by Brian Stechschulte... Jul 9, 2014

Mike Schnebeck has been a busy man since Fort Point Beer opened earlier this year. He recently set aside a few minutes so you can learn more about his background and approach to brewing, in our latest edition of Meet the Brewer.

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I grew up in a smallish town in the Mojave Desert called Apple Valley. It’s about 100 miles northeast of LA right on the way to Las Vegas. I moved to San Francisco on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007 kind of on a whim. I had some friends from college up here and a buddy of mine offered me a room in his apartment for real cheap so I decided to check it out.

First homebrew

I have only brewed three beers by myself at home, so they all kind of fall into the realm of “first”. The VERY first one actually got me my first brewing job at Mill Valley Beerworks. We had a staff homebrew contest early on and the winner was going to get to brew their beer on the 3 bbl system there at Beerworks. I was doing the beer list there at the time and thought I should probably give it a shot.

It turned out there was only one other person participating and she was going to make a chocolate stout or something with dates in it and call it “Date Night”. In my mind that was already the winner – how do I beat that? I figured I should try anyway, so I went to Brewcraft and talked to Griz. I had this idea of making what I guess was a braggot-ish beer, with apple cider, brown sugar, etc. I explained this idea to Griz and very vividly remember him raising his voice a bit and asking “What the hell do you want to do that for?!” – to which I said “Um.” But he was kind enough to entertain my idea and wrote out a recipe and was really adamant about me using a blow off because of all the stupid sugar I wanted to add.

So I went home, made it, and things went seemingly well. The other contestant didn’t finish her beer so I became the de facto winner and hence “won” a brew day at Beerworks. We never ended up making the beer, but that was sort of the launching point for me into brewing. The homebrew turned out well though! I still have bottles of it that I keep moving from house to house, and it’s held up surprisingly well. A friend gave me a MoreBeer IPA kit in college, but I never used it and still have it because I’m too ashamed to throw it away. So that should have been the first one, but those ingredients are probably a little old now.

First craft beer

I would guess Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but I can’t recall a specific moment. I have early memories of Ballast Point beers from when I lived in San Diego. After I finished my last final in college I went to the beer bar on campus and had a Black Marlin Porter, so I suppose that is sort of a landmark of sorts. I remember having some Trois Pistoles and La Fin du Monde early in college too, and that was an eye-opener (or closer, ha-ha.)

First job in the beer industry

My first job in the beer industry was at a beer bar on the UCSD campus in San Diego called Porter’s Pub. It is still there and at the time was rated the #4 beer bar in San Diego! This was around 2005. That was my big intro to craft beer. The bar had really good relationships with all the craft breweries down there like Alpine, Stone, Ballast Point, Green Flash, and Port, so we would get really cool one-offs and specialty stuff. We kept around 24 taps of local beer on. It was a pretty rad time cause that scene was just kind of blowing up. We had pints of Speedway Stout on tap for $4. Life was great. We constantly had new beer on tap. It really drove me to learn as much as I could and try every beer I could. I am a bit of a ticker, but I go back to my favorites.

Memorable brewing experience

The collaboration we did at Fort Point with Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist was pretty memorable. For two reasons – first being that I love that guy’s beers and here he was all the way from Germany to make a beer with me. It was kind of surreal. He was super cool and really funny. We don’t use metric and I didn’t want to look like a chump, so I’d have to discreetly convert temperatures. The other reason that day was memorable was because all my Manzanita lack of planning was coming to a head and at the beginning of the day I didn’t have a real good idea on how I was going to get that wood in the beer. I originally intended to get a wood chipper, and I guess chip it at a wall and pick up the pieces? Ha. Anyway, his girlfriend helped us char the logs down by the beach and everything worked out great.

If you could only brew one beer style

I would be really bored. No, I would probably do some farmhouse-type beers. Something with interesting fermentation ranges and tricks that I could change to keep things interesting.

Latest brewing soundtrack

It changes every day. I usually do the early brew shift when no one is there so I can go nuts. I would say Trail of Dead and Iron Chic are my most common ones, but those are bands I listen to often anyways. Good amounts of country (both really bad modern country and older good stuff), for when it’s busy. It’s sometimes nice to play real ambient instrumental stuff and listen to the fermenters bubble away. Friday is rap and hip hop day – lots of Motion Man gets played that day. Oh, and if we make Saison then it’s Serge Gainsbourg all day.

Favorite non-traditional brewing ingredient

I’ve only used a few weird ingredients – Beerworks had the botanical beers with bay leaf, juniper, and yerba santa. My favorite is probably the charred Manzanita wood that goes into Manzanita. Wood is something I’d like to mess around with more. I think I like it because it captures that campfire flavor so accurately. A lot of herbs and spices will just get weird in beer, but this was really clean and focused.

Most underrated beer style

I really love Keller biers. The Mahr’s Ungespundet is one of my favorite beers. I think they might sometimes get written off as just another German lager, but they have such a depth of flavor that I find really special. They aren’t the most attractive looking beers either, which I guess is why they put them in ceramic mugs. Also, really good Belgian Lambics. There are a lot of nuances between them that can be easy to miss, but if you ever get the chance to sit down and really compare them, I think it’s pretty fascinating.

Advice for homebrewers

Stop worrying. The thing that I think prevented me from brewing at home was this notion that everything had to be crazy laboratory clean and you had to follow these steps super closely or else!! The first time I did it I think I was sterilizing hydrometers. EVERYTHING! It’s definitely important to be clean and sterile post-boil, but some of the dogmas can get really exhausting. I think not brewing to style is important. Not making the same stuff as everyone else. Less cocoa nibs and whatnot. Really thinking more about flavors and simplicity, and trying to express an idea I think will make it a lot more rewarding than following directions correctly from some dude on a forum.

When you’re not making beer

I play bass in an Irish kind of folk/rock band, that’s probably my biggest focus outside of working. I am trying to cook more, making pickles and sauerkraut. I’m pretty into sandwiches, always looking for new sandwiches. Outdoors is good too – fishing and camping.

If you weren’t making beer

I would probably be involved in beer somehow. I have a lot of ideas for bars that would be fun to do one day. Before I started working at Beerworks I was getting ready to apply to grad school to do Museum Studies. Working in a museum or trying to do music full time would probably be my next plans.

What’s on the horizon at Fort Point Beer?

We have some collaborations with various bars and restaurants that are in the works. I’d like to get a small cask program going too. I’m always writing recipes and ideas down so hopefully some of them will get to come alive soon.