StoneWall Ale: A Flavor Riot for a Good Cause

Jacob McKean

If you’ve been paying close attention to the beer line-up for the upcoming bonanza that is 2010 Stone Winter Storm, you may have spotted StoneWall Ale on the list—a sighting so rare, some might call it the Jackalope of the craft beer world.

But what is StoneWall Ale, you mumble feebly, humiliated by your ignorance of this arcane bit of Stone history? Were you truly a Level-7 Beer Geek, you’d know that it’s the strongest beer Stone has ever brewed, a 12.2% American Barley Wine that tastes like it was milked from a dragon’s udder…if that dragon ate nothing but malt, hops, hop extract, and Belgian candi sugar…and then let the mix ferment inside its fiery gut almost 4 years ago.

stonewall

The rare StoneWall Ale in all its inscribed glory

OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but the beer is indeed incredible and very hard to come by. Ironically, that’s only the second coolest thing about it. The coolest thing is that it was part of a charity fundraiser we held that raised over $85,000 for local charities.

It worked like this: way back in 2005 when we were building our brewery and gardens in Escondido, we asked our fans to sponsor stones in the wall that connects the inside of our brewery to the patio and bar outside. 472 people stepped up and put their stones in the wall, and aside from the knowledge that they were supporting important local charities, they received bottles of the specially-brewed StoneWall Ale, the bottles of which bore the names of the generous donors.

IMG_4320

The StoneWall during construction of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

That was the one and only time we brewed the mythic StoneWall Ale, but we stashed some in our archives to break out on special occasions, like Winter Storm. In keeping with the spirit in which it was brewed, 100% of the proceeds still go to charity. So go ahead and drink this sweet nectar, knowing that you’re lending a hand while carving yet another notch in your beer geek belt.

Why we use Grass-fed/Grass-finished Beef


When we opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in 2006, we knew we wanted our menu to feature the highest quality ingredients, and beef was no exception. We knew very little about the beef industry, but once we did our homework, we chose grass-fed/grass-finished beef because it’s all-natural, healthy, and most importantly—it’s freakin’ delicious!

In case you’re wondering, there is a difference between grass-fed beef and grass-fed/grass-finished beef. The majority of cattle are grass-fed at some point, but it’s the final months of their lives that really make the difference. Most cattle are shipped to feed lots and fed grain in their final months to fatten them up, which alters their flavor. We predominantly serve beef that has been grass-fed throughout its entire life cycle, hence grass-fed/grass-finished (the one exception is our Prime Rib Melt, which uses all-natural grass-fed/grain-finished Meyer’s beef to achieve a different flavor).

All of our meat, including chicken and fish, is hormone and anti-biotic free, or never-never, as it's called in the industry.

All of our meat, including chicken and fish, is hormone and anti-biotic free (or never-never as it's called in the industry).

Today, grass-fed/grass-finished beef could draw similarities to the earlier days of craft beer. There were folks that wanted it, but distributors and retailers often felt there wasn’t sufficient demand to make it available. “Grass-fed/grass-finished was an item we were looking into anyway because of the recent industry leaning towards more naturally raised beef,” said Jonathan Sachs from Hamilton Meats, “but there was no interest from any of our current clients to justify offering the product.”

That was about to change, as consumers and restaurants became interested in grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Together with three other local restaurants, including our good friend Jay Porter, proprietor of The Linkery in North Park, we were able to raise demand enough for Hamilton Meats to offer grass-fed/grass-finished beef.

Red Buffalo Ranch, home to Tallgrass Beef's grass-fed/grass-finished cattle

Red Buffalo Ranch, "the home and genesis" of Tallgrass Beef

Most of our beef now comes from verdant pastures thanks to Tallgrass Beef, a company dedicated to all-natural, great-tasting grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Their cattle live stress-free, roaming freely and eating lush natural grasses throughout their lives. Brad Schoenberg, Vice President of Sales & Business Development at Tallgrass Beef, gave us the rundown on why grass-fed/grass-finished is a good way to go:

“The most important thing that people should know about grass-fed/grass-finished is that it is good for the animal…but the health and nutritional benefit for us is the real key. Tallgrass Beef contains a higher level of omega 3′s, high levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acids (an anti-carcinogen), and is lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.”

Brad poses an interesting question—“Can you imagine your doctor telling you to eat more beef?” While it may be difficult to imagine a medical professional advocating increased consumption of beef, it’s not difficult to imagine your tongue advocating increased consumption of grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Sure it’s healthy and at the top of the ethical and environmental scales, but just as important–it’s damn good.

- Matt Steele

Save 30% on your electric bill for only $2,600,000!


For eons the sun has perched brightly in the sky casting nurturing rays of light, heating our quaint little blue globe and making life possible. But every once in a while, we begrudge our beloved burning ball of gas for ruining the one thing many of us love most in life—BEER.

Yes it’s true; UV light can skunk even the stoutest beers. Most astute brewers and beer drinkers are well aware of this, and take preventative measures to reduce the amount of light that penetrates their beer. If you’ve taken one of our brewery tours, you’ve no doubt heard us lambaste the ill effects of UV light on beer, making a point to mention that, unlike some breweries, we use dark brown bottles to counter this effect. While we do safeguard our beer against UV light, we actually embrace light (specifically sunlight) in another, more practical way. How’s that? Two words: Solar Array.

Our 276.9-kilowatt AC Photovaltaic Solar Array. Beautiful, huh?

Back in February 2008 we had a 276.9-kilowatt AC photovoltaic solar panel system installed on the roof of our building. The $2.6 million dollar system includes 1,561 200-Watt Photo-Voltaic Modules, and produces about 30% of our brewery’s total electricity.

Rob Marshal

Although our system has a 331-kilowatt capacity, the amount of energy generated varies day to day, depending heavily on weather patterns and the amount of dirt build-up on the panels. Even with these minor limitations, our solar panels generate an impressive amount of energy. Rob Marshal, our IT Analyst, keeps track of our solar array data, and he provided me with all the juicy numbers.

Construction on our solar panels completed in May 2008, but they weren’t operational until June 2008, and they weren’t fully online until September 2008. With that in mind, our solar panels generated 243,393 kWh (Kilowatt Hours) of energy in all of 2008. The panels have generated a grand total of 316,146 kWh over the past six months.

A screen shot from Rob's computer.

The most power that our solar panels have ever generated in one day is 1,739 kWh. That was back on September 2, 2008, an arguably sunny day. To give you some perspective, at that rate we could generate 10,656 kWh in one week, which would power the average American household for an entire year. Even more impressive, our panels generated 95,390 kWh during the entire month of September, 2008. On the other hand, cloudier, drearier months like February see a drastic dip in energy production. The panels generated 29,680 kWh in February, averaging only 1,060 kWh a day. This is a direct result of meager sunlight and dirt buildup over the lifespan of the panels.

Less stellar numbers for a gloomy San Diego February

Less stellar numbers for a gloomy February in San Diego

While solar power can be incredibly effective, it isn’t exactly the infallible cure-all for our planet’s energy woes. As mentioned earlier, it’s overly dependent upon clear weather, and dirt buildup is problematic. Not only is it time-consuming and costly to clean the panels, but the run-off doesn’t meet storm drainage standards, and we’re still working on a solution to this environmental catch 22. As you know, going solar requires a significant initial investment that may not start paying off for many years. In our case, we won’t start reaping the benefits for about 6-8 years. However, we’ve decided that the long-term benefits will far outweigh the initial cost.

According to Hamann Construction, our system is one of the largest in the state, placing in the top 12% of solar systems in California, but we’re not the only brewery rectifying the once rocky relationship between beer and the sun. Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California, recently installed a 1.3-megawatt solar power system which provides about 34% of their brewery’s power.

As our industry continues to battle the dangers of dirty energy, breweries are exploring options beyond solar power to reduce their carbon footprint. Harpoon Brewery in Boston, for example, is taking advantage of the trend among utility companies to pay breweries for relieving stress on their grid by using less power. Making such seemingly minor changes as using more efficient light bulbs and installing light reflecting mirrors has saved them money and lifted some of the burden off of their local utility company. Measures like this, along with a myriad of government incentive programs, are making clean energy more attainable for small breweries.

Of course, we had our fair share of help. Harnessing the power of the sun wouldn’t be possible without assistance from a few upstanding organizations. The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), a government program that offers incentives to homes and businesses for going solar, facilitated our participation in the California Solar Initiative (CSI), which was pivotal in assuring the financial feasibility of the project. Bank of America, with their innovative financing for green energy projects also played a crucial role. Lastly, our contractors Borrego Solar Systems, Inc. and Hamann Construction both did a fantastic job, and we’re very satisfied with the end result.

Our push for clean energy represents another step towards sustainable design, which was our goal from the beginning. Our solar array, along with other conservation initiatives at our brewery and restaurant, helps us make great beer with minimal impact on the environment. Thankfully, we’re not alone. We’re proud to be part of an industry that is leading the charge for sustainable energy and environmentally responsible business practices.

-Matt Steele

Bistro Feedback – We Get All Kinds…Even Some Good


We get a lot of feedback of all sorts. We respond to 99% of it. I don’t have the opportunity to do that much of the responding…trying to do my job and all of helping Steve to run the company…but from time to time I do get the chance to have a bit of a dialog. Often, the ones that come to me are the ones that deal with the philosophies and menu choices that we have for the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Since I was the main driver behind the menu and philosophies, sometimes I’m the best to respond. So, when I can, I do.

This is one such short email thread that I thought I’d share.  It has some similarities to other email conversations, so it seemed relevant.

Cheers!

Greg

From: Rod M. Sent: Tue 2/10/2009 9:44 AM
To: Greg Koch
Cc: Frank Busic
Subject: RE: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
View As Web Page
From: Rod M.
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 3:50 PM
To: Stone Brewing
Subject:

Had lunch today at your brewery, and as always enjoyed the beer.

That said, the food is over priced and the portions are too small. I suppose if you served normal food portions, the price might be about right. Whereas we do understand the concept of keeping out the riff raff by charging high prices, beer drinking is for the working classes also.

The thought of serving a $5.99 cheese burger lunch might send chills up your spine, but you may even get more people to show up. The dining room was 2/3 empty while we were there. I am just a dirt archaeologist, so what do I know about business (especially in today’s economic climate).

Rod


From: Greg Koch [mailto:greg.koch@stonebrew.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 8:42 AM
To: Rod M.
Subject: RE: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

Rod, Thanks much for the feedback. It’s much appreciated. If you don’t mind, I’ll respond with an equally straightforward response.

First off, glad that you enjoy our beer. We know that it’s quite a bit more expensive than the generic industrial alternatives, and that you’re among the relatively small percentage of people who appreciate it and are willing to pay for something better. The truth is that most don’t ‘get’ specialty beers, and don’t see the value in them. However, that fact is changing and more and more people are getting turned on to the “affordable luxury” that great craft beer represents.

Regarding the prices of our food, I can assure you that it is not overpriced. A bold statement perhaps, but I can explain. I make that statement based upon the fact that our food cost percentages tend to skew higher than is typical in the restaurant business. In other words, the cost of our raw ingredients makes up a higher percentage of the cost of the finished plate than what the restaurant business considers is the right percentage. Most restaurants’ profitability on a plate of food is higher than ours. Why? Because the ingredients we buy cost significantly more than typical commodity foodstuffs.

You see, when we decided to build the restaurant and have folks over to our house (that’s how I see it…you’re an honored guest that is coming into our home, the brewery), I felt that I should research food and the food system. So I did. I read introductory level tomes such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and then moved on to more weighty books such as Food Politics, and The Ethics Of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.

What I learned was not pretty. True, I had long been on the side of the Slow Food movement http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ but I will admit that I did not know the full depth that is the travesty of our food system in the United States. And I do not use the word “travesty” lightly.

In short, I came to the realization that we could not in good conscience participate in the commodity food system. Pre-processed foods? No. High fructose corn syrup? We enacted a complete ban. Factory meats? No way! Tasteless veggies that travel countless miles to get here? Absolutely not. Instead, we opted to prepare everything from scratch in our kitchen, source out higher quality ingredients, use all-natural meats and source our produce from local, small organic farmers.

The sad fact is that once you step outside of the industrialized food system, costs skyrocket dramatically. However, we believe that the value is indeed there.

The percentage of income that we spent on food has gone down dramatically in recent years, as illustrated in this pdf: http://www.ilfb2.org/fff06/51.pdf This otherwise generic article on the subject is especially relevant as a result of the three “comments” posted by readers at the end of it: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/july192006/food_prices_71906.php Conversely, the cost of our health care has skyrocketed. In fact it’s flip flopped with food costs since 1960. What we used to spend on food, we now spend on health care.

That there’s a connection between the health of our food, and the health of our population and planet is not a terribly new line of thought. However, most of our populace still seems to either not recognize this, or not want to recognize this. Yet, there is light. There are growing movements that are seeking to reverse the decline of the health of our people and our planet.

Please know that our philosophies are not geared towards “keeping out the riff raff.” While I might admit that a lower “riff raff” quotient might be overall desirable (it’s no secret that we’re not an establishment that caters to drunkards or hooligans), our goal has always been to do what we feel is right.

You are correct that the thought of a $6.99 hamburger does indeed send a chill up my spine, but not for the reason that you may have thought. The true reason would be the slashing and burning of our food philosophy and ethics that would be required to get there. I just won’t do that to our guests.

When you came yesterday, you may have noticed that you arrived on a day of torrential downpour. As you may know, Southern Californians are wholly unprepared and uncomfortable with rain events, and especially with blustery ones. Yesterday was especially blustery. It did indeed affect our lunch business yesterday. The modest crowd would be attributed to the fact that it was the Monday before Valentines (the restaurant business often takes a slight dip before and after major dining occasions such as Valentines, New Years, Mothers Day, etc.), and raining cats and dogs.

I am happy to report that our restaurant business went up by 20% in 2008, vs. 2007. Business remains solid in the early part of 2009. While not everyone ‘gets’ — or heck, even likes — what we do, there is indeed a significant number of people who are voting with their fork and dollar, and coming. And coming often.

My apologies for the long response, but as I felt that your concerns were quite understandable, I thought you deserved to know our perspectives.

In closing, I’d like to ask you to view the Food Declaration http://fooddeclaration.org/ when you get a chance. Hopefully, you’ll consider signing it and passing on the word. The health of our nation depends on it!

Cheers,

Greg

——-

Greg Koch, CEO
Stone Brewing Co.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
1999 Citracado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029
760.471.4999 x1102


From: Rod M.

Mr. Koch,

Thank you for your response. I respect your enthusiasm and passion. Perhaps
more importantly, I like your beer. And, I get it. Healthy food, healthy
people, healthy planet. Some of us support the farmer’s market every Sunday
morning, and buy everything available that is organically produced. By the
way, in reading the food declaration attachment I did not read in the 12
principles a specific advocation for foods that are organically produced
(and are pesticide free).

In the meantime, the baby back ribs and cheese soup we ordered, while made
from scratch and from (and in support of) local farmer resources, would
cause my doctor to give me a severe reprimand based on the saturated fat
content. But perhaps that is all I was saying, once in a while we need a fun
break, and do the things we are not supposed to do while having a craft brew
— at an affordable price. It cost the two us $55 for lunch with tip,
including two tasters and two 8 oz beers. Our lunch would be defined as a
large bowl of soup, a scoop of hummus (we shared), and the smallest baby
back ribs I have seen in my entire life. I recommend that you have the staff
inform “guests” up front that there is a charge for every taster and not
just state that yes we will happily give you a taste of any beer you want.
We live AND learn.

The upshot is that we cannot afford lunch at the brewery on a regular basis.
Perhaps we will just drink and skip the food? Thank you again for your
reply.

Rod

PS- I am sincerely happy for you that business for Stone continues to go up.

Taking "Locavore" to the Next Level

Click to view the menu, make reservations, and get more information

Click to view the menu, make reservations, and get more information

Matt Steele
Growing up in this culture doesn’t exactly foster an appreciation for the word “fresh.” As a kid, I thought fresh meant “fresh out of the microwave,” or “fresh from the fast food window.” I grew up thinking that TV dinners, Hot Pockets, and quadruple cheeseburgers were perfectly acceptable forms of sustenance. I expected the ingredients in my food to have no less than eighteen syllables in their names, and to only be pronounceable by the highly learned. I also thought that, much like cockroaches, food should be able to survive the apocalypse (thanks to the complex cocktail of chemical preservatives graciously injected into it by men in white lab coats thousands of miles away).

I don’t blame my parents for raising me on less-than-fresh food. It was their only option for feeding three voracious boys in a fast-paced culture addicted to cheap, hastily-prepared, chemically-treated food. Thankfully, we are witnessing a slight shift in our culture’s perception of food, as it slowly changes to favor more natural and sustainable consumption habits, but we still have a long way to go. That’s why we started the FRESH! Dinner series.

Our FRESH! Dinners offer something that many Americans have absolutely no concept of: a meal in which all ingredients are picked, gathered, caught, and killed the very day they are consumed. That means no Hot Pockets, and no men in lab coats.

Executive Chef Alex Carballo, mastermind behind the FRESH! Menu

Executive Chef Alex Carballo, mastermind behind the FRESH! Menu

The upcoming FRESH! Dinner on February 2nd will be a “locavore’s” dream. Executive Chef Alex Carballo (creative mastermind behind the FRESH! Menu) and his team will rise at the crack of dawn to hit the sunny fields of San Diego. They will be on the prowl for only the freshest, untouched ingredients from local organic farms and markets. The menu* will include delights such as Roasted Baby Beets and Mixed Greens Salad with a Mandarin Vinaigrette, Spinach Ravioli with Mushroom Filling in a Light Herb Sauce, Braised Fennel, Honey Glazed Baby Carrots, and Braised Seasonal Greens. There will also be a fish or chicken course, depending on which is fresher of course! The ingredients will be procured from local farms ranging from Crows Pass Farm in Temecula to La Milpa Organica in Escondido and Eben-Haezer Egg Ranch in Ramona.

*Disclaimer: Since this isn’t a laboratory or an assembly line, the menu will be subject to change. Things may not go (or grow) according to plan, and our talented team will use their creativity to adapt to the whims of bountiful mother nature.

The mix and mingle portion of the dinner (6:00-6:00pm) will feature Red Sea Urchin, available Sashimi style or as a shooter served with fresh Stone beer that will be bottled or kegged that same day. The Sea Urchin (Uni) will also come complete with a demonstration from the local harvester, Chef Gordon Smith. After the mix and mingle, guests will be seated family-style in the Mezzanine of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to indulge in multiple courses of pristine natural sustenance.

Eben-Haezer Chicken Ranch in Escondido, CA, where the chickens roam free!

Eben-Haezer Poultry Ranch in Escondido, CA, where the chickens roam free!

Hot Pocket connoisseurs beware, the FRESH! Dinner is not for you. You may want to stay home in the comfy butt-groove of your couch, clutching your stale microwavable delicacy safely within your comfort zone. However, those of you willing to experience a delicious meal straight from the earth to the table, make your reservations now. We’ll prove to you just how FRESH! a meal can be.

Click here to view the tentative menu, make reservations, and get additional information.

-Matt Steele

Big Fat Cans and Helping Hands

Mike Palmer
Each year we put out the word to “Drag your big fat cans over to Stone!” for our annual collection for the North County Food Bank. This time we had the fun idea to give a little incentive for your good deeds: If you manage to fill the food collection bucket to the top, we pull out a rare keg from our archive for growler fills. We put out the word right before Thanksgiving, and the response has been phenomenal. In particular, today has been astonishing.

Between Team Stone and Stone Fans, we filled three big buckets past the top as of last week. The third bucket was sitting in the hall of our offices spilling over on the floor this morning with the fourth bucket barely filled in the Stone Company Store. Matt Steele called the good folks at the North County Food Bank to come and pick up the third bucket, and they were excited by the “beautiful!” news. Well, they’ll get the sweet surprise of having to lug away twice what they were expecting! That’s right, over the past six hours Stone Fans filled the fourth bucket, which means Erick Gordon in the store just put on a keg of Alesmith/Mikkeller/Stone Belgian Style Triple Ale.

This is by far the best turn out we’ve had from any year, and I’m excited to see how much we’ll have collected by New Year’s Day. I’m always moved by the show of support we get from our charity fund raisers and even in these troubled times your goodwill (clearly illustrated by the food buckets) is overflowing.

Cheers to all you folks for showing what a great bunch of Beer-Drinking-Humanitarians we all are. So keep dragging your big fat cans over to Stone, and have a Merry Christmas!

-Mike Palmer