For this week's Microbrewery of the Week, we headed to St. Louis Park and Steel Toe Brewing. Jason Schoneman is the eyes and ears of Steel Toe and he's been all over the world to learn beer from the best.
How did your brewery come to be?
My wife and I talked about building a brewery in the Twin Cities in 2001. We probably would've been ahead of the curve at that point, but we didn't have any money or know how to make beer. In 2001, I went to work for a brewery in Montana, so that was my first brewing experience and that was [the now defunct] Lightning Boy Brewery. We bounced around with her job all around the country. We were in Montana, Wisconsin and Omaha, Nebraska. While we were in Nebraska, I went to the World Brewing Academy, the Siebel Institute and Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany. That's where I got some formal education in brewing and right out of that, in 2005, I went to work for the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon. Way before all of that I had been homebrewing. I started in 1997, four years before I went to work for a brewery. It was kind of a crazy, whirlwind tour. I was at the Pelican from 2005-2009, then I moved [to Minnesota] in the late fall/early winter of 2009. We came back here to raise our family; we have a now-2 ½-year-old daughter. When she was a couple of months old, we quit two OK-paying jobs, moved a couple thousand miles at one of the worst times in the economy and decided to start a brewery. Kind of crazy.
Starting a brewery is something I knew I wanted to do after working for Lightning Boy in Montana. I knew it was the right fit. If you can work 21 hours straight brewing and 15 hours straight on the bottling line and put those kind of hours in doing kind of monotonous tasks, and still like it, then it's probably the right fit.
How did you name your brewery?
I've worn steel toe boots the majority of my adult life. Before becoming a brewer, I was a tool-maker and a welder. I sold sporting goods for a while as an assistant manager of a sporting goods store. I've kind of done a lot of crazy jobs but they all tie in really well to owning a brewery. You got the manufacturing and maintenance of this equipment, sales and marketing... Managing a brewery out in Oregon - I was the head brewer out there - I kind of got the feel for what it takes from all angles because you have to wear a lot of different hats as an owner of a brewery. But Steel Toe represents hard work and the rewards that go along with it, really. It's not a blue or a white collar thing; it's a hard work thing.
What's your favorite beer you make?
My favorite beer, just because I like the hop character so much, is Size 7. The beer I drink the most of is Provider just because its lower alcohol - I'm kind of a lightweight. I don't have time to drink anymore. If I'm going to drink, I need to still be able to work. And we don't really drink; it's all "sensory analysis."
What's your favorite beer someone else makes?
I really like Bitter Brewer from Surly right now; lots of hops and malt character yet 4 percent alcohol. But there's so many good beers out there right now, it's hard to pin it down. I'm still into the really well-made pilsners. Prima Pils I enjoy a lot. Those are my top two beers right now going into summer.
Coming from Oregon most recently, Oregon people drink light, dark, red, stouts all year round. But it's a lot more mild. Coming back to the Midwest, I had forgotten how seasonal people drink and there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's cool because it's always new.
What are your plans for the brewery's future?
We'll do some seasonals. We're going to have three or four beers that we do year-round. Then, every few months, we'll do something until the beer menu gets too big. Then we'll just keep brewing those same beers. New? I'm getting some help. That'll be new [laughs]. We're working on a tap room; change [the existing] tasting area. That'll be exciting. Right now, it's kind of generic and doesn't fit our image very well. We'll get it to tie-in a little bit better with who we are and what we do, and make it a little more comfortable for people.
What is the best piece of advice someone you can give homebrewers?
Some of the things about making good beer that I hadn't heard before that I've learned as a professional is yeast makes beer. Yeast is everything, even more important than the malt or the hops you're using. Using the right amount of yeast and keeping them very healthy is the key to making very good beer, I think. Doing it as a professional, I've seen that over and over in every beer that we've ever made. Just manage your yeast well and good beer will follow.
Describe the local craft beer scene in 11 words or less.
Growing, becoming more interesting, good people, consumer-driven. The consumer is going to guide where this goes. If Minnesotans want to start switching there's tons of local beer being consumed there's also a lot of beer from outside Minnesota that's really, really good, but I think as Minnesotans decide to drink more local beer, that allows more room in the marketplace for more breweries. That's what it comes down to. That was way more than 11 words [laughs].
If you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
Water. Beer, water, coffee; that's it.
Steel Toe Brewing is located in St. Louis Park just south of County Road 7 on Beltline Blvd. Growlers are available for purchase during designated hours and brewery tours are offered Friday nights. Free beer tasting is also available during those hours. Want to find places to buy Steel Toe's beers? Check out this list on their website.
Need more from Steel Toe Brewing? Find them on Facebook and Twitter.
Previous Microbreweries of the Week:
Boom Island Brewing Commpany
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