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Fort Point Beer: Schnebeck on Cheese, Grain Sacks & Natural Wine

A couple months ago I spotlighted at Mission Cheese for a special dinner featuring beer and cheddar stuffed sausages. The Mission folks needed some help plating salads. I wanted cheddar sausages. it was a perfect combo and I came in to work very happy.

Then, I learned that not only were they serving housemade brauts, they were pairing said cheese-packed meats to Fort Point beer, and I was even happier. 

The previous week I had visited Mill Valley Beerworks with my beer-loving Aunt Susan. Mill Valley Beerworks was the spot that gave birth to Fort Point Beer. It's a small little restaurant in Marin with three to five brewing tanks where brothers Tyler and Justin Catalana launched the venture that would become Fort Point (and serve great food right next to a redwood park). And It was there that I tried.... Manzanita, which inspired what some might call a beer epiphany.

This is what they say about Manzanita on their website:

Manzanita is a deep ruby colored ale with strikingly complex campfire smoke and firewood aromas. Beechwood smoked malt contributes an upfront roastiness while charred manzanita branches add hints of perfume and a slightly tannic woody finish.

In short, it's awesome. Rich yet bright with just the right amount of smokiness and herbal notes. It also just won a Good Food Award. Because it's damn good (as a side note, a lovely man I was dating brought a growler home from at the Good Food Awards marketplace a month ago and treated me to it. Now he's my boyfriend. Coincidence? A little. But worth noting).

This January, Fort Point opened a retail shop and tap room in the Ferry Plaza too.

Anyhow, at the lovely dinner, I made friends with the head brewer, Mike Schnebeck (pictured above), who not only let me visit the brewery and take pics galore, he poured me beer while I asked him an insane amount of questions about yeast and sugar (I'm a little fermentation obsessed), talked to me about his love of cheese (he worked at Cheese Plus years ago), and let me pet the brewery cat. Then he let me email him even more questions and pick his cheese and beer pairing brain. Following are the interview questions. Spoiler: He also likes sandwiches and natural wine.

Thank you Mike, and Fort Point, for your time!

Testing bacteria and yeast activity at Fort Point (like all the time)

Testing bacteria and yeast activity at Fort Point (like all the time)

What are your favorite 3 cheese and beer pairings? Fort Point beers, please. 

Our Professor IPA goes really well with Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar. I love how two super intense flavors combine into one new kind of sensation. Professor's hop profile has a tropical slant that accents some of the fruitier cheese tones.

Westfalia and Bellwether Farms San Andreas is a pretty fun party too. That was one of the first cheeses I had that made me go wow! and Westfalia provides just the right amount of cut and complimentary flavor.

Manzanita and Jasper Hill Winnimere is an explosive combo. The spruce adds a nice touch to what is already a very woodsy/campfire combination.

What do you miss most about working with cheese from Cheese Plus?

The sandwiches. I mostly made sandwiches but did some cheese counter work too. I really like making sandwiches. If I wasn't making beer I would probably be making sandwiches. The cheese counter side was great because I was constantly learning and tasting new flavors. Being able to taste is extremely important in brewing too. The broader your palate the better. So in a sense I guess I was training for this job without knowing it. Cheese, like beer, is a vast ocean on the way to distant lands. I miss exploring all of that.

What convinced you that you wanted to be a brewer? 

I'm still not entirely convinced. I enjoy brewing beer but I am interested in many things. Lately natural wine has been calling very strongly. I know very little but the things I have learned have really sparked my interest. That's good for brewing though too, having outside interests I think makes you more creative and changes the way you view the job you do every day. If I had got a job at a famous college wine bar when I was 21 perhaps things would be different but then everything would be different because what college would have a wine bar??

Bryce Tyranski, brewer at Fort Point checking out yeast activity in the microscope

Bryce Tyranski, brewer at Fort Point checking out yeast activity in the microscope

Have a favorite style of beer to make? Why?

Lower alcohol beers require less lifting of sacks of grain -those beers can be nicer to make. I have enjoyed making more aromatic, hoppier styles lately. I enjoy the progression of those beers, tasting at different times and being able to detect how the aromas are changing. The biological and chemical side of hops in fermentation is very fascinating.

The scene from Fort Point Brewing’s back door on a misty day

The scene from Fort Point Brewing’s back door on a misty day

What are you excited about learning next?

Hop aromas. I did a brief experiment with my friends at Cerveceria de Mateveza a few months ago and discovered some very promising results. It feels like we are awash in hoppy beer but I think we have merely scratched the surface. There are many new techniques that will be developed that will change the way we use and think about hops. I am excited to be a part of these innovations. I am also excited to learn about lighter-style beers and hopefully create something that people never knew they loved.

The cuddliest fastest brewery cat ever.

The cuddliest fastest brewery cat ever.

Thanks again, Mike!