Hidden on the grounds of the Schell brewery are lagering cellars built in the 1890s by Otto Schell, son of the company’s founder August. Nestled in those cellars is a single cypress fermentation tank installed in 1936 by Otto’s grandson Alfred. There were of course more of these tanks at one time, but they were dismantled and removed sometime later in the brewery’s history. Only the one remains.
In 2008 current Brewmaster and 6th generation descendant of August Schell, Jace Marti, returned from brewing school and set about restoring that piece of Schell’s history. The plan was to use it for a special line of beers called the Noble Star Collection. The wooden vessel was to be inoculated with cultures of brettanomyces and lactic acid producing bacteria to craft the delicate sour beers were once an important part of German brewing tradition.
The first beer in the collection is Star of the North, brewed in the style of the nearly extinct Berliner Weisse. A mash of pilsner and wheat malt (mostly wheat) was given a double decoction and the wort was sent to the fermenter without boiling, as is traditional for the style. The driving force of Berliner Weisse is the character derived from fermentation by lactobacillus, an acid producing bacteria. It results in a tart, fruity beer that can be drunk as is, but is often enjoyed with a shot of sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup – “mit Schuß.” Hops play next to no role in the flavor of Berliner Weisse – Star of the North boasts only 4 IBU. Hops are added more for their preservative quality to keep the lactic fermentation in check.
It’s a trend now for American brewers to revive historic beer styles. Berliner Weisse is one of them. Many of these efforts aim high, but end up short of their mark. Schell’s is one of my top-5 breweries in Minnesota. They have a solid reputation for crafting traditional German ales and lagers. I was excited to see what they would do with Berliner Weisse.
Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Delicate. Fronts with tart green apples and fresh lemons. Crackery wheat sits just underneath. A dash of floral makes an appearance. There is a hint of brettanomyces barnyard, but only if you look for it.
Appearance: Pale yellow. Very hazy, but not quite cloudy. Has a white cast like a Beligan witbier. The moderate stand of fluffy, white foam dissipated fairly quickly, falling to a gauze on the surface. Effervescent bubbles.
Flavor: Bright and tart with high acidity; cider-like. Green apples and lemons lead, like the aroma. Acidity is the primary flavor driver, but cracker-like wheat survives to provide a comfy cushion. A bit of brettanomyces leather and barnyard brings earthy tones to this beer that is otherwise all about sunshine. Hops never make an appearance. The finish is quick and dry with some lingering tartness.
Mouthfeel: Light body. Effervescent carbonation.
Overall Impression: Delightful and refreshing. Despite its lightness there are layers of flavor, particularly as the brettanomyces yeast adds earthy depth. At 3.5% alcohol, Star of the North is a light and satisfying, summer patio sipper. It’s beautiful as it is, but it would be great with a “Schuß” of raspberry syrup.