Just one week after releasing the 2012 Stone Imperial Russian Stout, we’ve got another beer up our sleeves that’s coming to a glass near you starting today. A few years ago, Greg and Steve were approached by Matt Bonney and Matt “Vern” Vandenberghe (aka “The Matts”), the almighty wizards behind famed Seattle craft beer store Bottleworks. Every year, they work with a different craft brewery to formulate a special beer to commemorate their anniversary.
Sure enough, probably after a few beers, the conversation turned to: “Oh hey Greg! Wouldn’t it be cool to have Stone make one of our anniversary beers?!” Greg, quite known for having trouble saying no to cool projects, said yes. And Steve, quite known for having an appreciation of cigars and Scotch, was “somehow coerced” into saying yes (over cigars and Scotch) while attending a charity event at Brouwer’s Cafe, a wondrous Seattle craft beer restaurant also operated by The Matts. (Sneaky, aren’t they?)
It’s no secret that we love making collaboration beers. We always have an amazing time brewing them, they’ve turned out great (if we may say so ourselves), and it gives us a chance to play around a little bit. To go a little further outside of the proverbial box. (Though admittedly, we were never quite certain about where this so-called box is/was, or how so many folks managed to find their way into it.) Each collaboration has its own story, its own inspiration, its own unique set of attributes.
Our first collab of 2012 starts rolling out today, and we’ll go ahead and say it: We’ve got another winner on our hands. “Bear Republic / Fat Head’s / Stone TBA,” as the name implies, is the work of Bear Republic Brewing Co. Brewmaster Richard Norgrove, Jr. (you can call him Ricardo), Fat Head’s Brewery Head Brewer Matt Cole, and our own Brewmaster Mitch Steele.
But what of the rest of the name: TBA? Like, as in… To Be Announced? Trusted Business Advisor? Text-Based Adventure? Tracheobronchial aspirate? Mmm… not quite. The acronym alludes to a classic but little-known beer style called Texas Brown Ale, which, strangely enough, has its roots in California. You see, back in the 80s, there was this homebrew recipe for a brown ale supercharged with Cascade hops that was floating around NorCal homebrew circles. And even while it started gaining popularity, beers that were made in this style failed to fare well in homebrew competitions since there was no recognized category they could be entered in. (They were wayyyy too hoppy and bitter to be considered a traditional brown ale.) But when a competition in Houston, TX, decided to judge such entries in what they would call the “California Dark” category, the American Homebrewers Association followed suit soon after, though they perplexingly changed the name to Texas Brown Ale.
Well, 2011 is rapidly drawing to a close, but we’re squeezing in yet another collaboration beer release—our fifth of the year—before it’s over. This one wasn’t on the calendar originally, but circumstances arose that demanded we brew it.
So we did.
One of the many unfortunate casualties of Hurricane Irene was The Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury, VT, which was completely flooded and destroyed. When Stone Brewing Co. Brewmaster Mitch Steele heard of the loss, he immediately sent out an email to The Alchemist Head Brewer John Kimmich asking if there was anything he could do to help.
“John’s wife, Jen, wrote back suggesting that John fly out to Southern California for a few days… just to get a break from the reality of everything,” Mitch said. “And almost as an afterthought, she casually mentioned that maybe we could even brew something together. I ran with it.“
Mitch asked Jamie Floyd, Brewer/Co-founder of Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene, OR, if he wanted to complete the brewing trifecta, and he immediately jumped on board.
That’s right, his last blog post on our struggles to control chill haze in Stone IPA was such a hit, we rewarded him with a free trip to the U.K. Well, that may not be how it actually went down, but what the hell.
Here’s what’s happening: we shipped Stone’s Brewmaster, Mitch Steele, off to England on Monday to brew a collaboration beer at Wadworth’s historic Northgate Brewery in Wiltshire. Why, you ask? Because an 800-strong chain of pubs called Wetherspoon’s & Lloyd’s #1 are holding a two and a half week long Real Ale & Cider Festival, during which Mitch’s collaboration beer will be served.
The idea? To brew a Stone-style Wadworth beer. Just what in the hell does that mean? It means a 4.5% ABV beer called “San Diego Session IPA”, and as the name implies, it’s a comparatively low alcohol beer hopped like crazy with a combination of British & American hops, including some exciting newfangled varieties.
For those of you who brew your own beer or just like to geek out on beer recipes, here’s the run down. The malt bill consists of all English malts, primarily pale malt with 5% each of crystal & Munich malt. The hop situation is this: Target for bittering and Centennial, Columbus, Amarillo, Delta, and Calypso for flavoring & dry-hopping. The beer will be fermented with Wadworth’s house yeast strain, a traditional English variety that will contribute a bit more sulfur than Stone’s yeast.
This decidedly unique mash-up of Stone’s and Wadworth’s brewing style will be served on cask starting October 5th at the aforementioned Wetherspoon’s festival. A variety of other American craft brewers are in the U.K. to brew beers for the festival as well, so the American brewing renaissance should be well represented.
One interesting tidbit about Wadworth: the brewery employs the last Master Brewery Cooper (maker of wooden barrels) in the U.K., which allows them to serve some of their beer from fresh wooden casks. Pretty cool, eh?
As loyal readers of this blog may remember, Kelsey McNair brewed the champion beer at our hotly contested 2010 March Madness Homebrew Competition & AHA Rally, an intensely hoppy session brew dubbed “West Coast Bitter.” Impressed with his creativity, craftsmanship, and distinctly Southern California flair, the esteemed panel of judges chose West Coast Bitter to be brewed here at Stone as one of our collaboration beers.
Like celebrity deaths, Stone collaborators always come in threes, so there was the small matter of picking a third collaborator. Kelsey picked Colby Chandler of Ballast Point, a San Diego brewer of great skill and acclaim, for his expertise in crafting exceptionally hoppy session brews, a choice heartily endorsed by Stone Head Brewer Mitch Steele.
Kelsey, Colby, and Mitch discuss the finer points of scaling up homebrew batches
Kelsey and Mitch made the trip over to Ballast Point’s Linda Vista brewery and homebrew shop to meet up with Colby and finalize the recipe for West Coast Bitter’s large-scale incarnation. Kelsey brought in a growler of his latest batch of the award-winning brew, which the three brewers sampled alongside Stone’s previous collaboration beers and a generous slew of rare offerings from Ballast Point.
Such exceptional beers proved to be the perfect fuel for figuring out the nitty gritty of brewing a full size batch of West Coast Bitter. Kelsey is nothing if not hardcore about his brewing, and the process of scaling up his recipe to the 120-barrel batches brewed on our somewhat-more-elaborate-than-a-homebrew-setup brewing system tickled his beer geek fancy in a big way.
Colby demonstrates the proper way to pour a sample
Adding to the excitement, we’re also pleased to announce that West Coast Bitter will be Stone’s official entry at the Great American Beer Fest’s Pro-Am Competition! The Pro-Am Competition allows breweries and homebrewers from all over the country to collaborate on recipes and see how they stack up on craft beer’s biggest stage.
Indeed, all were stoked about the upcoming brew day on July 12th, sure to be the hoppiest in Stone collaboration history. If all goes according to plan, the beer itself should be available in the late summer/early fall, leaving plenty of time for warm weather quaffing.
Before divulging any more details, let’s fire up the flux capacitor and set the Delorean to 2003. That’s the year Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Bill Covaleski of Victory, and our own Greg Koch formed the ill-fated Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor (BUFF), a three person organization with the mission of “flex[ing] their verbal muscles in a no-holds barred attack on mindless video-drone beer attitudes,” in the words of the original press release.
BUFF held a single press conference in an aisle of a Boston liquor store. Despite sending invitations to a slew of mainstream media contacts, a single member of the beer press deemed the event worthy of attendance.
Seven years later, Greg, Sam, and Bill felt that the time was right to commemorate that abortive shot across the bow of brewing mediocrity, and a collaboration beer seemed the perfect forum for their unique brand of sudsy activism.
Amazingly, despite having brewed well over a hundred different beers between the three of them, none had made a beer like Saison du BUFF, which takes the earthy quaffability of a Belgian farmhouse ale and adds the kind of twist you’d expect from these three brewing miscreants: sage, thyme, parsley, and Stone Estate (i.e. our parking lot) grown rosemary.
As you can imagine given the personalities involved, the Saison du BUFF brew day was like watching a gaggle of crazed lemurs operate heavy machinery. Fortunately, someone was there to film it:
So what does Saison du BUFF taste like, you ask? How about we have Sam explain:
“Minty, piney, estery nose to it…Ohhh, that’s a good beer, starts out kind of marmaladey and sweet, and then it gets kind of clovey and dry…rustic, earthy, and hay[-like], wheaty. Beautiful, complex, very drinkable saison. First one came out awesome!”
Not to be left out, Bill sent us these tasting notes: “Fluffy white head is taut over golden incense burner of inviting aromas. Bright hops evident on the nose but deeper notes of oily sage also very apparent. Or was that the rosemary…? A sip and I am no closer to the truth but totally enthralled with this brew. It makes me hungry as the herbal flavors are both bright and savory with the lemony hops lifting all impressions. Body is firm and food friendly. Bon appétit!”
If that sounds up your alley, you should be able to find Saison du BUFF wherever you can find Stone. If you don’t get Stone, but you do get Dogfish Head or Victory, you’re in luck because Greg, Sam, and Bill will be brewing two more batches of Saison du BUFF, once at Dogfish Head on June 6th and again at Victory on June 10th. So keep your eyes peeled and your noses primed for this pungent, uniformity-smashing collaboration beer.
On Friday, we had an all-star cast of brewers in the house working on our first collaboration beer of 2010. Shaun O’Sullivan of 21st Amendment and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker joined our very own Head Brewer Mitch Steele for one of our coolest collaborations yet. Since this was an all-California brewing team, they decided to expand upon that theme by using indigenous California ingredients in the beer, including chia seeds, pink peppercorns, fennel seeds, and 35 lbs. of Mission figs Shaun brought from a friends’ farm.
The result of this momentous collaboration will be a strong black ale of distinctly Californian pedigree. Named El Camino (un)Real Black Ale in honor of the historic Spanish mission trail connecting Northern and Southern California, this beer is going to be pitch-black monster loaded with roasty, spicy flavors.
The wort was completely opaque
A friendly debate developed around the quantity of hops this luscious beast would require. Although all agreed on a selection of British hop varieties, Shaun lobbied for upping the quantities after sampling our previous collaborations (most of which, for the record, are not exactly restrained in the hops department.) Matt begged to differ, and jested that, “Over-hopped beers are, like, so 1990s!”
Mitch refereed as Shaun and Matt playfully negotiated the hop additions, chiming-in to explain the particulars of the brewhouse and the results of past experiences. Matt finally emerged victorious by brandishing his trusty Ti-89 scientific calculator to estimate the IBUs, cementing his reputation as an unparalleled process geek (post-production note: it looks like this one will clock-in around 80 IBUs.)
Matt busting out his trusty Ti-89
Taking the collaboration one step further, Matt brought some oak barrels down with him, which the team used to build a miniature version of Firestone Walker’s famed Union fermentation system, within which 15% of this 90-barrel batch will be fermented.
The miniature Firestone Walker Union in action
After a long day of brewing—nearly derailed by a serious bunghole issue (if you’re laughing like a 12 year old right now, it’s time to bone-up on your brewing terminology)—the unfermented wort was finally sampled by the weary brewers. Much to their delight, it exhibited an exceptionally smooth roastiness, which all agreed would meld beautifully with the oak from the wooden barrels.
The brewers tasting the wort
The brewers ended the day by sharing beers and general merriment at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens back patio bar. Local homebrewers shared their concoctions with the brewing icons late into the night, capping another collaboration brew in appropriate fashion.
Look for this beer to hit the shelves sometime in March 2010.*
*Since there’s only 90-barrels of this sweet nectar being made, we probably won’t be able to distribute it in every single market in which Stone beers are usually found.
Here at Stone Brewing Co., we’re not content to merely work with awesome brewers from around the world on our collaboration beers. That’s why we’ve taken it a step further, by visiting a couple of our collaborators in their exotic homelands, brewing at their breweries, drinking their native beverages, and…eating their whales(?!)
To capture these madcap adventures, we’ve created a documentary of Greg, Mitch, and Steve’s trip to Norway and Scotland, where they brewed-up batches of collaboration beers at Nøgne-Ø and BrewDog. Along the way, watch as our intrepid crew relishes a Viking feast, braves the choppy waters of the North Atlantic, and seemingly attempts to bribe their way (with beer) into owning a lighthouse.
And that’s just the first installment, which is now live. Check back every Thursday for the next three weeks as this indomitable crew continues their escapades in Norway before traveling to Scotland for some serious carousing with the punks over at BrewDog.
Representing our part in an international Craft Brewer Exchange Program with our friends at BrewDog, our Brewhouse Supervisor Jeremy Moynier is jumping on a plane for Scotland today. We’ll be getting BrewDog’s Lead Brewer, Stewart Bowman, in return. Both brewers will spend two weeks getting their boots wet and learning the ins and outs of each other’s domain.
“I’m excited to go,” said Jeremy. “I’m looking forward to brewing on a smaller scale again and seeing how those guys do things. The Metric System should make things interesting.” Jeremy isn’t all work and no play. He said he’s also looking forward to pubs, food, scotch, sight-seeing, and traveling with his girlfriend, Andrea, who is meeting up with him after his two week stint at BrewDog to enjoy a bit more of the continent before flying back home on Thursday, November 12. Jeremy did express some hesitation about the weather. “Martin Dickie (BrewDog Brewmaster) said the weather in Scotland is ‘pretty miserable’ right now. You know that when a Scot says the weather is miserable it’s going to be BAD.” Stewart, on the other hand, gets to escape the misery to sunny San Diego and bask in our laughably mild 70-degree Fall weather (just watch, he’ll probably complain about the balmy heat).
Stone Brewhouse Supervisor Jeremy Moynier
The weather isn’t the only thing Stewart will enjoy when he flies in on Saturday night. He’ll also enjoy two weeks of Stone boot camp where he’ll better acquaint himself with brewing on a larger scale and perhaps glean a thing or two from our “we mean business” approach to brewing. He’ll also get a chance to learn from our mistakes and hopefully help BrewDog avoid some of the growing pains associated with rapid expansion. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to come over to Stone and work with some of the masters of the US craft brewing scene,” said Stewart. “I can’t wait get in there and help make some of the beers which have been so inspirational to all of us kids over at BrewDog.”
BrewDog's Stewart Bowman cozying up to a lovely cask of bashah maturing with tayberries
We don’t plan on letting the guys at BrewDog show us up with their hospitality; it’s our mission to show Stewart a damn good time. Unfortunately, he’ll be returning to Scotland right as San Diego Beer Week is revving up, but that won’t stop us from treating him to the time of his life in one of the most vibrant brewing scenes in the world. If you see him out around town you can help us out. Buy him a beer and show him that San Diego is where it’s at. Between that and the weather—and the beer of course—he may not want to leave.