Shining a Light: Stone Spotlight Series

When a brewing company grows to a certain size, there’s the natural perception that, as said organization’s demand dictates the production of more and more beer, with heightened quantities comes lowered artisanship. Sadly, in the case of numerous big beer operations (we won’t name names—they…and likely you…know who they are already), this is true. But craft beer, by its very nature, is about inventiveness, creativity and…we’ll say it…FUN! Without those, what’s the point of getting into craft brewing in the first place? We don’t know the answer and, in to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.

Nineteen entrants rotated on Stone’s five-barrel pilot brewhouse over the course of several months, brewing test batches of their beer under the supervision of Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. There were no parameters. All we wanted from our brewers was for them to show off the talent and prowess that got them jobs at Stone in the first place. And did they ever prove up to the challenge. Beers of nearly every ilk were submitted, and the majority were made additionally interesting with the edition of exciting new ingredients, some added during the brew, others during fermentation, and others once certain beers had been transferred into barrels for aging. Our teams were given every chance to shine, and shine they did. Enough that we’re sharing every entry with our fans a la proud parents with a wallet full of family photographs. We’re elated over what our brewers dreamed up and, if the smiles on the faces of fans who got to sample these beers during a special event at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido earlier this week are any indication, craft beer fans will be pretty stoked, too.

Oh yeah, we forgot to mention. The winning beer from the Stone Spotlight Series is being brewed and distributed to all of the states and territories where our beer is sold. And the winning brewers will also make their way across the country, dropping in on special events where they get to meet Stone fans and talk about the beer over a pint or two. Given that, looks like we better share the winners with you. Check out the video below for a fun announcement from the competition’s judgment day or, if you just can’t wait (or are watching this work and need to be quick about it…it’s cool, we won’t tell), scroll down for the text-only version.

Coming in March to a craft beer venue near you will be Stone Spotlight Series Spröcketbier, a black rye Kölsch developed by Team Spröcket. That two-man brewing juggernaut consists of QA Supervisor Rick Blankemeier and Production Warehouse Lead Robbie Chandler. Quite yin-yang in the personality department, one is calculating and selective with his words, while the other is free-wheeling, vocal and downright hilarious. We’ll let you figure out which is which in person, but in the meantime, we invite you to get to know them and their beer (mildly roasty on the front end, yet highly drinkable, with a whisp of pleasant yeast presence materializing on the far back end) through their answers to our Stone Spotlight ries questions.

Team Spröcket’s Robbie Chandler fends off Godzilla as partner Rick Blankemeier…um, acts as a human shield. Yes, that sounds better than cowers while envisioning happier days drinking his team’s Stone Spotlight Series-winning brew.

Stone: How did you come up with your beer?

Team Spröcket: Rick had a homebrew recipe for a delicious rye Kölsch, but he wanted to add a Stone-like twist to it. So we turned it black with de-bittered black malt and added more hops.

Stone: Tell us all about the beer.

Team Spröcket: We wanted to make a beer that looked intimidating, but was extremely drinkable and sessionable. The flaked rye adds a spicy note to play with the floral Hersbrucker hops added in the whirlpool. We also wanted to have a lighter beer without it feeling “watery,” so we added Munich malt to add some dextrines and other unfermentables to the mix for a nice light body. We ultimately wanted to brew a beer that we would enjoy—not necessarily a beer we felt could win the competition. We knew whether we won or lost, we’d be drinking a lot of our beer, so we had better like it. That’s why we went low in alcohol, but packed with flavor.

Stone: What was the inspiration behind your team name?

Team Spröcket: We finally had the recipe dialed in to what we wanted, but coming up with a name was a pain. We finally stumbled on the old Saturday Night Live skit, “Sprockets,” starring Mike Myers, and thought the overall theme of the skit was perfect to describe our beer. Plus, it’s hilarious. It was a German-style, but dark. In one skit, Dieter says, “I like that film because it’s dark and depressing.” We took that and turned it around to, “We like it because it’s dark and easy to drink.”

Stone: Why did you team up with each other?

Team Spröcket: We homebrew awesome beers together on a regular basis, so we felt it was appropriate to pair up for the Spotlight competition and rock out a winner.

An early mock-up for Stone Spotlight Series Spröcketbier

Selecting the champion wasn’t easy, and proof of that is offered in the following field of competitors Team Spröcket was narrowly able to beat out. How’s this for varied imagination?

  • Team Marshall Lake: Brewer Andy Marshall & Brewer Reed Miller, American Strong Ale (2nd place winner)
  • Team Storm Brain: Lead Brewer Jeremy Moynier & Senior Beer Release Program Manager Ben Lee, Oatmeal Porter aged in Bourbon Barrels (3rd place winner)
  • Team Awesome: Brewing Supervisor Eric Szaras & Brewer Anthony Tallman, Admiral Fuggle Nuts Imperial Hoppy Brown Ale
  • Team DG and ST: QA Technician Derek Gruter, Float Cream Stout
  • Team Easy Street: Sanitation & Packaging Supervisor Matt Johnson & Senior Bottling Line Technician Roy Knox, Imperial Brown Ale w/Cinnamon Sticks & Toasted Coconut
  • Team Filly Whi$perer$: Small Batch Brewer Casey Harris & Small Batch Brewer Jason Smith, Sour Saison aged in Blush Wine Barrels
  • Team Hopgistics: Brewer Logistics Planner Jessica Gilman & Brewing Supervisor Brandon Winneker, Smokey RyePA
  • Team Jerry: Brewer Zach Goldstein, Bloodstone Brown Barley Wine w/Cherrywood
  • Team Livin’ Large: Brewer Kris Gray, Belgian Quadrupel aged in Bourbon Barrels w/Cherries & Plums
  • Team Livin’ the Dream: Small Batch Brewer Laura Ulrich & Brewer Rob Curnutt, Ghost Ridin’ the Wit
  • Team Mercury: Assistant Brewery Trainer Brian Gallagher & Assistant Brewer Laura Mirsch, Allons-y! Petite Quad
  • Team Palate Pleasers: Brewery Engineering Manager Peter Girten & Waste Water Supervisor Tom Modifica, REDemption Ale
  • Team Pastorianus: Senior Brewer Kyle Carney, How Ya’ Livin’ Black Lager
  • Team #Ratchetsquad: Brewer Rian Van Nordeheim & Brewer Justin Clemente, Biere de Garde w/French Vanilla & Lavender
  • Team Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams: Brewing Supervisor Hollie Stephenson & Microbiologist Technician Eric Jorgenson, Witty & Bitter White IPA
  • Team Thunderdome: Cellar Supervisor Mike Richmond & Brewhouse Supervisor Chris Sartori, Lord Humungous Double IPA
  • Team Unicorn: Brewery Administrative Assistant Jessica Blankemeier & QA Technician Rachelle Wilkerson, Flower Power Unicorn Imperial Lavender Berliner Weisse
  • Team Wingnut: Small Batch Brewer Cecil Menasco & Senior Maintenance Technician Paul deLaurentis, Brother Wingnut’s Belgian Rye Tripel aged in White Wine Barrels w/Lemongrass

Team Storm Brain’s Jeremy Moynier (left) and Ben Lee

Team Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams’ Hollie Stephenson and Eric Jorgenson have each others’ backs

There could only be one winner, but this competition is all about spotlighting our brewers. As such, we interrogated them about their beers and their teams, too. Get to know our talented brew crew and, who knows, it may be one or two of them you’re chatting up in person next time around.

Stone: How did you come up with your beer?

Team #Ratchetsquad (Biere de Garde w/French Vanilla & Lavender): We wanted to use a botanical from Stone’s gardens or Stone Farms, and thought that lavender and vanilla would pair well with a French-style saison. The hops we used were strains that originated in France, as well.

Team Wingnut (Brother Wingnut’s Belgian Rye Tripel aged in White Wine Barrels w/Lemongrass): We wanted to brew a solid tripel with a twist. There was a beer we brewed in 2004 with the help of Peter Zien from AleSmith and Tomme Arthur (at that time) from Pizza Port for the Craft Brewers Conference, a Belgian strong golden ale. That beer had a real nice lemongrass flavor that stayed with the beer the whole way through, so we knew we had to add lemongrass to the brew. We also liked the idea of adding rye to the equation and though it would be fun to match the rye with the lemongrass and the white wine barrel.

Team Hopgistics (Smokey RyePA): We both really love smoked beers. Sometimes, obnoxiously smoked beers. So, we wanted to incorporate smoked malt. We also talked about brewing something with a spicy fruit character, so we used hops to accentuate and highlight those flavors in malt.

Team Filly Whi$perer$ (Sour Saison aged in Blush Wine Barrels): [Jason Smith:]It started out with a dream…a beautiful horse trotted up to me and told me she had a gift. The filly articulated I had been chosen to make the greatest beer known to man, then fed me an apple she said contained the secret beer recipe. I awoke in a flash and began feverishly writing the recipe down, but it wasn’t complete. I hung my head in shame and headed to work, where I saw Casey Harris in the break room agonizing over his recipe for the competition. I told him about my dream and his face turned a pearl shade of white. He told me he had the same dream! We compared notes and found that, together, we had the recipe for the best beer ever to touch the lips of man.

Team Livin’ the Dream: Two of our favorite beers are Allagash White and Hoegaarden, so we took aspects of both and then added our own twist by adding Kaffir lime leaf and blood orange. It turned out to be a light bodied, easy drinking wit that was easily drinkable at under 6% ABV.

Team #Ratchetsquad’s Justin Clemente and Rian Van Nordheim representin’ hardcore

Team Wingnut’s Cecil Menasco (left) and Paul DeLaurentis, bound together by bat sh*t craziness

Stone: Tell us about the beer?

Team Easy Street (Imperial Brown Ale w/Cinnamon Sticks & Toasted Coconut): We wanted to make a good, drinkable beer that had a kick to it. Samoa cookie goodness, toasted oats in the mash, cinnamon sticks at knockout, toasted coconuts in secondary.

Team Mercury (Allons-y! Petite Quad): The beer started as an imperial Oud Bruin, but was neither brown nor sour by the end of the brew day. We had planned to add some post fermentation botanicals, but decided to leave them out when the beer wound up with some amazing, complex flavors. The finished product had varied dried stone fruit and ester flavors that we decided to reclassify it as a petite quad; a beer with all the flavor of a Belgian quadrupel with the alcohol of a dubbel.

Team Unicorn (Flower Power Unicorn Imperial Lavender Berliner Weisse): Well, of course we had to make a “Stone-style” Berliner Weisse, so we increased the alcohol to just over 6% to make it “imperial.” It has more body and a fuller mouthfeel than a traditional Berliner Weisse. We also added quite a bit of aromatic hops, which bring a nice citrus balance to the tartness of the sour and the perfume of the lavender.

Team DG and ST (Float Cream Stout): It’s a beer reminiscent of a classic homebrewed root beer or sarsaparilla; something with a creamy mouthfeel that evokes the experience of a vanilla root beer float.

Team Storm Brain (Oatmeal Porter aged in Bourbon Barrels): The beer has a full mouthfeel from the oats, a grape characteristic from the ops, and rounds out with a nice wood and bourbon finish.

Team Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams (Whitty & Bitter White IPA): The flavor profile we were shooting for—and achieved—was a big citrus and strawberry presence from the Belma and Cascade hops, playing nicely with the hint of banana and clove produced by the phenolics from the Belgian wit strain, while maintaining the hoppiness and bitterness of an IPA. There was a spicy, floral element added by Guinea grains that really tied the whole thing together.

Team Unicorn’s Rachel Wilkerson (left) and Jessica Blankemeier spread the horned wonderhorse spirit with Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez

Team Mercury’s Brian Gallagher and Laura Mirsch doubled up to create a quad

Stone: What was the inspiration behind your team name?

Team Thunderdome: The Road Warrior was our inspiration, more specifically, the Lord Humongous, the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla, the Warrior of the Wasteland. We know that the endless search for the gasoline will at one point come to an end and the aimless wanderers of the desert will be thirsty for Lord Humongous brand double IPA and happier times.

Team Hopgistics: One of us orders hops and the other works in logistics. We mashed them together and Team Hopgistics was born.

Team Storm Brain: We were brainstorming ideas for names and, well, you can figure the rest out.

Team Wingnut: Wingnuts just sounds cool. Also, it has to do with both of us being batsh*t crazy.

Team Hopgistics’s Jessical Gilman cites much respect for teammate Brandon Winneker (and not just because he rocks the ‘Hawks gear daily)

Team Jerry’s Zach Goldstein (right) and kind-of-a-big-deal stand-in Ron Burgundy

Stone: Why did you team up with each other?

Team Livin’ the Dream: [Rob:] I have always been impressed with Laura’s ability to come up with great recipes. She did create Stone Smoked Porter w/Vanilla Bean, after all.

Team Unicorn: We’ve known each other since 2011, when we were a Stone Company Store Lead and Indoctrination Specialist, respectively. We both feel pretty honored to be a part of the Stone Brew Crew now, although we don’t get to brew in our day-to-day jobs. We were excited to get the chance to brew together.

Team Thunderdome: We sit next to each other all day, every day, endlessly fine tuning the daily schedules for the brewing and filtration operations and arguing over who can do it better. Like the Thunderdome: two men enter, one man leaves…except that we are always still bot here, so not really.

Team Jerry: Me and my partner, Joel Sherman (who has since moved on from Stone), were the newest guys on the Brew Crew and wanted to prove that we could make something great.

Team #Ratchetsquad: We needed partners and we are the only people that don’t get on each other’s’ nerves on a constant basis.

Team Easy Street’s Matt Johnson and Roy Knox just make it LOOK easy

The ST of Team DG and ST has moved on, and so has Derek Gruter, employing the brewing and photo enhancing prowess of Tony Stark

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