On his first day at Toolbox Brewing Company, Ehren Schmidt was tasked with resurrecting a once highly specialized, but then abandoned, beer program - without notes from the previous brewer. Armed with confidence, oak barrels and wild-ale cultures, Schmidt got ahead of the situation and now has his North County operation flying higher than ever while offering one of the most out-there beer-lists in San Diego.
BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ: How did you get things on track while putting your personal stamp on Toolbox?
EHREN SCHMIDT: First thing we needed to do was clean and get the place situated for the production we were going to do. Going along with that, we had to figure out how we were going to turn the business into what it is now, figuring out the brewing schedule, portfolio and identity. It's still a work in progress, but we made it a priority to say that barrel-aging is what we want to be known for, and our stainless steel beers, which are mostly fruited goses and Berliner weisses [sour-beer styles of German origin], will be the beers we produce on a more regular and consistent basis. Something else we did right away was invest some money into lab equipment, which allows us to do what we do and make more consistent, quality products.
How would you describe Toolbox?
If you want to try something different that you may not have gotten to try at other places, you can probably find that in our beers. We're a small-batch brewery that focuses on unconventional and mixed-fermentation beers. There's a little of something for everybody here. Sometimes we put on our Brett [wild-yeast-fermented] IPA for people who don't like sours, and some of our beers are closer to wine than beers from being aged in wine barrels. So, people who enjoy drinking wine can find what they like here, even if they're not beer fans.
What are some Toolbox beers you're particularly proud of?
We can't not mention Bramble on Rose [a wine-barrel-aged wild ale rested on local blackberries] as a big favorite because of the gold ribbon it earned at the San Diego International Beer Festival and the bronze medal it garnered at the World Beer Cup. My personal favorite that I'd go for if I had to take a bottle home with me every week is Eau D'Vine, a barrel-aged sour blonde wine-beer hybrid aged with California Chardonnay grapes. I'm not a big wine guy, but I like the flavor of grapes, if that makes sense, and this beer has a perfect melody of mellow-oak and tart-grape characters.
What's on the horizon at Toolbox?
One of our more popular beers is called Purple Drink. We make that with boysenberries in our stainless steel fermenters, but we have a barrel-aged version coming out made with marionberries. This year's boysenberry crop was poor, but the marionberries tasted much better. That's one of the most anticipated beers we'll release all year long.
How can folks keep up with you?
My Instagram handle is @thesourscientist. We get a lot of followers of the brewery who follow me because I post more operations-type stuff and stuff I'm doing in the lab when it comes to growing and harvesting wild microbes. People into the technical part of brewing, and even those who aren't, can get an inside look at the business this way. And you never know, you might even learn something.