The relationship between good drink and social spirit is clear to just about anyone who has ever attended a worthwhile gathering. Whether at a casual picnic or a formal banquet, the good host knows the irreplaceable value of libation in bringing people closer together. Perhaps less obvious, but no less important, is the role that togetherness plays with creating our favorite of all amenities: Craft Beer. Visit a brewery, if you haven’t already, and see for yourself. Brewers, pub owners, and fans from all over San Diego and beyond appear to feel an affinity for one another, and if there’s a sense of competition it comes from dedication to excellence rather than domination. It is in celebration of this community spirit and the fruits of our collective loves and labors that Stone has teamed up with Jolly Pumpkin and Nøgne-Ø to create the first Holiday beer ever to come from our brew house.
Our tale begins this past march in a bar in Tokyo, where our own Greg Koch had a chance encounter with Kjetil Jikiun, the owner and head brewer of Norwegian craft brewery (the name translates to Naked Island.) The two hit it off, and when they met again at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Greg managed to wrangle an invitation to visit Kjetil’s brewery. Greg had a blast in Norway and formed a friendship that soon gave rise to a desire for some kind of collaboration. Greg suggested teaming up with the adventurous Michigan brewery Jolly Pumpkin (specifically, with head brewer and haiku master Ron Jefferies,) and the Triad was thusly formed.
Our head brewer Mitch Steele found some time to fill me in on his part of the story. He grinned while relating his experience with Kjetil (friendly, open, excellent language skills) and Ron (more reserved, always eager to experiment)
“We knew [this beer] would take a long time to plan… because we had to do it with E-mail”
Not too long ago Stone collaborated with Mikeller and Alesmith to create a Belgian Trippel style ale, but this time there would be no set style, and, therefore, no guidelines to follow. Designing a beer from the ground up is no simple matter, and having three designers in three different time zones doesn’t make it any easier. It does, however, make for an interesting brew. Here’s an excerpt from what Mitch wrote for the back of the bottle:
“We quickly decided to try and use one indigenous ingredient from each of our brewing regions, Southern California White Sage, Juniper Berries (we couldn’t get Norwegian, unfortunately, so we used Italian Juniper Berries, at least they are from the same continent), and (mostly) Michigan Chestnuts. Kjetil suggested brewing with rye malt and Ron suggested adding some caraway to complement the rye, so we decided to brew a full bodied, spiced ale with 25% rye malt.”
Two test batches were cooked up in advance for sampling and adjustments the afternoon before Brew day. After comparing notes and coming to a consensus, Mitch, Ron, and Kjetil joined an informal dinner in the Bistro where some Team Stone crew, local fans, and home brewers were able to try both beers and get to share beers and food with the brew masters. Guests were encouraged to bring their own creations along with beers from the guest breweries to share, which they did! Greg pulled out a generous amount from his Nøgne-Ø stash that he had brought back from his trip and everyone was glad to share in it.
The next day saw no lack of community spirit as celebration gave way to shared efforts and hardships. Rye malt is notoriously difficult to work with. Mitch continued to smile while he described how one stage of the process became (almost) hopelessly stuck. “Ordinarily two batches would take about thirteen hours. These two took more than thirty… They wouldn’t lauter… We tried every trick I knew of.” Another Stone Brewer, Jeremy Moynier, had the honor of being called in at 3am to participate in the debacle. He relates:
“seriously, although it was a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong day, the spices, chestnuts, and sage that we added made the brew fun to do and it was also very cool talking to those guys. It’s always fun and educational to talk to other brewers. Tasting the beers during fermentation and recently in taste panel….very impressive. These came out complex and the spices are intriguing (it’s amazing how just a little sage goes a long way). I think people will dig this beer!”
I think so, too. I was lucky enough to sample this unique brew right out of our filter, and though not yet fully carbonated it blew me away. I wouldn’t want to taint your expectations with my own humble impression, suffice to say the elements all really came together on this one.
Our production crew has been awaiting a shipment of glass so they can start bottling, and I heard the machinery spring into action as I finished up these last few sentences. We’ll be rushing bottles to the Stone Company Store cooler, and you’ll be able to stop by and pick some up on Friday, November 21st (that’s tomorrow!) and we’ll be distributing limited amounts to AZ, MA, CA, OH, WA, OR, CO, VA, MI and NY on Monday. Happy Holidays, indeed!
One last note: I’ve been informed that we’re still awaiting formal approval to distribute this beer in Washington and Virginia. We expect to get it any day now, so hopefully folks in these states will be able to get some within the next few weeks.
- Matt Steirnagle
Greg’s vBlog from his trip to Norway
Photo gallery of Ron and Kjetil’s visit