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.
Craft beer is more popular now than it’s ever been. Still, it’s only reached a relatively small segment of the world’s population. Even in our home of San Diego, a county awash with West Coast IPAs and beers spanning all styles, many have yet to understand artisanal brews. That will all change very soon if the San Diego History Center has anything to say about it. Located in the heart of San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, the SDHC recently opened its doors to a new exhibit called Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture. Billed as the largest exhibit devoted to a region’s brewing history, it offer visitors a comprehensive visage of the last 100 beery (and non-beery) years in San Diego. It’s a tale we, as one of the region’s brewing pioneers, are ecstatic to be a part of.
When we opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in 2006, we knew we wanted our menu to feature the highest quality ingredients, and beef was no exception. We knew very little about the beef industry, but once we did our homework, we chose grass-fed/grass-finished beef because it’s all-natural, healthy, and most importantly—it’s freakin’ delicious!
In case you’re wondering, there is a difference between grass-fed beef and grass-fed/grass-finished beef. The majority of cattle are grass-fed at some point, but it’s the final months of their lives that really make the difference. Most cattle are shipped to feed lots and fed grain in their final months to fatten them up, which alters their flavor. We predominantly serve beef that has been grass-fed throughout its entire life cycle, hence grass-fed/grass-finished (the one exception is our Prime Rib Melt, which uses all-natural grass-fed/grain-finished Meyer’s beef to achieve a different flavor).
Today, grass-fed/grass-finished beef could draw similarities to the earlier days of craft beer. There were folks that wanted it, but distributors and retailers often felt there wasn’t sufficient demand to make it available. “Grass-fed/grass-finished was an item we were looking into anyway because of the recent industry leaning towards more naturally raised beef,” said Jonathan Sachs from Hamilton Meats, “but there was no interest from any of our current clients to justify offering the product.”
That was about to change, as consumers and restaurants became interested in grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Together with three other local restaurants, including our good friend Jay Porter, proprietor of The Linkery in North Park, we were able to raise demand enough for Hamilton Meats to offer grass-fed/grass-finished beef.
Most of our beef now comes from verdant pastures thanks to Tallgrass Beef, a company dedicated to all-natural, great-tasting grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Their cattle live stress-free, roaming freely and eating lush natural grasses throughout their lives. Brad Schoenberg, Vice President of Sales & Business Development at Tallgrass Beef, gave us the rundown on why grass-fed/grass-finished is a good way to go:
“The most important thing that people should know about grass-fed/grass-finished is that it is good for the animal…but the health and nutritional benefit for us is the real key. Tallgrass Beef contains a higher level of omega 3′s, high levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acids (an anti-carcinogen), and is lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.”
Brad poses an interesting question—“Can you imagine your doctor telling you to eat more beef?” While it may be difficult to imagine a medical professional advocating increased consumption of beef, it’s not difficult to imagine your tongue advocating increased consumption of grass-fed/grass-finished beef. Sure it’s healthy and at the top of the ethical and environmental scales, but just as important–it’s damn good.
- Matt Steele
Beer and chocolate are two of my favorite things on the planet. If you asked me to define myself in one sentence, the words beer and chocolate would probably be in there somewhere. So you can imagine my dismay when I was burdened with the arduous task of helping pair Stone beer with the innovative artisinal offerings of Eclipse Chocolat for our Beer & Chocolate Pairing event on May 3rd. But I’m not one to complain. Rather than drag my feet and mope about the daunting task ahead of me, I decided to tackle it head-on and get it over with, and so did my equally apprehensive compatriots, Beer & Chocolate Host Ken Wright and Brewer Jeremy Moynier.
We arrived at Eclipse late in the afternoon, just as rush hour traffic was rearing its ugly head on El Cajon Boulevard. Immediately upon entering the reasonably populated, pleasantly decorated dessert cafe, we were greeted by Chocolatier Extraordinaire Will Gustwiller, the Owner of Eclipse Chocolat. After exchanging customary introductions, we tended to the irksome job before us.
The first piece of chocolate that Will offered us was one of his first creations—a Lavender Sea-Salted Caramel truffle. This creamy milk chocolate delicacy is Eclipse’s most popular truffle, and it’s easy to see why. After striking out with Stone Levitation Ale, we decided to pair it with Stone IPA. Success. The prevailing salt and herbal notes of the truffle harmonized beautifully with the citrusy, hoppy bite of Stone IPA. We were off to a promising start.
Next up was Will’s Chili-burnt Caramel Truffle, a chili-infused dark chocolate truffle with a subtle, delayed spicy note. Will warned us that this would be the most difficult truffle to pair, due to its overwhelming flavor profile. We promptly assured him that we rarely encounter food capable of smothering the bold flavors of our beers, but sure enough, we were wrong. The truffle overwhelmed several of our beers before we finally stumbled upon a winner. The long-lasting bitter finish of Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout was the only heavy-hitting flavor that could stand up to the prolonged chili spice of the truffle. When the ooh’s and ahh’s subsided, they were replaced by talk of using this pairing as the finale of the pairing on May 3rd. And for good reason.
The next truffle, Will’s Balsamic Pink Peppercorn truffle, was a definite departure from the previous offerings. If you’re thinking of the slight spicy flavor found in commercial peppercorn dressings and such, think again. Will uses actual fresh peppercorns for the filling of this truffle, resulting in an earthy sweet flavor that is enhanced by raspberry balsamic vinegar sweetened dark chocolate. Double Bastard Ale and Stone Cali-Belgique IPA weren’t a match, but we eventually found the right supplement. The smoky, roasted barley note and strong hop finish of Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale proved a perfect mate for the unique truffle.
At this point our spirits were low as the backbreaking labor began to take its toll, but somehow we mustered the strength and determination to persist. Will introduced the next delicacy, a Black Sesame Anise truffle, and we valiantly resumed. This dark chocolate ganache-infused creation comes packed with anise seed and star anise, and is topped with toasted black sesame seeds. Again we tried to pair it with Stone Levitation Ale, along with a few other Stone beers, all to no avail. At last we found a champion in the form of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA. The dense fruity note of the Belgian Yeast provided the perfect contrast to the bittersweet anise and the toasty sesame seeds.
The next chocolate was met with desperate cries for mercy as the unceasing consumption of gourmet chocolate and delicious craft beer began to erode our morale, but the painful ordeal was almost over. We knew that once we found a pairing with Will’s Macadamia Ginger White Chocolate, we could go home. So we found one in the form of 2009 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine. The sweet tang of the lemon sang in perfect harmony with Old Guardian’s hoppy finish, and the ginger in the chocolate worked opposite of the bold barley presence of the barley wine. And for all of you who think white chocolate isn’t real chocolate, let there be no mistake. White chocolate is indeed chocolate if it has real cocoa butter in it. Many commercially available white chocolates opt for vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter because it’s significantly cheaper. Will does no such thing. His white chocolate is the real deal.
But alas, there was more! Will cemented his standing as a wizard of chocolate with his last delicacy—a Banana Rum Cigar truffle. Will explained that he deftly weaved actual cigar leaf into this rare truffle, immediately dropping our jaws and leaving us mystified. Unfortunately, the Valentine’s Day rush depleted Will’s inventory, and he didn’t have enough of this spectacular truffle to finish the pairing. Thankfully, he offered to send us more so we could finish the pairing here at the brewery. So let it be known that there will be a surprise pairing in store for you on May 3rd, should you choose to attend Beer & Chocolate.
After nearly two hours of drudgery and copious amounts of beer and chocolate, we emerged with five spectacular pairings and one “to be announced” pairing. We would like to thank our gracious host and culinary genius Will Gustwiller for offering us a glimpse of his wildly imaginative take on chocolate. If you like Stone beer, and you like equally bold-flavored chocolate, you’d be crazy not to enjoy the fruits of his (and our) labor on May 3rd. Though we won’t discourage you from arming yourself with our tasting notes and going down to Eclipse to try the pairings we came up with, we do hope that you send us your suggestions for the sixth pairing. We’d really appreciate your help!