Jason Schoneman is making his mark on the Twin Cities beer scene two bottles at a time. In the corner of his St. Louis Park brewery sits a tiny two-line counter-pressure bottle filler. He mentions that he’ll be awake bottling late into the evening in order to meet demand at his two retail accounts. If the future popularity of his beers is at all proportional to their quality, he’s going to need an equipment upgrade pretty soon.
One of the newest additions to the Minneapolis brewery boom, Steel Toe Brewing has already developed quite the following in its first few months. Wednesday evening, we snagged the last two bottles of Steel Toe’s Size 7 IPA from the cooler at Four Firkins. The clerk even intimated (or in his words, blasphemed) that Schoneman’s Rainmaker Double Red Ale gives Surly Furious a serious run for its money. Allow us to be unequivocal — it does.
So far, those who have gotten a hold of his brews have likely tried the Provider Golden Ale and, easily his most popular beer so far, the Size 7 — an intensely juicy and citrusy IPA. “The key with this beer is what I call ‘clean bitterness’ not this harsh, lingering bitterness,” he says. “It’s packed with hop flavor but it’s not over the top.”
We sat down with Schoneman at Steel Toe for Two Tastes of the ales you may not have tried yet. You can taste them for yourself at the brewery tonight for growler sales between 5:30 and 7:30 (he plans to expand those hours in the coming months).
HEAVY TABLE: So, the state government shutdown was unkind to you — there was an issue with an uninspected boiler before you could start brewing?
JASON SCHONEMAN: Yeah, but in a way, it was good for us. We got a lot of work done that we probably still wouldn’t have gotten done. So it hurt production for a bit, but in the end, we’re making beer.
HT: So growler sales are going quite well it sounds.
JS: Yeah, growler sales are great. At Four Firkins, they’re going through four cases a day on the last shipment I sent them. People are really getting into it.
HT: What’s your current output?
JS: In September I was in full production, pumping out beer as fast as I could to have a stockpile. I think once things settle down, it’ll be 45 barrels per month for the first year.
HT: You currently have three tap accounts. What’s been your process in selecting these locations?
JS: Our landlord had recommended Mill Valley Kitchen, just down the street from us. The food’s really good there and they seem pretty serious about high quality with everything there. With Woodfire Grill, we did the Stomp event with them at Warehouse Winery, so we sent them a keg. And Muddy Waters was our first official draft account. They are seriously focused on beer quality. They have great, high-end beers, and their pairing of beer and food is tremendous. That was a no-brainer.
HT: Did you have a good idea when you started of what you wanted your core brews to be, or was it more through experimentation?
JS: I knew we were going to do a golden ale and an IPA. For my wife, she loves stouts, so [Dissent] is for her. And the Rainmaker, that came from after we moved here in 2009 — there are just not many double reds in this market. After brewing in the Northwest, that style, the hoppy red ales, just grew on me.
HT: What, in your mind, separates Steel Toe from the other craft breweries in town?
JS: Super clean, consistent flavors — that’s the main thing. Lots of flavor, but not overdone. And then part of our whole ethos here is buying used equipment when we can, repurposing equipment, and trying to source everything as locally as possible. Since I started brewing these recipes I’ve used Briess malts, and they’ve been very good to me. I think they’re just top-quality. They’re North American-grown, and malted in Chilton, WI. That’s important.
Taste #1 – Dissent Dark Ale
Style: Export Stout
JS: It’s an export stout where we’ve added some oats to it. Some people are classifying it as a porter, but I think it’s too roasty to be a porter.
HT: The body is a lot lighter than the smell would lead you to believe.
JS: Absolutely. I like my beer well attenuated. A lot of stouts are really sweet and full bodied, and there’s definitely a place for those. But with our core beers, I want you to be able to sit down and have a few and not get overwhelmed. The aroma is definitely roasted, espresso, cocoa, and that follows through into the flavor.
HT: Very toasty — lots of nutty, chocolate flavors. But it’s not a heavy beer.
JS: The oats help fill the body up, and they take the edge off, too. A lot of stouts have that kind of acrid burn to them from the malts — the oats help with that. It’s medium-bodied, finishes clean, and the strain of yeast I use really lets the malt come through, there’s not much yeast-derived flavor in this.
Taste #2 – Rainmaker Double Red Ale
Style: ‘Northwest’ Double Red Ale
JS: Rainmaker is definitely more caramel malt, with just a pinch of roasted malt in there, and lots of hop aroma. This is what I call a Northwest-style Double Red Ale, where it’s going to be very hoppy, yet it doesn’t quite have the alcohol content to be classified as a double red. Most double reds start at just over 7%. It has a deep copper color, definitely a foam-positive beer, with a nice head that lingers for a while.
HT: It’s caramel-heavy, but extremely well balanced.
JS: The aroma is kind of piney, herbal, hops. Then the flavor is more caramel and toffee notes, just little bit of a roasted character and some of that herbal quality you get in the aroma.
HT: This is a hoppy beer, for sure, but you’re not hitting us over the head with them.
JS: It’s an intensely flavored beer, but, for me, it’s the two-pint rule. As long as that bitterness is in check, you can definitely drink a couple.
HT: Your website mentions plans for a barrel-aged barley wine.
JS: Yeah, everyone’s brewing one now, but so it goes. It actually won’t be Bourbon barrel-aged; it’ll be rye whiskey barrels.
HT and JS (in unison): Templeton!
JS: Yes, exactly. And we’ll do a big, big stout — aged in the same barrels.
HT: What would an ideal 2012 look like for Steel Toe Brewing?
JS: To have those fermenters full all the time, not sure barrel-wise, but just to continue to have excitement about the beer, that’d be great. Our goal is not to get huge. My ideal is to only sell beer in the Twin Cities, say within 10 miles of the brewery. But just to continue to grow a fan base here and to get more beer out there.