This time of year, the last thing most of us want to hear is the acronym IRS. But, believe it or not, as the Internal Revenue Service’s April 15 draws nigh each year, thousands of beer fans begin emphatically chanting: I-R-S! I-R-S! Granted, most of this chanting occurs via keystrokes on social media, but make no mistake, many an American anticipates mid-April and the annual arrival of IRS. No, not the pencil-pushing bureaucrats from Washington. We’re talking about our IRS—Stone Imperial Russian Stout!
A porter brewed with peat-smoked malt and enough hops to bring the IBU (International bittering unit) count to 53 is undoubtedly innovative. That beer concept is right up there with the plethora of novel smoked ales and lagers that have become so prominent across the county over the past several years. But the beer we’re referring to, Stone Smoked Porter, isn’t among that new wave. It’s been tantalizing taste buds while hovering within the top layer of craft beer’s cloud of smoke since 1996!
At Stone, we go to painstaking lengths to hand-pick the most talented and innovative individuals we can to fill out and enhance Team Stone. While our beer is what keeps our fans coming back for more, it’s the people behind the beer and this company that have gotten us to where we are today.
As you can imagine, we like to keep our people close to us—especially our brewmaster, Mitch Steele. The guy’s awesome! Good thing, because we have a consistently heavy production workload for him. Due to that and his terrific work ethic, the poor guy hasn’t had a proper vacation in some time. But, as much as we love him and want to keep him near, we were happy to grant him a recent request to take some time and head to Northern California. Mitch wisely hopped a plane before a brewhouse emergency led to that hall pass being revoked.
Gone, but in no way forgotten (guys as extraordinary as our former media and communications linchpin are impossible to forget), Randy Clemens is returning with a special edition Stone Blog post to close-out his two part series on Stone Brewing Co.’s yeast. Enjoy!
When we last left off, you’ll recall that we’d taken a trip down to see our friends at White Labs to learn a bit more about the unsung hero of our beer: the Stone yeast strain. We got to see where the yeast was stored and how it was cared for, but what happens once it gets into our hands?
Y’know… it seems like hops get a heck of a lot of attention for their delightfully flavorful contributions to our awesome beers. Rightly deserved, but there’s a little unsung hero that we feel is finally due some credit: our yeast strain.
To tell the truth, my favorite part of putting together our book—The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance—with Steve and Greg was getting the low-down on where the Stone yeast strain came from. You see, when a mommy and daddy yeast cell love each other very much… no, not really. (They don’t even get to have that much fun; yeast cells reproduce asexually through a process called budding… but I digress.) Our yeast’s ultimate origins were told to me by Steve, and I laughed my ass off when he told me the story. From the aforementioned book, I quoteth:
In a recent post, I discussed Baird / Ishii / Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA, a beer we’re brewing to benefit Japanese tsunami relief. You undoubtedly noted the bit about Aramis hops, a new hop variety from the Alsace region of France, which we’re using in that beer.
For those of you that maintain an interest in all matters hop-related, we’re going to delve a bit deeper into the new hop varietal situation here at Stone.
We work with several hop suppliers to keep us stocked with the bitter, aromatic flowers you all know and love. Occasionally, those suppliers will offer us a brand new hop variety, and if it sounds like the flavor and aroma is up our alley, Brewmaster Mitch Steele usually orders a little bit. This occurs infrequently because it can take many years and a significant amount of money to develop a new hop variety.
Once the hops arrive at Stone, Mitch rips open the bag, gives them a sniff, reads up on their stats, then concocts a small-scale pilot recipe that prominently features the new hops. Depending on the results of that experiment, the new hops may be incorporated into a special release (the hops for our core line-up are pretty much fixed.)
Which brings us to Aramis hops. As far as we know, we’re the first brewery to brew a commercial beer with Aramis. So what does it taste/smell like, you ask? I conducted an informal poll around the brewery and these are some of the descriptors I got: floral, earthy, woody, Earl Grey, lemon, hay, herbal.
We then went a step further and did a taste test, which needlessly confirmed that eating hops—no matter what the varietal—is a terrible idea.
But that’s not all folks! We have an 11-pound bag of Calypso hops—a fun-sounding newish variety—sitting in our cold box, and we recently ripped that sucker open too. Calypso is an American hop derived from Nugget and USDA 19058m (my personal fav) packing considerably more punch than Aramis. Calypso clocks in at 12-14% alpha acid (the chemical component in hops that contribute bitterness to beer), making it useful as both a bittering and flavor/aroma hop.
And what an aroma it has! Another informal brewery poll—conducted with a pint glass full of fresh hop pellets—netted these descriptors: lemons, tart apples, cherry blossoms, black pepper, bitter orange, mint, pear. The aroma is at once distinctly American, insofar as it is remarkably unsubtle and sappy, while also being very fruity, a combination unlike any other hops I’ve smelled. It was almost universally well liked by those polled. A 15-gallon single hop IPA is Calypso’s next stop.
And there are still more new hop varieties to come. Columbia, Sonnet, Delta, and Bravo hops will all arrive in the next few months, giving us a remarkably broad new palette of hop flavors with which to experiment. Naturally, we’ll keep you updated.