After a career spent at some of the country’s largest, best-known, and most-respected breweries and after being responsible for creating recipes that inspired—if only briefly—and other recipes that continue to endure and delight, you’d think Mitch Steele would be getting ready to slow down.
“I’m not that old, yet,” says Steele, perhaps best known as the former brewmaster of Stone Brewing, who recently opened his newest venture, New Realm Brewing Company in Atlanta. “At some point, I’ll slow down, but I’m not there yet. I like keeping busy, and I like what we’re doing.”
What he’s doing is heading the brewing operations at one of the country’s most-anticipated new breweries. When Steele announced in 2016 that he was leaving Stone after more than a decade, message boards lit up with speculation, and fellow brewers reached out with queries. New Realm officially opened in January 2018 with a 20-barrel brewhouse, a 5-barrel pilot system, a full restaurant, and four core beers. Initial reviews are what you’d expect from a brewery with Steele’s pedigree.
A Distinguished Career
A graduate of the brewing program at the University of California, Steele started professionally at the now-shuttered San Andreas Brewing Co. in the late 1980s. From there, he took a job that still surprises craft drinkers who know him only from his time at Stone: as a brewer for Anheuser-Busch.
He started there in 1992 at the Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery and in 1995, was promoted into corporate brewing at the brewery’s flagship location and headquarters in St. Louis. There he worked on new products, including Michelob line extensions that included a pale ale, a marzen, and seasonal offerings. Those beers, as drinkers of a certain age will remember, marked a foray for the large brewer into new styles, designed to compete with the growing craft movement.
Steele continued the journey east, settling at AB’s New Hampshire brewery, before going back to California to head up Stone Brewing’s operation, just a few months after the company moved into its then-new brewery in Escondido, when it was “still in start-up mode.”
But for all he’s done and the places he’s worked, it’s New Realm where he actually has the opportunity to work with a company that literally started from the ground up.
Destined for the Southeast
Steele is a cofounder of New Realm with Carey Falcone and Bob Powers, who both live in the southeastern United States and wanted to build their new venture in that region. They considered both of the Carolinas, but the trio eventually settled on Atlanta, thanks to a 20,000-square-foot space that was available in a desirable neighborhood, and they realized a chance to be a part of a still burgeoning beer scene that is only destined to grow.
For Steele, however, this presented a few challenges. The first was that Atlanta is a city that he didn’t know well, outside of knowing that it has the busiest airport in the country. So there were challenges involving figuring out all the city agencies and the politics that go into the permitting process. However, he found camaraderie and help in some of the city’s existing breweries that were happy to lend a hand and expertise.
While there wasn’t the culture shock he was expecting, Steele says starting up in Atlanta is a bit like “going back in time,” but he means it as a compliment. Having spent the last decade in San Diego, where the beer scene has shot like a rocket to the moon, touching nearly every aspect of life, becoming ingrained with the city’s identity, Steele says it’s good to be in a place where that’s still to come.
Sure, there are breweries such as SweetWater Brewing Company and Monday Night Brewing and a handful of others who have laid the groundwork and continue to be good craft-brewing stalwarts. And there are some of the country’s best beer bars, such as The Porter Beer Bar and Brick Store Pub, but in an area with so many people and still a lot of room for breweries to open, there’s a lot of potential. (For more about the Atlanta craft-beer scene, see “Atlanta: The Cultural Capital of the South” in the April/May 2017 issue.)
And for those who follow, New Realm has put forward their core principles for all to see, a stance that is a good business practice all around. Those who have worked with Steele in the past know that he holds these core principles true: quality, creativity, authenticity, perfection, and customer centricity. The new brewery will be “focused on positively impacting the community in which they live/work, [committed] to environmental sustainability, and [supportive of] the local, independent craft community and the art and science of great craft brewing.”
Inside the Brewery
Given Steele’s pedigree, you can expect to see a lot of hops-forward beers coming from New Realm. Indeed, the brewery launched with four core beers, three of which were a pale ale (Perun), an IPA (Hoplandia), and an imperial IPA (Kikimora). The fourth, Euphonia, is a Pilsner, and that has Steele excited because it’s the biggest departure for him. It’s traditional, he says, with modern hopping techniques. For the 5 percent ABV German-style Pilsner, he uses the hop-bursting technique with varietals such as Hersbrucker, Huell Melon, Saphir, and Sterling.
Most of all, Steele is looking forward to getting a lot of use on the Ss Brewtech 5-barrel pilot system. There, he and Head Brewer Tyler Downey plan to brew experimental styles as well as go deep into history and revive some older recipes that have been lost to time. These include an 1800s recipe for IPA, something fans of the book Steele wrote in 2012, IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, will no doubt be excited to try. They also recently tried their hands at an October ale, a strong ale with 100 percent Marris Otter malt and East Kent Golding hops.
Right now, everything they are making is selling out at the taproom, which includes the restaurant spearheaded by Executive Chef Julio Delgado, a beer garden, and a rooftop bar. But they soon plan to package the beers, starting with the Pilsner. When asked, jokingly, about a Saturday morning, brewery-only, limited-quantity, hazy IPA release, Steele cut a scholarly tone.
“I’m wondering if it’s kind of hit its peak and will recede a bit like some of the other trends have, but this style is legit. It’s interesting because a lot of the aspects of the brewing process appeal to me. The idea of hops in fermentation with a soft body and high chloride levels is an interesting development. I’ve had some really good ones and some really rough ones. Not a lot of brewers do them well, and the ones who nail it don’t always want to share the details of how they made it work. So, I want to dig in a bit more. Initially, I admit I was skeptical, but I want to keep an open mind because I’m too old to put myself into a corner. And when you can find a good one, it’s fun to drink.”
We should all stay tuned for what’s next. However, in a career of change, of experimentation and always looking for what’s next and how it plays into the current scene, Steele hopes to make at least one thing permanent.
“I want this to be my last job,” he says. “I’m 56. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to completely retire, but I’m not looking to do anything else. I want to see us grow and do well.”
Editor's note: This article was written and first published before New Realm announced that it would purchase the Virginia brewery that was briefly home to Green Flash Brewing Co.