When was the last time you were surprised? A jaw dropping, eye popping surprise that pushed a wondrous "WOW" out of your mouth.
Well, it happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I've been to New Ulm many times for numerous business meetings and celebrations. Usually my visit is a quick trip to the city, get the business completed and leave just as quickly. This time my wife and I visited the city to see the sights and sites of the city. We knew of the German heritage of the area and because of our time in Germany, we thought we knew what to expect during our visit. We entered the city from its north side, and the surprises began almost immediately.
The first surprise was the geography. Yes, I know the city is situated in the Minnesota River Valley, and I expected some hilliness. But the steepness of the streets falling down into the valley was a surprise to this flat lander. Standing beneath the impressive Herman the German statue and looking toward the downtown area was an inspiring sight. Then we decided to tour the Schell's Brewery.
I have never visited that brewery before and since I was not sure how to get to it, I used my phone. Another surprise! I used technology as a guide - our kids would be so proud of good old Dad. As we drove along the narrow street leading to the brewery, I noted the steep hill beside me and the deep drop-off on the other side. It reminded me of driving along some of the roads in Germany. But the big surprise was rounding the last curve and seeing the buildings of the brewery. A slow smile creased my face and my eyes opened in recognition: I "saw" Germany. The red brick buildings with signs written in German guided us to a parking lot. The brewery grounds with its steep forested hills, cobble stone streets and Old World feel was amazing. And, I could read the signs - nice to realize my mind could still recognize German.
We went inside the main visitor's building to began a tour. We did not have tickets, but a very nice lady gave us two complimentary tickets and we joined someone's class reunion for the tour. We learned the history of the brewery from a very gracious tour guide and had a walk through the old brew house. An interesting point: the 3,400-gallon copper kettle that had been in use for more than 140 years was just retired from active brewing the day before our visit. Can you imagine how many people worked with that kettle and how much beer has flowed out of it during those 140 years? Amazing! We were then taken to the Ratskeller, the traditional German cellar tavern, for some taste sampling and another surprise!
Yes, I've visited a number of "ratskellers" in my time - some in Germany and some here in the States. Unfortunately, many of these state side "ratskellers" lack the vaulted ceilings and columns that help to define a ratskeller. When we walked into the Schell's ratskeller, we walked into a bit of Germany. The shape of the ceiling, the bar and the columns all screamed authenticity. Of course, we just had to sample some beer. I enjoyed the tasting and the stories behind each brew - it was a good time. After a visit to the Minnesota River Park and downtown, we ate supper at Veigel's Kaiserhoff Restaurant. I had German potato salad with landjaeger brats and sauerkraut and a Grain Belt Nordeast beer. The experience was nice, delicious and a pleasant surprise.
Just when we think we know a place, we should always be ready for the surprises that surround us. For instance, if gin is something you cannot drink because of its heavy juniper flavor, try New Amsterdam American made gin. This gin is not your father's (or mother's) gin. It is much smoother with a mild citrus taste and a light juniper base. It will make a welcome addition to your liquor cabinet, and here is another surprise, it is half the cost of English gin.
Recently while walking through a local liquor store, a wine bottle with a pink label caught my eye. One doesn't see too many wine bottles with pink labels so it was worth a visit to my taste buds. The wine is Belle Ambiance (California) Pinot Grigio, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a crisp, floral and fruit forward wine with plenty of acidity to give you a nice refreshing taste. For less than $10 a bottle, this is highly recommended for your summertime enjoyment.
Lastly, I have to give a thumbs up to Schell's Shocked Radler beer. This is one of the beers we tasted in the ratskeller and although the initial taste is alright, it is the finish that surprises you. First you think the beer is a typical lager but then that finish explodes: grapefruit! It was totally unexpected, and I began to think of what I could add to the beer when the tour guide suggested we add a bit of vodka for an interesting cocktail. So, I will try that recipe - it should be interesting and maybe a bit surprising, too.
Yes, we enjoyed our visit to New Ulm but in southwest Minnesota we don't have to travel far for a great beer-tasting experience. There are three brothers in Marshall making it happen. More on that subject next time.
As always, eat and drink responsibly but laugh with reckless abandon!