Our Beer Gardens…Literally


If you’ve been to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, you’ve probably noticed that we have an entire acre of completely organic, fully sustainable Gardens attached to the Bistro. Some refer to them as our “Beer Gardens,” not knowing just how accurate that label really is. Truth is, we maintain our Gardens using by-products from the brewing process, resulting in real honest to goodness “Beer Gardens.”

Maintaining such a large expanse of Gardens is no easy task. So how do we do it? Meet Chili, Stone’s resident botanical wizard, and the keeper of our beautiful Gardens (he earned his nickname because he grows chilies and likes his food HOT). By reusing by-products from our Brewery and Bistro, and utilizing a few clever gardening techniques, Chili maintains our Gardens using nothing but what Mother Nature provides.

The man behind our Gardens

The man behind our Gardens

I recently caught up with Chili in his natural environment, which he lovingly refers to as his “cage.” While it’s true it isn’t exactly a window office, his “cage” is actually a fenced-off, covered storage area wedged between the Gardens and the Bistro kitchen where he keeps his desk and all of his gardening tools. Despite the jokes, Chili is quite fond of his decidedly unconventional office, and I get the sense that he prefers it to a view of Fifth Avenue. Actually, the real reason we keep Chili in a cage is to contain his unbridled passion for gardening (I apologize for that one, I couldn’t resist).

Chili working hard in his "cage"

Chili hard at work in his "cage"

I stopped by just as Chili was preparing to plant a few early yield tomatoes, and he was kind enough to share some of his secrets with me. He explained that the most important step in maintaining a healthy perma-culture is mixing the proper soil. He then divulged his secret recipe:

Chili’s Spent Grain Topsoil Recipe

Ingredients:
- 2 shovels of spent grain from the Brewery
- 2 shovels of decomposed granite (Escondido’s natural topsoil)
- 2 shovels of vegetable compost from the Bistro kitchen
- A few handfuls of nicely aged mulch from the chipper

Directions:
Combine two shovels of spent grain and two shovels of decomposed granite in a large bucket. The spent grain should contain little green specks from the hops used in the brewing process, and be slightly damp from the remnant wort (notice the desirable beery fragrance). The decomposed granite should be brown in color and have a moist dirt-like consistency. Mix together thoroughly. Add two shovels of vegetable compost from the Bistro kitchen. Make sure there is plenty of insect and worm life in the compost, and that it has a fresh earthy smell. This indicates an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Mix thoroughly with the spent grain and decomposed granite until mixture is consistent. Add a few handfuls of aged mulch (the mulch consists of fallen branches, twigs and leaves from the Gardens that have been fed through the chipper and aged in large barrels), blend thoroughly and voila! Once the topsoil is nicely mixed, it’s time to plant. Chili recommends filling the bottom of the chosen pot with gravel for drainage, and surrounding the fledgling plant with the fresh soil mix up to the first few branches. Then top it off with a bit of aged mulch, lightly water it, and watch it thrive. Once the roots have grown deep and strong, delicately transplant it to its final destination. In this case, the final destination for our vigorous little tomatoes is the Southeast nook of our Gardens (on the bank next to the gazebo/lounge/peat gravel area), where we keep a variety of seasonal vegetables. Check out a map of everything we have growing in our Gardens.

Chili’s proprietary (patent pending) soil blend works wonders in our Gardens, contributing to a fruitful year-round harvest. We’ve also noticed it makes the food taste better, due to the proliferation of essential micro-nutrients that petrochemical fertilized foods lack.

When I asked Chili why he uses spent grain from the brewery in his soil recipe instead of another fertilizer, he responded with a straight-faced “because it’s there.” I promptly reminded him that gardening is no laughing matter, and he gave me the real reason. Apparently the spent grain flourishes in the soil, creating an abundance of microbial activity and general liveliness. Chili also emphasized that it’s time proven. He’s been using spent grain since his days as a gardener at Pizza Port, and it’s worked wonders time and again.

Chili procuring spent grain from the Brewery

Chili gathering spent grain from the Brewery

Spent grain isn’t the only brewing by-product that Chili recycles. He also snatches up the used oak chips that we use to brew OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale. These lovely, odoriferous chips not only have a beautiful deep silky brown color, but they retain their alluring bourbony smell for about a week. Chili puts them to use as a decorative top layer, propagating the pleasing smell and thick brown sheen of OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale throughout our Gardens. Their purpose isn’t solely decorative, however, as their acidity helps neutralize the alkaline properties of the decomposed granite that makes up our natural topsoil.

The fragrant Oak chips used to brew OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale

The fragrant Oak chips used to brew OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale

Our Gardens are proof that sustainable gardening works. Aside from the occasional use of manure, Chili procures everything he needs for the Gardens here at the Brewery. He takes what would normally be discarded and sent to a landfill and re-uses it to create a vibrant, flourishing perma-culture. So the next time you see Chili sipping on an after shift beer or tending to the Gardens, be sure to raise him a glass on a job well done.

If you want to learn more about our Gardens, the plants therein, and lessons that could translate to your own garden, join us for “A Stroll Through the Gardens with Nan Sterman” on March 15th from 1-3pm. Nan is a popular speaker at garden shows, botanical gardens, garden clubs, and botanical societies throughout the State, and she’ll provide insight into how we “created an imaginative garden from an ugly, hole-in-the-ground sedimentation basin.”

-Matt Steele

Check out the flickr set: Gardening Stone-style with Chili

A Stroll Through the Gardens with Nan Sterman

Click for more information about this upcoming event

Brewing Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

Our seventh version of the Vertical Epic series was inspired by some of the wonderful Belgian beers that Steve and I tasted during our trips to Europe to brew “Stone California Double IPA” at the Shepherd-Neame brewery in Kent, England. This ale was served at the J.D. Wetherspoons pub chain during their International Real Ale Fest in March of 2008, and was great to brew and a very fun project, but that’s another story.

Brussels is about a 2 hour train ride from London (going through the “Chunnel”) so one weekend while we were in England, we decided to shift gears from our steady diet of cask-conditioned English Ales and make the quick trip to Belgium. We had many great beers during the 2 day visit, as well as nice tours of Palm Brewery and Cantillon. And don’t ever miss the Belga Café in Brussels-the hand pumped Boon Gueuze was unbelievable! One of the best beers we had was a rare bottle given to us by Glenn Payne, one of our companions for the trip. We brought this bottle of Duvel Triple Hop back to Escondido with us and Steve and I tasted it with Greg and John Egan, and pretty much decided right then and there to brew a hoppy Belgian Golden for our 2008 Epic.

Brewing Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

We decided to brew this beer with a hint of ginger, a traditional Saison brewing spice, and also with some cardamom, which comes through as an exotic spiciness in the finish. Additional complexity comes from the blend of grapefruit, lemon and orange peel which combine nicely with the tropical fruit esters provided by the Belgian yeast. It’s going to interesting to see how this beer ages over time. At 8.4% ABV, it’s built for aging.

So it is with pleasure that we present you with the homebrew recipe for the Stone Vertical Epic 07.07.07. As always, the instructions below are designed for an all malt beer. If you are an extract brewer and are uncomfortable with converting this recipe to an extract version, we suggest you contact a local homebrew store or local homebrew club for help.

Brewing Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

Big changes afoot this year for the aptly named 5th version of our Stone Vertical Epic Ale series. First, as you may have noticed, this is being written not by Lee Chase, but by Mitch Steele and John Egan. Lee has moved on to other things, but since this was his last recipe formulation for Stone Brewing Co., we will try and carry on his tradition of providing all the information you need to brew this tasty beer at home.

We’re really happy with this year’s Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale. This is a very dark ale fermented with Belgian Trappist yeast, so the flavors in it are really deep and complex. The Belgian yeast clove notes combine nicely with the roast malt flavors, with dried cherry and anise undertones. The flavors imparted by the special roasted malt are very rich, smooth, and silky. It will be interesting to see how this beer ages, and how the smooth roasted malt characters evolve with the spicy Belgian yeast character over time.

Brewing Stone 05.05.05 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

by Lee Chase

This year, the Vertical Epic has taken another turn…but this time toward the simpler! I wanted to highlight a couple of things with this brew, with particular attention being paid to the future flavor development of the beer. You know, keeping it fairly simple, but making it relatively high-alcohol and full of flavor. Having had a bit of this in March, this baby was still a little young—actually, more like not-yet-born if you factor in the bottle-conditioning time required—but had a huge fruity yeast flavor (phenolic), some tasty chocolate notes, and a really pleasant texture, all of which improved as it warmed up. So below you will find the not-so-difficult-to-brew recipe to construct your very own 5 gallons of Stone 05.05.05 Vertical Epic Ale. Hope you enjoy it!

Brewing Stone 04.04.04 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

by Lee Chase

So, it is year number 3 in the series… and we have the Stone 04.04.04 Vertical Epic Ale at hand. This is an interesting beer that, as with the others, will be wonderful to see how it develops over time. This year, as you probably know, is a pale beer that has a lot going on in the flavor and aroma…with a hint of Kaffir lime leaf in there to add some complexity. I really like how this beer came together, with the medium body, distinct aroma of tropical fruits from the yeast, and that light lime essence in there to make you twist your head like my dog when he’s thinking…Then there’s the flavor of all that yeast and hops and the soft texture of the wheat and the finish with that lime leaf blending with the esters from the fermentation….mmm…I can ALMOST taste it, but this Stone IPA that I happen to have in my hand at the moment will have to do.

Brewing Stone 03.03.03 Vertical Epic Ale at Home

by Lee Chase

Alright, now this is going to be a little different than last years (OK, a LOT different!!). By now you might know that these “Vertical” beers are not just the same recipe as each other, they are designed to be quite different than each other. We are not trying to make the recipe as difficult to brew as possible (we’re not doing triple decoctions, or aging them in oak barrels for 3 years… yet!). Instead we’re just trying to make what we think is a great beer, and have a little fun in the process. So read on, and do the best you can. That’s kind of what I did…