Barrel Aging, Part 4: Brewing Beers for Barrels

Over the past year, our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez has fielded questions from curious beer fans and homebrewers on the topic of barrel-aging and Stone’s wood program. In addition to one last batch of his responses, we’re also offering up a cool video spotlighting our Small Batch Brewing Team. They are passionate people with a wealth of experience that, as exemplified by this four-part blog series, is as refined as the beers their expert techniques produce. Get a glimpse of what makes these folks so awesome then take in one last burst of barrel-aging knowledge.

Stone fan Kyle Tucker asks: Stone tends to focus on higher ABV ales, IPAs, double IPAs, etc. Generally, barrel-aging is great for sour beers and stouts. What kind of results would be had from barrel-aging an IPA (which is generally better fresh), and would it be an option for your guys to have a barrel-aged Stone Ruination IPA, for example?

We aged Stone Ruination IPA in Bourbon barrels and released it as Batch 06 of our 2013 Quingenti Millilitre series. It was Batch 06 of the 2013 series. It was really good, but we probably won’t do it again. All that hoppiness was a little more muted than fresh Stone Ruination IPA, but still present in that beer. It was aged for a very long 16 months. We experimented with the idea of dry-hopping it or blending fresh Stone Ruination IPA into it, but in the end, we decided it was better without any help. We have done very small-scale experiments with Stone Cali-Belgique IPA and Stone IPA aged in Bourbon barrels also. I didn’t care for them, personally, and we won’t be moving forward with that again.

The two of our IPAs that are amazing in barrels are Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA aged in rye whiskey barrels and Stone Cali-Belgique IPA aged in red or white wine barrels. The SSRA had all that awesome orange and chocolate flavor combined with spice and vanilla from the spirt barrel. It was so good, we bottled it as Stygian Descent, Batch 01 of our 2014 Quingenti Millilitre series. I would like to try aging that beer in Bourbon barrels at some point and potentially try it in red wine barrels. It could work. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA in wine barrels is amazing. The Belgian yeast combined with native micro-flora from the barrel enhances the spiciness and fruitiness of that beer. The piney character of the hops in the beer melds with the fruit flavors and bitter tannin of the wine barrel to become something deliciously different.

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Stone fan Michael Piorunski asks: Have you made an “all-California” barrel-aged beer with California malt, hops, yeast, water and oak?

I haven’t considered doing that. We do use a lot of local ingredients and, certainly, California has a ton of wine barrel coopers, but malt might be tricky to get. We did make a beer called Stone Passion Project that was made with passion fruit from our own Stone Farms. That was a really cool and fun barrel-aged beer with local ingredients. The malt and hops were mostly Continental European, but the barrels were all from California wineries.

Stone fan Mike Upson asks: I have it on good authority that there is a Bourbon barrel filled with StoneWall Ale continuing to age at your facility. Is that true?

If there is, I haven’t seen it! We don’t age very many of our beers for that long. The current record is 26 months. Maybe at some point in the future, we’ll lay something down for an extended aging period as a sort of “liquid time capsule,” but for now, we’re not doing that. StoneWall Ale is now over its peak. It is still a pretty tasty beer, but if you have any left, I would recommend not saving it any longer.

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Stone fan Tim Oyer asks: Is it possible to buy used barrels from Stone to use for homebrews? I’d kill to have a barrel from Crime or Punishment for my own attempt at a spicy treat!

We do not typically sell them. Once we are done with our barrels, we convert most of them into really cool chairs and benches for our Stone Company Stores, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurants and Stone Farms. We did add some beer to a used Crime (Lukcy Basartd Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels with incredibly spicy peppers added) barrel, though. Boy, it was still hot! Even with just that 3% remnant of Crime locked in the wood. I really liked it.

Cream of the Crop: 2014 Hop Selection

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.

Barrel Aging Part III: What the Funk?

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?

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The Thrilling Adventures of Team Spröcket: Part II

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.

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The Thrilling Adventures of Team Spröcket: Part I

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.

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Follow the Leader: Who Was Your #CraftBeerShepherd?

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!

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Barrel Aging Part II: Original Wine & Spirit Flavors

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.

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All Aboard: Team Stone Orientation

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.

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Arts & Drafts: Stone’s Fan-Made Gallery

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.

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Barrel Aging, Part I: Oak Flavors

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.

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