The grassy perfume of freshly collected hops, rolling hills flush with lush greenery for as far as the eye can see, Mount Adams looming majestically on the horizon—this is what dreams are made of. Well, this is what dreams are made of if you are a craft beer fan reading the Stone Blog; a lupulin-hankering hophead unabashed in their love of bold, botanically driven India pale ales. We get it and we understand. There were plenty of moony, slack-jawed looks on the faces of Stone brewers who recently made the annual pilgrimage to Yakima, Washington to partake in the holiest of brewing industry traditions—hop selection. This is where we get our first look at the year’s bounty and make decisions that will affect our ability to brew the unapologetically profound ales that, like those hops, you’ve come to crave.
Let’s talk about funk. No, no…put away the slap bass, hi-hat and wah pedal. We’re talking about the tart, earthy, barnyardy, almost indescribable (unless you employ terms like “barnyardy”) and extremely wide-ranging characters brought on in the process of aging certain beers. While some may quaff a beverage and use that term “funky” to describe it in a negative way, the funk we go for here at Stone is an objective from the outset; a means by which to add character to already flavorful beer as a way for the base ale to be reborn as a new and deliciously provocative offspring of itself. Great examples of this funk come through in barrel-aged versions of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, Stone “The Tiger Cub” Saison and certain additions of Stone Vertical Epic Ale. But how do we rein in the wild yeast and other organisms that create funkiness or, worse yet, infection and the “bad funk” through the lengthy evolution of our barrel-aged brews? Stone fans hit us with questions via social media and our Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez has provided some answers to the proverbial question: What the funk?
Last week, we allowed one half of the winning team from our in-house brewing competition, QA Supervisor Rick Blankemeier (you may recognize him from his work on the Stone Stochasticity Project), to tell the first half of he and Team Spröcket partner Robbie Chandler‘s U.S. tour, during which they introduced their first place black rye Kölsch, Spröcketbier, to the masses. Follow along as Rick closes out his cross-country tale in style (and if you haven’t already tried he and Robbie’s amazing beer, find it and fix that immediately).
Stop #4: Coloradical
Denver is a fun city. Now, I’m extremely biased since I grew up in Aurora, just southeast of the Mile High City, and went to college at CU-Boulder (Go Buffs!). Despite all that, Denver really is a rad city with lots of activities to keep you entertained and full of delicious craft beer. My wife (and fellow member of Team Stone), Jessica, flew in early to visit friends so we could have a long weekend together in our old stomping grounds. She picked us up from the airport and drove us to our first unofficial event at Hops and Pie. Before that, we stopped by a liquor store to pick up bottles of Spröcketbier to hand out to all of our local friends. It was admittedly weird to buy a bottle of the beer that had my name on it and we definitely gave the checkout person something to talk about for a while. She checked our ID’s and noticed our names matched those on the bottle, then kind of freaked out a bit. Yes, this made us freak out (or maybe the more apt term is “geek out”) a bit, internally.
Earlier this year, we announced the winners of the inaugural edition of our annual company brewing competition, The Stone Spotlight Series. Taking first place for a black rye Kölsch-style brew our fans came to know as Spröcketbier (there’s still a bit of this delicious beer out there, so consult the Stone Beer Finder to get a taste) was Team Spröcket—QA Supervisor Rick Blankemeier and Warehouse Supervisor Robbie Chandler. This big win allowed the duo not only to brew this spicy, refreshing beer on Stone’s full-sized system and have it distributed nationally, but also to on tour with the beer, visiting a number of beery locations throughout the country. The following is Blankemeier’s account of what he calls a “thrilling adventure,” one in which he and Marshall met and shared many a pint with beer fans and brewers every bit as passionate as they are.
First Stop: Philly
The flight was way too early, but our spirits were high. Taking a couple of days off of work so we could fly to Philly to help sell our winning beer? You bet we were happy about that. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but it’s fun to switch up the routine every now and again. This would be the first visit to Philly for me and Robbie, so we were excited to see what the City of Brotherly Love was all about (and maybe gain some insight on why they booed Santa).
After a six-hour direct flight (thanks Stone!), Stone Sales Rep, Lee Marren, was there to pick us up and put us through our paces. We knew Lee sells Stone beer in the Philly area, but what they neglected to tell us was that he is a cyborg intent on working us tirelessly the whole time we were there. Though Lee was hesitant that it’s taboo for a local to be within a certain radius of touristy spots, he started by taking us to Pat’s King of Steaks for some grub. The cheesesteak (whiz wit) was good, but even better was the show that Pat himself put on by yelling at some customers that nearly forgot their sandwich, and yelling at one of his line cooks for making two of the same sandwich and delaying the process by (gasp) 10 seconds. Another thing I learned about Philadelphians is that yelling at people who wronged you–however slight–is highly encouraged. I was raised in suburban Colorado, where that’s not a regional custom, so, as you can imagine, this was quite an experience for me.
It’s easy to look at craft beer as some sort of underground club, with all of the secret passwords (Reinheitsgebot?) and acronyms (IBU, OG and CO2 to name a few). Plus, you know some particularly beer geeky bottle-shares must have unique and complicated (if not completely dorky) handshakes. But once you get into the world of beer, it isn’t so intimidating. The hardest part is becoming aware that the world of craft beer exists at all. Having a guide already privy to the lingo, hot spots and best brews makes things a lot easier. Nearly every craft beer fan has a good-hearted shepherd to thank for taking the time to expose them to something better, and we want to recognize these people for the good they do. To put it simply, by selflessly guiding people toward the promised land, they make the world a better place. That’s why we’re asking you to take a moment to call them out for their good deeds on social media. Go online and tell us who showed you the light by telling your story and tagging them on Facebook or calling them out on Twitter using #craftbeershepherd. When doing so, take a second and ponder where you would you be without them—perhaps falling for gimmicks like Vortex bottles, black crowns, crafty branding and subsisting solely on American adjunct-laced swill. Praise be to the #craftbeersheperd!
Earlier this year, we solicited questions from our fans about our barrel-aging program, then funneled all of those queries, like fine imperial stout into barrels, to our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. Steve is in charge of our barrels and has a storied vocational lineage that includes many years spent at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and E&J Gallo Winery. Basically, he knows everything. (He’s not a self-proclaimed know-it-all, mind you…we’re the ones getting sublimely self-righteous on his behalf.) One of the many cool things about Steve is that he relishes the opportunity to share info about his specialized line of work. As such, he was happy to tackle our fans’ questions. He tackled so many, that we’re doling out his answers via a four-part series. This, the second installment, covers inquiries about wine and spirit flavors that are trapped in the barrels we use and ultimately lend flavor to the beers we age in those oak vessels.
Even in the exciting brewing industry, starting a new job is a little daunting. Like any job, all the new people and pre-established dynamics can be tough to get a grip on…and then there’s all the work that has to be done on top of that. But add in the hundreds of new people and 18 years of pre-established liquid lore and well-documented ideologies associated with Stone Brewing Co., and it makes for a few abdominal butterflies. Even coming from a smaller but plenty reputable brewing company (well, two, technically, having worked for two brands under one roof, Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey), this was a formidable new career undertaking to say the least. Thank goodness for what may possibly be the best employee orientation in the world—or at least the brewing industry.
Acting as a refreshing wind in an industry formerly dominated by watery lagers, craft breweries quench imbibers’ thirsts while also fueling their minds and imaginations. A stroll through any Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant, Stone Company Store or even our flagship brewery, will turn up Stone-inspired artwork and aesthetic touches ingrained in those facilities’ architecture and design. While our signature style and imagination are highly visible to the public, for the most part, only members of Team Stone get to see the creative pieces designed for us by our fans, many of whom use Stone and our beer as their muses. Luckily for us, many of these artists gift us with their creations, allowing us to populate our venues with collections of fan-made art, ranging from sculptures to skateboards. We cherish their work and generosity, and are happy to share some of the fruits of their inventive labor with you here.
Over the past few years, we’ve gone from dabbling in the oaken arts to a full on wood obsession, stocking up on oak vessels of virgin, French and American heritage, tinged with everything from red and white vino to fortified wines and spirits. The latter have included just about every brand of fire water the mind can conjure. The results of our wide ranging barrel experiments have siphoned out to the beer-drinking public primarily via our Quingenti Millilitre line of brews, and have been well received by our fans (and us) thanks to an incredible depth of flavor that wouldn’t be possible without the woody, charred, vanilla and other flavor nuances imparted by the aging receptacles. Stone and our fans are so enamored with our barrel-aging program that, over the course of 2014, we’re sharing a four-part blog post series taking questions posed by curious Stone fans and including answers from our master of barrels, Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. For this, the first part of that series, he is tackling queries having to do with the imparting of oak flavors. Sit back, relax (enjoy a fine barrel-aged brew if you have one handy) and be prepared to have some serious knowledge dropped.
It’s 7 a.m. on a Friday and stainless steel gleams bright in our dawn-lit Escondido brewery. Packed in behind a 120-barrel Rolec brewhouse is a small, custom-made pilot batch brewery dedicated entirely to recipe formulation and experimentation. Steam begins to billow out, as if from a loud, angry Victorian-era locomotive. The piney, resinous, earthy smell of hops fills the air, and over the course of a morning, a beer is born.