The Great American Beer Festival, the nation's largest, staggers into the Colorado Convention Center this weekend. Last year, 46,000 attendees sampled nearly 3,000 beers, and this year's Fest is already sold out. Check Cafe Society through the week for survival tactics and beer recommendations from some of the breweries bringing their wares to Denver.
August Schell Brewing: New Ulm, Minnesota Q&A with Assistant Brewmaster Dave Berg
The growth of microbrewing is seen as a fairly recent phenomenon, and many of the breweries at this weekend's festival haven't even reached legal drinking age. Not so August Schell, which has been brewing in Minnesota since before the Civil War. It survived Prohibition by selling "near beer," candy and soft drinks, and expanded distribution up to 48 states in the '80s. But a shrinking market and concerns about quality control led the brewery to cut back. Today, Schell can be found in seven states in the upper Midwest.
Westword: If people only try one of your beers, which should it be? Dave Berg: Oh, man, that's a tough question. If you only try one, I would say our Pilsner. The reason is because we've been making it since 1984 and it's garnered numerous medals at the Great American Beer Festival, as far back as '84.
WW: Other than your own, what is your favorite beer? DB: Keesmann Herren Pils. It's from Bamberg. It's just the perfect German Pilsner.
WW: What is the best thing about the Great American Beer Festival? DB: Well, it's in Denver, which is a great town. And it's just a good way to see a lot of consumers and we're not distributed in that wide of an area anymore. But it's just good to show people who don't really get to New Ulm that there are people in the Midwest making good beers, too.
WW: What is the best way to avoid liver damage at this year's Festival? DB: Don't drink too much? Uh, milk thistle? I've always heard milk thistle is good for you.
WW: What's the deal with milk thistle? DB: I have no idea. They claim it helps to regenerate your liver. I don't know if it's true or not. I've taken milk thistle. I don't know if it's helping, but I have in the past.
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WW: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be? DB: So now I have to pick something that I could drink forever... I would say maybe a Schneider Aventinus, which is a weizenbock. I've always loved wheat beers, and it's always just been something that exemplifies the style.
WW: What got you interested in craft beer? DB: I've been doing this for thirteen years now. I was an engineer before. Rocket scientist, as a matter of fact. The best of my degree is I can say, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make beer, but if it did, I could do it." But no, I was home brewing at the time and one day I decided I didn't want to be an engineer anymore and I went to brewing school.
WW: What prizes do you think you have a good chance of winning this year? DB: Cross your fingers, I guess. No bad beer ever wins, but a lot of good beers don't win. And so you try not to get your hopes up too high. You just hope you sent out the best beer your capable of making, and hopefully it appeals to the judges.
WW: What should people know about your brewery? DB: We are the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States.