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.
A beautifully sunny day, 400 people, 30 unique beers on tap and unlimited pours—what might sound like the foundation for a ruckus affair of over-indulgence and belligerence was anything but. In fact, it was one of the tamest event days in the history of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. That’s what happens when you pack the joint with homebrewers and genuine craft beer connoisseurs united in their noble mission to not only taste, but evaluate the merits of each beer for the purpose of selecting a champion to grace store shelves nationwide. Enter Stone’s fifth annual AHA Rally and Homebrew Competition.
Pour yourself a cup of joe and sit a spell as we spin you a tale of a most uncommon India pale ale. Our story begins amid the howling rush of the Windy City at a homebrewing competition dubbed Iron Brew, which was built to showcase Chicagoland’s burgeoning sect of fermentation craftsmen. Such was the quality of this homespun libation melee that it drew a most illustrious panel of judges—acclaimed author and beer evaluator Randy Mosher, co-founder and brewer Jim Ebel of Chicago’s Two Brothers Brewing Company, and our own co-founder and CEO, Greg Koch. Together, the trio sipped, swished and swigged their way to determining a hands-down winner. That beer, a style-bending take on the time-tested IPA, was brewed by a trio of aspiring artisans going by the collective moniker “Aleman.”
Thanks to Stone Enjoy By IPA and our hop-forward brewing style, our brewery is viewed as a vocal proponent of the drink-fresh-beer-now movement. That’s fitting. We believe in that big time—when it’s appropriate. At the same time, we’re not above taking a quality brew (even an IPA) and aging it in oak barrels if we think we can morph that fine ale into an other-worldly, delicious, wine- or spirit-laced concoction. Such is the modus operandi behind our Quingenti Millilitre line of barrel-aged Stone beers.
Even with enthusiasm and knowledge at an all-time high among craft brewing fans, certain styles come across as a bit mysterious to the average beer nerd. Chief among those head-scratchers is barley wine. Is it a wine?—No. Is it a strong ale? –Yes. Is it an old ale?—Well, kinda. Is it delicious?—In the case of Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, absolutely! Ditto a number of versions both European and American (the latter being Anchor Old Foghorn and Rogue Old Crustacean), which led our co-founder and original brewmaster, Steve Wagner, to create his own take on it in 1998. Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine (or O.G. as we refer to it around the brewery) has since gone on to become one of our most happily anticipated annual releases.
When Stone’s co-founder and original brewmaster, Steve Wagner, set out to brew our company’s first beer, he led with his love for the old English standard—pale ale. This was a common style among the small but rising number of American microbreweries at the time; however, Wagner decided early on that Stone Pale Ale would be anything but common.
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!
During last year’s San Diego Beer Week, we conducted an experiment in the name of creativity and good taste, enlisting a dozen of our brewers to craft cask versions of Stone beers, dry-hopping and infusing them with highly flavorful ingredients. Those 12 casks and the brewers were assembled at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens along with a dozen personally monogramed mallets. Then, at the stroke of four post-meridian, the brewers tapped their casks and served them to hordes of thirsty Stone fans.
It was an expanded take on the Stone Brewer’s Cask events we hold each Thursday afternoon at the Bistro and, in addition to being a wildly good time, the event provided a stunning and varied taste of the ingenuity and skill our talented brewers bring to the table. It was far too magnificent to do just once, so we’re turning it into a series of events. The exact frequency has yet to be determined, but we know for sure that the next edition of 12 Brewers, 12 Casks, 12 Mallets will take place 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 6 at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
When Stone co-founder and original brewmaster Steve Wagner crafted our initial batch of Stone IPA, little could he have known that that highly hopped first attempt at amplifying a British classic would become so popular and, for many beer drinkers, an India pale ale by which all future New World interpretations of the style would be judged. For many, Wagner’s bright, potent creation was their first IPA. (Was it yours? If so, let us know on social media using #StoneIPA)
It took just a few short hours after the big keg drop at the Stone New Year’s Celebration for us to get to work planning another big year at our Southern California digs. After a few weeks of scheming, tweaking, revising and fine-tuning, we’re ready to share our entire schedule of momentous events that will come to pass at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens* in 2013! Get out your calendar and prepare to “X” out a great many dates. See you soon!