I was dumping a 55-pound bag of malted barley into a hopper when something occurred to me: I have probably never used more than 20 pounds of grain in a beer recipe, let alone the 500 pounds I was helping mill at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. Usually Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketchum takes on this laborious task all by himself, but on March 8, a dozen women clad in pink boots and armed with can-do attitudes descended on the 10-barrel brewhouse to participate in the first ever International Women’s Collaboration Brew (IWCB) Day!
A tradition a half-decade in the making, few happenings pack as much inventive beer, education and sheer enjoyment as the ten-day journey to the center of the country’s craft beer epicenter, San Diego Beer Week. All of the nearly eighty breweries in our extensive home county push the envelope to provide the most incredible events they can, and we are no different. Each year is an opportunity to cull through our cellars for rare and just plain phenomenal beer, collaborate with our brewing friends, invite in our beer-loving fans and put on a show in support of our industry, region and craft beer in general. If you’re planning to take in this year’s festivities, read on for a complete schedule of what we’ll be doing to celebrate, then make time in your beery, breakneck itinerary to spend some time sipping in San Diego Beer Week with us.
They say good things come to those who wait. Fermentation has proven this true for us time and time again; however, we are, at our core, pretty darn impatient. We have grand aspirations and want to push the craft beer envelope by providing new ways for people to experience hand-crafted ales and lagers. Grand aspirations require grand gestures. Grand gestures take grand effort. Grand effort mandates a boatload of time, and that equates to a whole lot of waiting for our grand aspirations to be forged into reality. Never has this been truer than in the case of construction of our second farm-to-table restaurant, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. It took us years to take it from the grand aspiration phase to the tangible and absolutely magnificent (if we do say so ourselves, and we just did) brick-and-mortar bastion of good beer and quality cuisine it’s become. The waiting was the hardest part, but, once again, it was all worth it. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station is open for business and Worthy all of the hard work it took to get it to that point. Allow us to show you around…
Craft beer is life here at Stone. In the best cases, however, our beer has the ability to make positive impacts on the lives of others. Such is the case with one of the first beers brewed up on our brand new ten-barrel brewhouse at our equally new second farm-to-table restaurant, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station: Operation Homefront IPA. Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketcham joined the ranks of several brewers across the country to craft this beer for Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization supporting and bettering the lives of U.S. Military families, as part of their Hops For Heroes initiative. That program was supported not only by American craft breweries including Left Hand Brewing Company, Cigar City Brewing and 21st Amendment Brewery, but also Major League Baseball and Louisville Slugger, making for a great example of strength in numbers being channeled into making a big difference through great beer and even better intentions.
If you read the blog, you know that Steve Via broke our keg line record a few weeks ago. Well, Keg Masta Steve isn’t the only one around here kicking ass and taking names. Our bottling line crew recently set a new record by bottling a staggering 137,088 12-ounce bottles of Stone IPA and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (95 pallets and 12 cases) in one day!
The previous record was 130,728 bottles (90 pallets and 47 cases), set on December 17, 2008, with each person clocking thirty minutes of overtime that day. Not only did the bottling line break the old record by 6,360 bottles, but they did it with significantly less overtime.
Our bottling line has come a long way since Ben Lee, our Production Coordinator, started on the bottling line over six years ago. “A 21,600 bottle day was a huge deal back in the day,” said Ben. Ben remembers having to place bottles onto the line manually, and then load them into boxes by hand after being filled. Bruised and swollen hands weren’t the only fun side effect. “We had to wrap our fingers in duct tape to avoid getting shredded by the bottle caps.” After one person loaded the bottles manually, another person had to stamp the boxes, load them onto the pallet, and repeat.
Though our bottling line was still pretty rudimentary during Ben’s days on the line, he was at least lucky enough to start right after we bought our first Filler machine. Before the Filler, we employed two old “Maheen” bottling machines (one for 12oz. bottles and one for 22oz. bottles), which required a minimum of two people to operate. We taxed the Maheens to their limit, running them for two shifts a day. “We were doing about 60 cases an hour with them,” said Stone President & Brewmaster Steve Wagner, recollecting the “rudimentary, highly manual” pieces of machinery. “We thought that was a huge amount of beer at the time.”
A lot has happened since Ben or Steve worked on the line (most notably, the extinction of the dinosaurs). The crew has doubled in size, and the level of automation has increased exponentially. As mentioned before, we eventually installed a Filler, which we bought used from the Molson plant in St. John, Newfoundland. We acquired a second used filler from Pyramid Brewing on August 20, 2007, and later installed a Climax Uncaser and extra Accumulation Conveyors on July 19th, 2008.
The newest addition to the line is a Slitter-Sealer machine, which we obtained from Abita Brewing in Louisiana. The gently used Slitter-Sealer was installed last Friday (the day after the bottling crew broke the record), and it makes the crews’ lives a hell of a lot easier. Instead of having to manually break tabs, fold, and seal about 20 boxes per minute, the machine will take over, sealing about 50 boxes per minute (once it’s running at full speed). Bill Sherwood, our Facilities Manager, likes the “chop-chop, flip-flap” action of the Slitter-Sealer, calling it a “Dr. Seuss kind of machine.”
According to Packaging Supervisor, Kris Ketcham, breaking the bottling record was “a perfect ending to the last day that we will probably ever have to manually break box tabs, fold, and seal.” Breaking the record was indeed a fitting end to the last day ever manually sealing boxes—but not the end of the story. We’re sure our stellar bottling line crew will continue to rock our socks off, and we can’t wait until they reach their next milestone.
Stone and homebrewers go way back. We’ve been hosting the monthly meetings of the local homebrew club, The Society of Barley Engineers, since 1996—back before we even had any tanks in our original building in San Marcos. To this day they still meet the first Wednesday of every month upstairs in the Bistro (the Barley Literates also meet in our Bistro). We’ve also offered up many of our recipes for homebrewers to attempt their own versions of our beers, including our Vertical Epic Challenge, which challenges homebrewers to brew clones of our various Stone Vertical Epic Ales. Steve Wagner, our Co-founder and Brewmaster, even got his start as a homebrewer:
Needless to say, we understand the importance of the homebrewing community. That’s why we’ve hosted an American Homebrewers Association Membership Rally every year since we opened the Bistro. Aside from bolstering the ranks of the AHA, these rallies provide a casual forum for homebrewers to share each other’s creations, chat with professional brewers, and bond with other homebrewers. Our rallies keep getting bigger and better every year.
When it came time to plan this year’s AHA Membership Rally, we decided to up the ante on our homebrewing competition. This time the winning brew would be brewed on our system to be served here at Stone. With the strength of our local homebrew scene, we knew the response would be phenomenal—and it was. Members of So. Cal. homebrew clubs delivered twenty-three incredibly tasty brews, along with four outstanding brews submitted by individual homebrewers.
We were quite pleased by the strong showing of enthusiastic homebrewers. According to AHA Director, Gary Glass, this was the biggest AHA Rally EVER in terms of RSVP’s and new members. That’s a stat to be proud of, and with the help of local homebrewers we’ll top that next year.
Homebrewers came from near and far to take part in the blind tasting and cast their vote for their favorite. Many drove several hours from neighboring counties to participate, but long time Stone fans Roberto and Jade Saldivar had them beat. They trekked all the way from Dublin, CA, (near San Francisco), where they are part of a homebrew club called Mad Zymurgists. Roberto and Jade displayed true dedication by making the long trip down to one of their “favorite places in the world” just to attend the rally. Noticing my age, they jokingly added “We’ve been Stone fans since way before you were here.”
As the polls closed, four beers emerged as fan favorites. Many attendees were impressed by Eric Holden’s The Event Horizon, an innovative Vanilla and Peppercorn Imperial Russian Stout, as well as Jeremy Jerome’s Admiral Nelson—a tasty Rye IPA. Attendees also delighted in Brad Sayles’s Kalifornien Kolsch, a refreshing take on a Kolsch beer, and Ken Schmidt’s fantastic Aloha Plenty Porter with Kona Coffee, toasted coconut and macadamia nuts. After tallying all the votes, it turned out these were the top four beers.
Once the final four were determined, an all-star Stone tasting panel began the difficult task of judging the winner of Stone’s March Madness Competition. The panel consisted of Stone CEO Greg Koch, Head Brewer Mitch Steele, Beverage Coordinator “Dr.” Bill Sysak, Brewer Jeremy Moynier, Web Programmer (and member of Quaff) Bill Sobieski, Packaging Supervisor Kris Ketcham, Art Director Mike Palmer, and Marketing Director Chris Cochran.
All four beers were expertly crafted, but only one could prevail. After several minutes of tense deliberation, Ken Schmidt’s Aloha Plenty surfaced as the clear winner. Mitch Steele announced the four finalists, and then presented Ken Schmidt as the winner. Ken was psyched to claim the grand prize. “I had been thinking about the recipe for six years, said Ken, “but it was Garrett’s (Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing Co.) Coconut Porter that inspired me to go ahead with it. I wanted to brew something that infuses all of the elements of the islands and captures their essence.”
Mitch Steele was impressed with Ken’s Aloha Plenty, calling it “a phenomenal beer.” He’s looking forward to brewing it with Ken (and possibly Garret) here at Stone. “We’ll have to figure out how to toast a lot of coconut and get our hands on a lot of macadamia nuts,” he said, “but I think it’s going to be great.”
As promised, Ken will have the chance to brew his Aloha Plenty on our system to be served here, so watch out for it on tap in the Bistro. Also, because the brew had previously won a Beer Judge Certificate Program sanctioned homebrew competition, we’re submitting it to compete in the Pro-Am Competition at the GABF. To top it off, Greg Koch hinted at a possible three-way collaboration with Ken, Garrett Marrero from Maui Brewing Co. and Mitch Steele. Ken was all smiles, admitting that “it will be so cool to brew on Stone’s system.”
We were blown away by the quality of all the submissions. Our local homebrewers are arguably some of the best in the nation, and they once again proved that they’re capable of producing amazing beers. We can’t wait for next year’s AHA Rally, but in the meantime, head over to the AHA website to become a member and join some of the most prestigious homebrewers in the nation. Cheers to Ken for a job well done, and congrats to the runners-up. All the beers were phenomenal, but if you didn’t get a chance to taste Ken’s Aloha Plenty at the rally, you missed out. You don’t want to miss it again, so stay tuned for the upcoming collaboration, and get ready to taste “the essence of the islands.”
Check out the AHA Rally flickr set