For the past few months, Jason Schoneman has been working 14-hour days—and he’s loving every second of it.
Schoneman is the founder of Steel Toe Brewing, a St. Louis Park microbrewery just getting off the ground. For Schoneman, who has worked in various pubs and breweries across the country, opening his own brewery has been a lifelong dream.
But the venture is not without risk.
“We have our life savings in it,” Schoneman said, noting that he and his wife, Hannah—along with a few family friends—financed the several hundred thousand dollars it took to get Steel Toe started. He did not receive any bank loans.
The situation was not helped by the state government shutdown in July, as Schoneman’s plans were put on hold because no one could come inspect his boiler. He said his whole schedule was pushed back three weeks.
“It really eats into (my reserves),” Schoneman said of the delay. “It makes it more difficult to succeed.”
Schoneman said he knows there is pressure to succeed in order to help support his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, Indigo. But the brewer is confident that the time is ripe for his business.
“Brewing is one of the few businesses still growing in this economy,” he said.
The numbers bear this out. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group for craft brewers, small breweries saw sales go up 15 percent in the first half of 2011. Sales were up 9 percent during the same time frame in 2010.
Schoneman hopes there is room for Steel Toe in this growing market. Ultimately, that will depend on the product.
“It’s got to be good, and it’s got to be consistent,” he said.
Schoneman plans to make four ales in his small St. Louis Park warehouse brewery: a golden ale, an India Pale ale, a double red ale and a dark ale that will resemble an oatmeal stout (Editor's Note: To see Schoneman show his brewing process, click on the video above and to the right).
Given his limited space and staff—Schoneman has no employees currently—Steel Toe is expected to only churn out about 450 gallons of beer per week initially. By comparison, the rapidly growing Surly Brewing Company of Brooklyn Center produced roughly 370,000 gallons last year.
Schoneman knows that kind of production won’t happen overnight, but he is working hard to get his brewery going. This past weekend, he started selling larger “growler” bottles on-site. Within the next few weeks, he hopes to be shipping out kegs to local bars and restaurants for tap sales. By early September, he hopes to have an official grand opening and also have Steel Toe bottles on the shelves of area liquor stores.
Not bad for someone who started constructing his brewery in February—a process that included refurbishing several old dairy tanks Schoneman bought to save money—and who only started brewing in late July.
It’s no surprise, then, how Schoneman’s brewery got the name “Steel Toe.”
“It just represents hard work,” he said, “and the rewards that come from it.”