I think this is highly unfortunate, but from various discussions with other craft beer lovers, it seems that August Schell gets knocked around as being your average “macro” brewer, using various adjuncts to make up parts of their grain bills. I think this is in fact true, but not for all (or even most) of their beers (their kolsch, as an example, as well as the beer you’re about to read about). Potentially fueling this negative perception may also be their stylistic approach, as some equate their stable of beers — most of which are more traditional German-style lagers — as somewhat of a letdown in today’s world of off-the-wall, superhopped, bourbon barrel-aged madness. If it wasn’t brewed by a monk, or didn’t come straight out of a tiny brewery in San Diego offering limited release triple IPAs, what’s the point, right?
What I do know is Schells currently ranks as the 25th largest brewery in the country based on 2008 sales volume, just behind a few notables like Bell’s, Goose Island and Anchor. When I look for Schells, I usually pick up one of their sampler packs to get a bit of variety, and truth be told, not all of their stuff has blown me away. But really, what brewer always does?
Adjuncts or not, as a privately held family-run operation for nearly 150 years putting out what in my opinion is very solid stuff (like their MaiFest I really enjoyed earlier this spring or their very tasty Stout), I think Schells deserves a serious look as one of the best regional breweries in the country.
FireBrick is one of those Schells offerings that I see most of the year, and ignorantly take for granted. You don’t find a great number of Vienna Lagers around, unless of course you count the ubiquitous Sam Adams Boston Lager (which I have somewhat of a hard time classifying in this category given its overtly hoppy nose), or maybe even Dos Equis and Negra Modelo (the style has flourished in Mexico since the late 1800’s thanks to Austrian brewer immigrants). But FireBrick is in a different ballpark altogether.
Apparently named after the red bricks that line Schell’s old boilers at the brewery (I need to get down to New Ulm for a tour at some point), the beer pours a very rich, amberish coloring with a two finger head that leaves a lingering lace on the glass. Nice Vienna and Munich maltiness in the aroma, bready and toasted with caramel notes coming through. A pleasing, sweet maltiness in the taste, with a medium mouthfeel. Not nearly as hopped up as Boston Lager, but you do get a slight bite in the finish from the Vanguard, Chinook and Hallertau they use. A very enjoyable and refreshing beer.