Home Run: Stone Beer at the Ballpark

The lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” evoke memories of sunny days, the scent of fresh-cut grass and the sharp crack of pine making forceful contact with a small, red-stitched orb. There’s nothing quite like baseball season. America’s Pastime stirs the souls and passions of people from all walks of life—young to old, blue collar to white collar, West Coast to East Coast. It also appeals to both craft beer fans and people who don’t give a rip what they swig while they take in the boys of summer, so long as it’s ice cold, triple-hopped, cold-filtered or [insert lame, meaningless macro-beer company's Madison Avenue-developed buzz term here]. For so long, those enthusiastic about quality beer and baseball had to forgo the former when enjoying the latter, which makes us all the happier that, this year, we were able to debut a number of ballpark craft beer options for those seeking ales of substance in our hometown. This is a major accomplishment that comes after many years of hard work and negotiation to gain access to the prestigious Petco Park. Check out our new locations then visit them the next time you take in a San Diego Padres game.

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The most prominent of our ballpark spots is the Stone Brewing TapRoom. Located adjacent to the stadium on the edge of the lush, green Park at the Park, it’s a 4,800 square foot space we spent the first quarter of 2014 converting from a wine bar into a craft beer refuge matching the décor of our industrial-modern Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurants. In many ways, it’s a scaled-down version of the Stone experience (we even have shelves of merchandise including baseball-themed items custom-made for this space), but you can expect the same vibrant flavor Stone beers are known for. A line of 12 taps keep our brews, including special releases, collaboration beers, and even unique casks and small batch creations, flowing.

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Stone Brewing TapRoom’s similarity to our Bistros carries over to the fact they serve up tasty edibles made from farm-fresh ingredients, some of which are harvested from our own Stone Farms. A pizza oven churns out an array of warm flatbreads. And we’re not talking boring pepperoni or Margherita. Our menu includes a spicy Thai curry Jidori chicken flatbread, barbecue duck with pineapple salsa and Stone Levitation Amber Ale BBQ Sauce, Arrogant Bastard Ale smoked pork and cheddar bratwursts with beer cheese, and a potato pie with Stone Farms kale and white sauce, to name a few. Our locally famous hemp seed pretzels and hummus are also available along with salads and a duo of desserts—the Arrogant Bastard Ale brownie Sundae and Stone Smoked Porter beer floats. The full menu is online. Best of all, Stone Brewing TapRoom is open all year long, so a devout love of baseball isn’t a requirement. (Though, during the season, you can see the games broadcast via the exterior Jumbotron on the ballpark’s perimeter—a definite bonus for sports fans!)

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So, we have your pre- and post-game imbibing needs covered (not to mention your entire off-season), but what about during the game? We’re glad you asked. Perched on the fifth floor of Petco Park between Sections 307 and 309 lies an aerial oasis just a footbridge removed from the macro-beer and processed foodstuff (not to mention ALL THAT KETCHUP!) being passed off as sustenance. We finally worked our way into the ballpark, so our fans can now enjoy Stone beers in a palm tree-adorned outdoor beer garden along with a sweeping view of downtown’s East Village and the San Diego Bayfront. It’s a beautiful space in keeping with our motif that even includes a stencil of our logo that fans can take a photo with. We encourage that as well as sharing your photo on social media using the hashtag #ImWithGargoyle.

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In addition to these new Stone-devoted spots, you can also get our beer from carts and craft beer-centric stands located on Petco Park’s concourse leading to field level seating. It’s awesome to see a major San Diego sports venue embracing one of the things that has made our county the focus (and envy) of the rest of the nation. No matter the outcome of the game, nine innings spent watching the Friars now feels like #winning for sure.

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#IMWITHGARGOYLE

Senses Working Overtime: Beer Appreciation 101

You don’t have to be a certified beer judge or Cicerone to know when the taste of a beer strikes your fancy. But pinpointing exactly what you’re experiencing—that mysterious connection between your brain and taste buds—can be tricky. Fortunately, there is a quite enjoyable remedy for this: Taste more beer! But also smell more beer and visually examine more beer. It takes all of one’s senses to thoroughly evaluate ales and lagers. (OK, you don’t need to hear beer, but one can’t deny the anticipatory delight that stems from the sound of a bottle being opened or the sadness brought on by the last gasps of an emptied keg.) Practice makes perfect when it comes to exercising and refining your palate as well as the way you interpret beer’s appearance, scents and flavors. Many reading this have had a lot of practice drinking beer, but read on for a crash course on how to really appreciate it.

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We spend a great deal of time on sensory analysis here at Stone, and encourage fans of good beer to take time out to really get to know the ales and lagers they consume. Take in a beer’s aroma, observe its color and clarity, feel the way it sits on or perhaps coats your tongue and, of course, partake in the all-important taste test. Doing so will help you to appreciate the brew’s charm as well as identify any possible deficiencies. The latter can stem from the brewing process, but there are numerous factors going beyond how a beer is made that can affect the way you experience it. Well maintained equipment, proper storage conditions and serving temperature are all important. In terms of temperature, many complexities will be hidden from one’s palate if the beer is served in frigid condition. Ever had a chilled imperial stout and found it to be pretty one-dimensional at first, only to discover rich overtones and a wealth of varying flavors as you near the last sip. It’s not that the stout’s flavorful compounds have settled in the bottom of the glass—increased temperature allows our taste buds to pick up on a beer’s subtler characteristics.

Let’s start with the sense of sight. What color is the beer when you hold it up to a light? Now, don’t just go with “light” or “dark”—beer covers a wide spectrum of hues ranging from pale gold to reds and near-blackish brown, and even a slight variation from garnet to chestnut can signify a deeper malt flavor. In addition to color, check to see if the beer is hazy or clear. Is the foamy head sparse or thick and fluffy, and what color is it—clear white, tan or cappuccino-toned perhaps? Sometimes a telltale difference in head color can point to a higher alcohol-by-volume (ABV), like the difference between the beige foam atop a glass of Stone Smoked Porter and the mocha-colored head on a snifter of Stone Imperial Russian Stout.

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Like appearance, the importance of aroma is often overlooked in favor of convenience when one drinks right from the bottle or can. I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this. Sometimes the thought of dirtying one more glass causes me to go against my better beer judgment. But the bottom line is if you are trying a beer for the first time, you will never truly taste it until you drink it from a glass. And glassware selection matters! The straight, up-and-down shape of a standard pint glasses allows aromas to escape, while a tulip-shaped glass or snifter captures them for maximum enjoyment. Personally, I like stemless wine glasses, which are great for those who enjoy both beer and wine on a regular basis. Swirling beer in your glass will also help regenerate foam and more fully release aromas. Just don’t go too swirl-crazy or you’ll shake all the carbonation out of the beer (or, even worse, some of the beer out of your glass)! And when you inhale, there’s no need to fill your lungs like you’re coming up out of the ocean for air. Just a quick sniff or two at first is good. While you’re drinking, aromas will also naturally make their way into your nose and mouth, so relax and let it happen.

Aroma is most often talked about with regards to hops, which are responsible for a lot of fruity, botanical elements mirroring the scents of citrus, tropical fruit, grass, pine and flowers. But there’s more to a beer’s olfactory hints than hops. A whiff of alcohol hiding behind that bouquet can point to a high ABV. Fruity or spicy esters produced by yeast, particularly in Belgian beer styles, produce compounds that bring out scents akin to banana and cloves among others. The up-front aroma can color your perception of a beer’s flavor before you even taste it, and even afterwards, as odor compounds can make their way to your olfactory glands through the nasal passages in the back of your throat. That’s part of why craft beer belches can taste like the ale you just enjoyed.

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Identifying aromas can be tricky sometimes, so follow your gut—or rather, your nose. Smelling chocolate in Arrogant Bastard Ale, even though nobody else picks that up or are focused mainly on the beer’s hop character? That doesn’t mean your nose is wrong. There are dozens of odor compounds that can emanate from a beer, and while some will certainly be more prominent than others, picking out the more subtle ones is possible. (Heck, maybe you just have a more advanced sense of smell than the rest of your beer buddies…pretty cool!)

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Now that you’ve stared at your beer and sniffed it within an inch of its life, you should already know a little bit about it before even tasting it (even more if you have a beer menu in front of you telling you the style and ABV). Before going in, remember that the first sip of a beer can comingle with flavors already on your palate from food, other beers, coffee, toothpaste or any of the host of other things that may have preceded this particular brew. The first thing you’ll want to do is sacrifice a small amount of your beverage for the purpose of cleansing your palate. Let the beer coat your tongue. Feel free to pick out any initial flavors at this point, but reserve final judgment for later sips. Pay attention to the texture and body of the beer as well. How lively or absent is the carbonation? Extreme? Inadequate? Just right? Does the beer feel thick and viscous? Sticky? Thin? And what about the finish or aftertaste? There’s a lot to consider, so keep more than just the most overt characteristic—flavor—in mind. Improper levels of carbonation or a strange mouthfeel can make or break an otherwise tasty beer. Too much bubbliness can distract from a beer’s flavors, and not enough bubbles, while fine for cask beers and stronger beers, might not be the best for IPAs.

If all this sounds like a lot of work just to drink a beer, that’s alright. You don’t need to have an internal debate with your senses every time, and it’s perfectly fine if sometimes you just feel like having a non-academic, purely-for-pleasure drink. But if you are truly tasting beer, or trying something for the first time, you owe it to the people who lovingly crafted that beverage—and more importantly, yourself—not to just funnel it down your gullet.

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And while we’re consciously thinking about the feelings of brewers everywhere, remember that when you like or dislike something, it’s your opinion. It’s fine if a particular beer isn’t for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Sometimes keeping an open mind and tasting things outside your comfort zone can make you grow to appreciate them more and more. (And yes, I’m talking to you, guy or gal who drinks nothing but IPAs then blasts barley wines, hefeweizens and witbiers simply because they are nothing like their hop-heavy standby!) But in all seriousness, there are some flavors and scents that never belong in beer. If you detect a buttery taste similar to the foodstuff used to flavor microwave popcorn or a tinny characteristic like what’s found in some canned vegetables, or smell rotten eggs, plastic, wet cardboard or vinegar, that’s bad. Pale ale with essence of Band-Aid strips and Del Monte corn kernels probably wasn’t what the brewer was going for, so let the brewery or bartender know. These are signs of problems that can arise in fermentation, packaging, storage or service.

For those near our Southern California home who would like to receive a crash course in analyzing beer conducted in tandem with a tasting of some of our small batch specialties, we will be conducting one of our educational Beer U courses all about sensory evaluation at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido on July 14. The class will be led by our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez, a long-time veteran of the beer, wine and spirits industry who will break out numerous rarities including Stone Passion Project, a Belgian-style abbey ale aged in wine barrels before being racked onto fresh passion fruit from our very own Stone Farms. Not familiar with the farm? You’re in luck. I just so happen to know of a brilliant blog post stocked with details on that lovely place!

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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The Whole Story: Stone Stochasticity Project

There’s been some major buzz around a new beer lately. Maybe you’ve heard about it…a double IPA infused with a grove’s worth of hand-peeled grapefruit zest. For devout Stone fans (or more casual visitors to our booth at last year’s Great American Beer Festival), the name of this beer—Grapefruit Slam IPA—probably sounded quite familiar. After all, one of the one-offs we received the most compliments on from beer lovers was our Stone Ruination IPA – Grapefruit Slam Edition. Given this, of course, those deeper down the Stone rabbit hole wondered if we were behind this mysterious new Stochasticity Project brand, despite the fact the beer was registered under a different entity, Koochenvagner Brewing Company. We have something to say to those questioners, especially those who were most vocal—thank you.

Happy New Beer: Stone’s 2014 Events Calendar

We don’t have a crystal ball, but no bogus future-telling devices are necessary to assure our fans that the New Year holds much promise and a full slate of fun-filled beer-centric events here at Stone. From some of the country’s most highly anticipated beer festivals to educational session and outright gorge-fests, there’s something for every kind of beer lover, and we’re proud to bring as much variety as we will delicious craft ales and lagers. The following is a breakdown of what we have in store for you in 2014!

74 Beers Ago: Looking Back on 2013

We at Stone count ourselves lucky to have so many fans of what we do and the beers we create. Most of those who’ve tagged along as we forge through this hop-studded journey have taken fandom to new heights. That level of devotion is something we don’t take lightly and work to reward by coming up with new beer recipes and getting those brews into our staunch supporters’ hands and pint glasses. As devotees keeping a watchful eye on us will attest, 2013 was a big year for new Stone brews. But even our most keyed-in fans were probably unaware of just how big. We say this, because after examining 12 months’ worth of brewing schedules, even our jaws dropped to the floor when we discovered that we had delivered 74 new beers outside our not-so-standard standard-issue brews this year. So, join us, won’t you, as we revisit them and other notable Stone happenings from the year that was.

God Bless Us, Everyone: Stone Beer-Infused Holiday Goodness

You can deck the halls with as many boughs of holly as you can get your mittened hands on, but without plates, bowls, baskets and platters of tasty holiday-themed sustenance scattered around your decked out abode, those decorations are bound to be a bit for naught. You can’t eat holly or mistletoe (or at least you shouldn’t), and those candy canes and stale popcorn hanging on the tree just won’t cut the myrrh-infused mustard. What every home needs come December is an array of warming, comforting treats and tidbits that burst with traditional holiday flavors and drive home the yuletide spirit. Never ones to point out a deficiency without providing a potential solution, we have the answer to any home’s lack of goodies in the form of several beer-infused recipes straight from our own Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens kitchens as well as some well-respected craft beer and cooking aficionados. Clear some space in the kitchen, line up those brews and join us in making sure everyone who visits your place over the holidays leaves feeling fuller and a lot more jolly!

A Tale of Three Bastards: Crime, Punishment & Southern Charred

Since 1997, our infamous Arrogant Bastard Ale has been kicking fizzy yellow beer drinkers square in the palate and forcing them to take notice of what good beer really is, forever changing the tastes and habits of the uninitiated and converting them to the culture of craft beer. Such was the instant allure of this mighty brew that the year after it debuted, we crafted an imperialized version and dubbed it Double Bastard Ale. Other iterations followed: a wood-infused take called OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale, as well as a blend of all of the aforementioned members of the Arrogant Bastard Ale family called Lukcy Basartd Ale (no, you didn’t read that wrong, and we didn’t commit an offense against the grammar gods…that’s the way we spell it). All four are cult favorites among craft beer enthusiasts craving exceptional brews with substantial flavor and oomph. This year, that lengthy staying power led us to celebrate the beer by not only conducting our annual November release of Double Bastard Ale, but also reviving two other dastardly Bastard variations and adding an entirely new offspring of this self-assured line to the mix. Get to know all three of this year’s specialties and marvel at their complexity, diversity and awesome ability to continue to engage—and perhaps challenge—even the most stalwart craft beer devotee.

Ego-Boosting Brew: Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the company that produced an unapologetic beer called Arrogant Bastard Ale sees no reason to defend its own self-assured state of mind. We’ve been bullish on the notion of bold, flavorful, artisanally produced beers long before many caught on and began to flock like moths with particularly good taste to an insanely bright and attractive flame. Thanks to our naturally inquisitive and adventurous style of brewing—big hops, big flavor, big wood, etc.—we’ve been ahead of the curve at nearly every turn in the dramatic American craft brewing revolution. So, we’re justified in being pretty pleased with ourselves and our innovative brewed creations. Hence the moniker of our black India pale ale, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.

Peoples’ Choice: Stone #dreambeer

This summer, we posed a simple yet serious question via our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ accounts—If Stone could brew ANY style of beer, what would you, our fans, want? Instantaneously, the interwebs started to buzz with ideas ranging from the outlandish to the ridiculous, straightforward to outrageous, adjunct-laced to style-stickling, best-drunk-fresh to barrel-aged. On Twitter and Google+ we were able to track responses using the #dreambeer hash-tag, which went crazy for the first 24 hours. After collecting all of the ideas that came through, we took some time to catalog them and do a bit of analysis. We discovered some things we already knew, like most of our fans crave IPAs and generally hop-forward beers, but we were surprised to find an overwhelming amount of interest in Stone brewing a hefeweizen or witbier (Not one, but two fans actually requested we bring back Stone Heat-Seeking Wheat?!?!). Actually, one of the coolest things that came out of the Stone #dreambeer experiment was seeing so many of our fans use their opportunity to have us make anything their mind could fathom to bring back beers we’ve already produced. Well, we listened and are bringing back one of our greatest hits!