting with Star of the North in 2013. Starkeller, Schell’s sour-beer-dedicated facility, opened its taproom to the public in 2017, allowing visitors to enjoy these German-style tart beers right next to the ancient cypress tanks they’re aged in.
This month we’re pleased to feature our favorite release to date from August Schell’s Noble Star Collection—a dry-hopped rendition called Basin of Attraction. For those looking for a bit more history, learn more about this 150+-year-old brewery at www.schellsbrewery.com.
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