By Meghan Marx
Join the thousands of loyal fans who flock to the historic August Schell Brewery Grounds in New Ulm, MN each year to partake in the celebration of winter. Held annually the first Saturday before Ash Wednesday, this wintertime tradition is celebrated through food, live music, the pursuit of the Bock – oh, and don’t forget the beer!
Feb. 18, 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
$5 entry fee
Schell’s is the second largest family owned brewery in the United States, second only to Yuengling, and they have been brewing bock for generations – since 1860 to be exact. So what is Bock beer exactly? This full-bodied lager is brewed in the fall and stored all winter long in anticipation of being tapped in the spring, and so they celebrate! The festival is so well attended that last year they expanded to add a fourth bar to help with lines. Speaking of lines, arrive early because only the first 5,500 people are admitted!
This is a totally out door event, but opportunity for warmth isn’t hard to come by. Part of the tradition is the Bock Fest Beer Poke. Migrate yourself (and your beer) toward one of the glowing bon fires where you’ll be treated to the tradition of a hot iron poker. It’s not what you’d think! This poker is swirled in your beer to caramelize and warm the beverage and bring out new flavors – experiencing this bubbling beverage is a must.
After getting “poked,” join the fun down by the stage to get your polka dance on, or feel the energy when the Ring of Fire is played. The live music is great and people watching can’t be beat. In all the fun, don’t forget to try the food! The lines could be long, so bring a friend and a little patience. Remember to buy tickets ahead of time. There are lines for the food and beer tickets as well, but they all move pretty quickly.
It’s quite possible you’ll experience people in perplexing costumes including scary creatures in masks, forest fairies, pirates – you name it. While you’re out, take in Fasching at Turner Hall. Fasching is a centuries old German Mardi Gras tradition celebrated each year by the people and visitors of New Elm in unforgettable ways. Don’t miss the “Parade of Costumes” at 8 p.m. Will the locals make a comeback this year? (Not one local won in 2011.) Live music and food round out the night.
So by now you’re convinced that Bock Fest is a big deal! And the Bock Medallion Hunt in the adjoining Flandrau State Park is another highlight where people use clues as they search to find the king and queen bocks (goats) to win cash prizes. It’s not just about the prizes, it is urban legend that if all bocks are accounted for, winter’s end is near. Taking this ritual at face value, one might not fully understand the importance of this whole bock thing. But each year festivalgoers fill up all the hotels in the area to be part of the camaraderie of the Bock. Booking overnight accommodations early is a must if you’re planning on traveling a distance.
Shuttle buses are available, but prepare to get up early. While the event starts at 11 a.m., the line starts long before that. It’s also good idea to check out local bars that provide transportation (sign up ahead of time). The event at Schell’s ends at 4:30 p.m., and for many the party continues at local bars. Be sure to make arrangements for a safe drive home as the police are out. Designated drivers are always a must anyway, and root beer is a great option too!
The carriage house on the grounds has been converted to a museum, which houses brewery memorabilia and a gift shop. Both are open during the festival. Serious bock festers look legit with their big mugs versus the plastic cups. Bring your own mug or hit the Gift Shop where plenty are in stock – it’s not a bad idea to prevent spilling and who knows, you just might be hooked and find yourself heading back again next year!
Meghan Marx was born and raised in the Midwest, where outdoor activity is her second nature. Meghan is a graphic artist, college professor and web designer. Follow Meg at @designingmarx.