Looking Back (& Forward): Stone 18th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival

We put in a full year of planning, effort and beer wrangling to make the annual Stone Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival the best and biggest it can be. Considering it’s the largest annual beer fest on the West Coast, we’re inclined to believe we do a hell of a job. We just wish it didn’t go by so quick. In less than 24 hours, we blow through 364 days’ worth of work and just about as many (but even more) kegs! Take, for instance, this year. Over 50 breweries from around the country showed up and brought 187 beers. And that’s all in addition to the 50 Stone beers we busted out to celebrate 18 years in the craft brewing biz! It was the kind of fete we wished every fan that helped us get to this ripe (young?) age could have participated in. But alas, even with nearly 8,000 tickets sold (and more than a quarter million dollars raised for charity, thank you very much), some will only experience this special day via this blog post. So, we’re going to go as in depth as possible so those who couldn’t make it know what to expect when they hopefully come out next year, and those who did join us can have fun reliving the Stone 18th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival.

The crowd for the first session began building outside the festival gates at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) around 10 a.m. Thirty minutes later, that already sizeable mass had doubled. That was when we wisely opened the gates before chants of beer depravation began and people broke out their pitchforks. The space we had taken over this year was much bigger than last year thanks to recent expansions on the CSUSM campus. Sprawling across three levels and across nearly 300,000 square feet, the now placated fans had space to spare and plenty of room in which to expand their beer horizons. But even with so much acreage, the festival grounds were chocked full of revelers within the first 10 minutes (even with Russian River Brewing Company taking on the lion’s share of the initial onslaught of fest-goers thanks to dual tappings of Pliny the Elder and a pluot sour ale called Compunction). The festival was laid out so attendees could get plenty of food, music and shade on each level. Each tier was set up like its very own mini-festival, with visitors to the Rare Beer Tent being serenaded by acoustic artists Jimmy and Enrique with Steve’s Cigar Lounge setup right nextdoor. (Quite the irresistible combo, no?) Down the hall from that center of hedonistic connoisseurship was an assortment of 18 other brewery booths, including our own Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, as well as the Steph Johnson Band, who set up a smooth, folksy backdrop perfect for enjoying good times, good beer and the ever-popular Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings. (There was even a surprising side of ketchup…shh, we won’t tell if you won’t.). The Surfrider Foundation even set up a sunscreen booth for those of you who forgot it at home. Fortunately the sun seemed powerless to snuff out our fans’ craft beer enthusiasm…but we supplied roving Ambassadors with sun-brellas nonetheless! And that was just one level!

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The middle level of the festival (the largest of the three) housed tons of food and other delights, like our Hop Wagons, mobile beer-serving vehicles featuring the Hop Fiend. There were plenty of ale-infused snacks ranging from Arrogant Bastard Ale brownies to Stone Imperial Russian Stout ice cream, spring rolls to sausages and Mike’s Beer Cheese to home-brewed sodas (courtesy of the Society of Barley Engineers), so even the pickiest of eaters was bound to be satisfied (if the whole wide array of special beers thing didn’t do that in the first place). Conversations on beer and food pairings narrowly beat out discussions on sensory evaluation (with more than a few #PairedWith scenarios shared). Bottom line, this crowd was as knowledgeable as it was fun, and that was both and cool and gratifying for us. This level also included 12 cask beers our Brew Crew spent the past month developing just for this event. Combinations like Stone Smoked Porter w/Cacao Nibs, Pistachios, Peaches & African Basil; Stone Runiation IPA w/Pink Peppercorns, Lemongrass & Nelson Hops and Stone Go To IPA w/Lemon Zest & Vanilla.

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The lower level featured two more bands, Mohavi Soul and Stone’s house band The Flocculators, which received a sonic boost when professional guitarist and Stone collaborator, Keri Kelli (of Kyle Hollingsworth/Keri Kelli/Stone Collective Distortion IPA fame) joined Brewmaster Mitch Steele and his crew on stage in a different sort of collaborative effort. The music paired well with the beer, which, was in fact, in the Collaboration Court along with numerous other new and archived collaborations from the past several years.

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Even with all that, by far the most interesting part of the festival, in our opinion, were the people who joined us and made the event all that it turned out to be. The event space was massive, but without fans of quality craft beer to fill it, it would have meant nothing! Each year, we’re happy to give everyone a celebration that is as much about craft beer as it is the people who love it. That includes those who go the extra mile. Even though our Stone DyeHards philanthropic campaign didn’t happen this year (don’t worry, the charities that would have benefited were included in the Anniversary Celebration donations and we’ll bring back DyeHards for our 20th anniversary!) there was a noticeable presence of blue-haired beer enthusiasts. In addition to the people with oddly colored hair, there were droves of beach-themed groups, neon yellow shirted attendees and even a few people with an entirely plaid ensemble. And, as always, the brewery t-shirts outnumbered everything else. We even set up a temporary tattoo station for a less permanent show of support.

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The second session played out much like the first, with an equally enthusiastic (and bizarrely dressed) crowd, and by 6 p.m., a thoroughly pleased horde dispersed happy and even more at peace with the spirit of American craft brewing affection. But us…we were already thinking about our 19th Anniversary Celebration as we tore down and cleaned up after the big one-eight. Next year’s, almost assuredly will be bigger and better. We hope you can make it out to celebrate. In the meantime, keep enjoying craft beer and celebrating each day like it’s something special (because it is). And keep your eyes peeled on our website and social media accounts to find out when tickets to next year’s celebration go on sale.

Senses Working Overtime: Beer Appreciation 101

You don’t have to be a certified beer judge or Cicerone to know when the taste of a beer strikes your fancy. But pinpointing exactly what you’re experiencing—that mysterious connection between your brain and taste buds—can be tricky. Fortunately, there is a quite enjoyable remedy for this: Taste more beer! But also smell more beer and visually examine more beer. It takes all of one’s senses to thoroughly evaluate ales and lagers. (OK, you don’t need to hear beer, but one can’t deny the anticipatory delight that stems from the sound of a bottle being opened or the sadness brought on by the last gasps of an emptied keg.) Practice makes perfect when it comes to exercising and refining your palate as well as the way you interpret beer’s appearance, scents and flavors. Many reading this have had a lot of practice drinking beer, but read on for a crash course on how to really appreciate it.

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We spend a great deal of time on sensory analysis here at Stone, and encourage fans of good beer to take time out to really get to know the ales and lagers they consume. Take in a beer’s aroma, observe its color and clarity, feel the way it sits on or perhaps coats your tongue and, of course, partake in the all-important taste test. Doing so will help you to appreciate the brew’s charm as well as identify any possible deficiencies. The latter can stem from the brewing process, but there are numerous factors going beyond how a beer is made that can affect the way you experience it. Well maintained equipment, proper storage conditions and serving temperature are all important. In terms of temperature, many complexities will be hidden from one’s palate if the beer is served in frigid condition. Ever had a chilled imperial stout and found it to be pretty one-dimensional at first, only to discover rich overtones and a wealth of varying flavors as you near the last sip. It’s not that the stout’s flavorful compounds have settled in the bottom of the glass—increased temperature allows our taste buds to pick up on a beer’s subtler characteristics.

Let’s start with the sense of sight. What color is the beer when you hold it up to a light? Now, don’t just go with “light” or “dark”—beer covers a wide spectrum of hues ranging from pale gold to reds and near-blackish brown, and even a slight variation from garnet to chestnut can signify a deeper malt flavor. In addition to color, check to see if the beer is hazy or clear. Is the foamy head sparse or thick and fluffy, and what color is it—clear white, tan or cappuccino-toned perhaps? Sometimes a telltale difference in head color can point to a higher alcohol-by-volume (ABV), like the difference between the beige foam atop a glass of Stone Smoked Porter and the mocha-colored head on a snifter of Stone Imperial Russian Stout.

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Like appearance, the importance of aroma is often overlooked in favor of convenience when one drinks right from the bottle or can. I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this. Sometimes the thought of dirtying one more glass causes me to go against my better beer judgment. But the bottom line is if you are trying a beer for the first time, you will never truly taste it until you drink it from a glass. And glassware selection matters! The straight, up-and-down shape of a standard pint glasses allows aromas to escape, while a tulip-shaped glass or snifter captures them for maximum enjoyment. Personally, I like stemless wine glasses, which are great for those who enjoy both beer and wine on a regular basis. Swirling beer in your glass will also help regenerate foam and more fully release aromas. Just don’t go too swirl-crazy or you’ll shake all the carbonation out of the beer (or, even worse, some of the beer out of your glass)! And when you inhale, there’s no need to fill your lungs like you’re coming up out of the ocean for air. Just a quick sniff or two at first is good. While you’re drinking, aromas will also naturally make their way into your nose and mouth, so relax and let it happen.

Aroma is most often talked about with regards to hops, which are responsible for a lot of fruity, botanical elements mirroring the scents of citrus, tropical fruit, grass, pine and flowers. But there’s more to a beer’s olfactory hints than hops. A whiff of alcohol hiding behind that bouquet can point to a high ABV. Fruity or spicy esters produced by yeast, particularly in Belgian beer styles, produce compounds that bring out scents akin to banana and cloves among others. The up-front aroma can color your perception of a beer’s flavor before you even taste it, and even afterwards, as odor compounds can make their way to your olfactory glands through the nasal passages in the back of your throat. That’s part of why craft beer belches can taste like the ale you just enjoyed.

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Identifying aromas can be tricky sometimes, so follow your gut—or rather, your nose. Smelling chocolate in Arrogant Bastard Ale, even though nobody else picks that up or are focused mainly on the beer’s hop character? That doesn’t mean your nose is wrong. There are dozens of odor compounds that can emanate from a beer, and while some will certainly be more prominent than others, picking out the more subtle ones is possible. (Heck, maybe you just have a more advanced sense of smell than the rest of your beer buddies…pretty cool!)

haley

Now that you’ve stared at your beer and sniffed it within an inch of its life, you should already know a little bit about it before even tasting it (even more if you have a beer menu in front of you telling you the style and ABV). Before going in, remember that the first sip of a beer can comingle with flavors already on your palate from food, other beers, coffee, toothpaste or any of the host of other things that may have preceded this particular brew. The first thing you’ll want to do is sacrifice a small amount of your beverage for the purpose of cleansing your palate. Let the beer coat your tongue. Feel free to pick out any initial flavors at this point, but reserve final judgment for later sips. Pay attention to the texture and body of the beer as well. How lively or absent is the carbonation? Extreme? Inadequate? Just right? Does the beer feel thick and viscous? Sticky? Thin? And what about the finish or aftertaste? There’s a lot to consider, so keep more than just the most overt characteristic—flavor—in mind. Improper levels of carbonation or a strange mouthfeel can make or break an otherwise tasty beer. Too much bubbliness can distract from a beer’s flavors, and not enough bubbles, while fine for cask beers and stronger beers, might not be the best for IPAs.

If all this sounds like a lot of work just to drink a beer, that’s alright. You don’t need to have an internal debate with your senses every time, and it’s perfectly fine if sometimes you just feel like having a non-academic, purely-for-pleasure drink. But if you are truly tasting beer, or trying something for the first time, you owe it to the people who lovingly crafted that beverage—and more importantly, yourself—not to just funnel it down your gullet.

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And while we’re consciously thinking about the feelings of brewers everywhere, remember that when you like or dislike something, it’s your opinion. It’s fine if a particular beer isn’t for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Sometimes keeping an open mind and tasting things outside your comfort zone can make you grow to appreciate them more and more. (And yes, I’m talking to you, guy or gal who drinks nothing but IPAs then blasts barley wines, hefeweizens and witbiers simply because they are nothing like their hop-heavy standby!) But in all seriousness, there are some flavors and scents that never belong in beer. If you detect a buttery taste similar to the foodstuff used to flavor microwave popcorn or a tinny characteristic like what’s found in some canned vegetables, or smell rotten eggs, plastic, wet cardboard or vinegar, that’s bad. Pale ale with essence of Band-Aid strips and Del Monte corn kernels probably wasn’t what the brewer was going for, so let the brewery or bartender know. These are signs of problems that can arise in fermentation, packaging, storage or service.

For those near our Southern California home who would like to receive a crash course in analyzing beer conducted in tandem with a tasting of some of our small batch specialties, we will be conducting one of our educational Beer U courses all about sensory evaluation at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido on July 14. The class will be led by our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez, a long-time veteran of the beer, wine and spirits industry who will break out numerous rarities including Stone Passion Project, a Belgian-style abbey ale aged in wine barrels before being racked onto fresh passion fruit from our very own Stone Farms. Not familiar with the farm? You’re in luck. I just so happen to know of a brilliant blog post stocked with details on that lovely place!

Fem-”Ale”: International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day

I was dumping a 55-pound bag of malted barley into a hopper when something occurred to me: I have probably never used more than 20 pounds of grain in a beer recipe, let alone the 500 pounds I was helping mill at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. Usually Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketchum takes on this laborious task all by himself, but on March 8, a dozen women clad in pink boots and armed with can-do attitudes descended on the 10-barrel brewhouse to participate in the first ever International Women’s Collaboration Brew (IWCB) Day!

IWCB

Happy New Beer: Stone’s 2014 Events Calendar

We don’t have a crystal ball, but no bogus future-telling devices are necessary to assure our fans that the New Year holds much promise and a full slate of fun-filled beer-centric events here at Stone. From some of the country’s most highly anticipated beer festivals to educational session and outright gorge-fests, there’s something for every kind of beer lover, and we’re proud to bring as much variety as we will delicious craft ales and lagers. The following is a breakdown of what we have in store for you in 2014!

Beerophiles, Start Your Engines: San Diego Beer Week 2013

A tradition a half-decade in the making, few happenings pack as much inventive beer, education and sheer enjoyment as the ten-day journey to the center of the country’s craft beer epicenter, San Diego Beer Week. All of the nearly eighty breweries in our extensive home county push the envelope to provide the most incredible events they can, and we are no different. Each year is an opportunity to cull through our cellars for rare and just plain phenomenal beer, collaborate with our brewing friends, invite in our beer-loving fans and put on a show in support of our industry, region and craft beer in general. If you’re planning to take in this year’s festivities, read on for a complete schedule of what we’ll be doing to celebrate, then make time in your beery, breakneck itinerary to spend some time sipping in San Diego Beer Week with us.

Rolling Stones: The 2013 Great American Beer Festival

You’ve heard the legend of a cavernous hall filled to the brim with beer from around the country. Maybe you’ve even experienced for yourself the glories of unlimited pours of more than 3,100 brews. But you haven’t seen the Great American Beer Festival—the country’s largest annual suds celebration—from the perspective of Team Stone before…until now. We just got back from this massive and spectacular event, and are ready to give you a behind-the-scenes view of our GABF experience

Meet the Brewers: 12 Brewers 12 Casks 12 Mallets Summer Edition

What began as a San Diego Beer Week show of brewing solidarity has metamorphosized into a quarterly tradition that brings out not only fans of Stone beer, but members of Team Stone looking to check out inventive takes on the brewery’s year-round beers. Every three months, we round up a dozen of our brewery staff and invite them to build casks incorporating tasty ingredients ranging from fruits and herbs to tea, specialty hops and different varieties of wood. Then, to stay true to the camaraderie theme that inspired the event in the first place, we hand them mallets (customized to include each brewer’s name and the date of the event) and have them simultaneously tap their casks in the midst of a crowd of thirsty attendees. The next 12 Brewers 12 Casks 12 Mallets event will take place on August 22, 2013 at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido. The beers being offered up are…

  • Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA w/Lychee Fruit & Hersbrucker Hops by Callaway Ryan
  • Stone IPA w/Cacao Nibs & Plums by Zach Goldstein
  • Stone IPA w/Chervil, Savory, Thyme & Lavender by Laura Mirsch
  • Stone IPA w/Tamarind, Lemongrass & Ginger by Josh Hagquist
  • Stone Levitation Ale w/Peppercorn & Cilantro by Kihei Hutchinson
  • Stone Pale Ale w/Lemon Verbena & Bergamot by Steve Via
  • Stone Pale Ale w/Spanish Cedar & Spirals & Szechuan Peppercorns by Jeff Fanno
  • Stone Ruination IPA w/El Dorado Hops, Cilantro & Pineapple by Sander Banta
  • Stone Ruination IPA w/Kumquats & American Oak Chips by Ben Maushardt
  • Stone Ruination IPA w/White Peaches & Chamomile by Anthony Tallman
  • Stone Ruination IPA w/Moroccan Mint Green Tea, Cacao Black Tea & Toasted American Oak Chips by Justinian Caire
  • Stone Smoked Porter w/Shaved Coconut & Toasted Almonds by Joaquin Bowman

We added a new riff to this tradition during its spring rendition, holding a lottery among all members of Team Stone who were interested in participating but had jobs outside the brewery component of our business. The winner that time around was one of our graphic artists, who busted out a cask of Stone Smoked Porter w/Toasted Hazelnuts. This time around, we invited two non-brewers to the festivities, our EH&S Manager and an Assistant Supervisor from Stone Company Store – Escondido. And they’re no slouches. Their casks are every bit as ambitious and slobber-provoking as their fermentation specialist comrades. Take a moment to meet this dastardly dozen before coming out to sample their creations.

Better Than Ever: Stone 17th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival

Stone Brewing Co. has been in business now for 17 years. (We know, we can hardly believe how quickly the time has flown, either.) Over that span, we’ve lifted pints, snifters, bombers and magnums of aggressively hopped, intensely flavored craft beer like vibrant, flashy banners proclaiming our mission and progress in pushing the American craft beer movement forward. But accomplishing that has been about more than making great beer. We aim to elevate everything about the craft beer culture. That includes events ranging from beer education to food-and-beer symbiosis to beer festivals. We think we’ve done a heck of a job with the latter, offering fests devoted to sour beer, barrel-aged beer and dark beer. But our expertise at putting on grand-scale festivals springs from extensive experience putting on our yearly, incrementally more incredible Stone Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival. It’s never the same, yet it never disappoints, and this year will be no different.

2013 American Craft Beer Week

Taking place from May 13 to 19, American Craft Beer Week (ACBW) will provide quality beer fans and first-timers across the country a chance to celebrate the growing craft brewing industry and its members’ delicious wares. Dubbed by the Brewer’s Association as “the mother of all beer weeks,” this seven-day span is comprised of thousands of pint nights, tap takeovers, beer dinners and meet-the-brewer events put on by the nation’s 2,200-plus breweries. We’ve created a listing of more than 50 events we’re holding throughout the country for your itinerary-building pleasure, but don’t feel compelled to limit your activities exclusively to Stone happenings (though if you did, we’d be flattered). This is about every craft brewing company in America.

San Diego Beer through the Years

Craft beer is more popular now than it’s ever been. Still, it’s only reached a relatively small segment of the world’s population. Even in our home of San Diego, a county awash with West Coast IPAs and beers spanning all styles, many have yet to understand artisanal brews. That will all change very soon if the San Diego History Center has anything to say about it. Located in the heart of San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, the SDHC recently opened its doors to a new exhibit called Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture. Billed as the largest exhibit devoted to a region’s brewing history, it offer visitors a comprehensive visage of the last 100 beery (and non-beery) years in San Diego. It’s a tale we, as one of the region’s brewing pioneers, are ecstatic to be a part of.