The American craft brewing industry is extremely cohesive, with businesses mirroring each other from the West Coast to the East Coast, North to South, Alaska to Hawaii. Even so, San Diego is very unique. With more than 100 brewhouses having opened throughout the county over the past 25 years, the question we hear most is about competition within the industry. It’s an understandable inquiry (imagine having 100 cheese-makers in one county…yeah, we’re looking at you, Wisconsin!), but it always makes San Diego brewers scratch their heads. For the most part, we really don’t see other breweries as competitors. To us, they are our comrades in the fight for the rise in awareness and availability of high-quality beer in a world dominated by macrobeer. That’s the great thing about artisanal industries like craft beer—just like us, our compatriots are working on bettering the craft, and each great new beer gives us, and other breweries opportunities and ideas. It’s a “collaboration not competition” mindset, a constant alliance and source of inspiration among our breweries. We’ll admit that it’s far from the norm for most industries, so one feels compelled to pose the question: How did such a unique business culture arise?
Picture it…a room full of thirsty beer bloggers, media and industry types seated at tables with tasting glasses. It can be daunting to pour beers for such a discerning crowd—especially one with plenty of dump buckets at their disposal. But that was the mission at hand during a session of the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference, during which representatives from a number of quality craft breweries (including our friends at The Lost Abbey and Firestone Walker Brewing Company) sought to wow these 150-plus beer enthusiasts with their latest creations. Now, we weren’t nervous. We’re Stone. We save jitters and anxiety for others. We had total faith in what we had to offer, but even so, found ourselves pleasantly surprised with the incredible reception our beer was afforded as well as the myriad compliments it earned. Like us, these people have devoted their entire lives to beer, so to be lauded with kudos and positive reviews was high praise, indeed. Today, that beer, Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout, begins showing up on store shelves and draft accounts across the country.
Even in the exciting brewing industry, starting a new job is a little daunting. Like any job, all the new people and pre-established dynamics can be tough to get a grip on…and then there’s all the work that has to be done on top of that. But add in the hundreds of new people and 18 years of pre-established liquid lore and well-documented ideologies associated with Stone Brewing Co., and it makes for a few abdominal butterflies. Even coming from a smaller but plenty reputable brewing company (well, two, technically, having worked for two brands under one roof, Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey), this was a formidable new career undertaking to say the least. Thank goodness for what may possibly be the best employee orientation in the world—or at least the brewing industry.
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.
When a brewing company grows to a certain size, there’s the natural perception that, as said organization’s demand dictates the production of more and more beer, with heightened quantities comes lowered artisanship. Sadly, in the case of numerous big beer operations (we won’t name names—they…and likely you…know who they are already), this is true. But craft beer, by its very nature, is about inventiveness, creativity and…we’ll say it…FUN! Without those, what’s the point of getting into craft brewing in the first place? We don’t know the answer and, in to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.
You’ve heard the legend of a cavernous hall filled to the brim with beer from around the country. Maybe you’ve even experienced for yourself the glories of unlimited pours of more than 3,100 brews. But you haven’t seen the Great American Beer Festival—the country’s largest annual suds celebration—from the perspective of Team Stone before…until now. We just got back from this massive and spectacular event, and are ready to give you a behind-the-scenes view of our GABF experience
Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA—the mere mention of these five words (well, four words and an acronym, which technically equates to seven words) incites a Pavlovian brand of salivation among those who quest for maximum hoppage. We know this, not only because last year’s decadal release of this amped-up tribute to our double India pale ale, Stone Ruination IPA, gave us cause to wear bibs at work, but because Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA was so openly and vocally beloved by our fan base, that they requested—check that, demanded—it be brought back on an annual basis. We love our fans. We love hops. So, we listened to the former, secured a boatload of the latter, and now submit for the approval of slobbering masses throughout the country, Stone RuinTen IPA.
We’ll be the first to agree that brewing is an art, but as anyone who’s ever tried to scale up a recipe or dial in ABV for consistency knows, it’s also a science. As exemplified by the consistency of our beers, our brewers have the smarts to turn out well-engineered ales. That said, whenever we can, we like to keep the math as simple as possible. Take, for instance, one of our most popular beers, Stone Ruination IPA. That hop-heavy double India pale ale is a result of a basic mathematical equation—one-times-two—and proof that sometimes in life, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. When in doubt, just max it out!
While we hold true to time-honored traditional brewing processes, we’re anything but conformists. Ours is a brewery where, rather than blindly adhering to methods and styles simply because “that’s the way it’s been done for hundreds of years,” we make a practice of regularly taking a step back, clearing our minds of all we know and contemplating simple but essential queries like “why not?” and “what if?” Our beers are founded on the logic gained from centuries’ worth of brewmasters who mashed in ahead of us, but their true flavor and character is a result of our inquisitive, experimental nature. A poignant example of this is presented in our Belgian-style India pale ale, Stone Cali-Belgique IPA.
Here at Stone, our brewers love to create aggressive, high octane beers like Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Imperial Russian Stout and, of course, the Arrogant Bastard Ale family of in-your-face goliaths. But even we, the challengers of beer’s historic limitations, realize that for every beer drinker there is a time, place and need for something sessionable. So, in 2002, we took our first swipe at crafting a libation under five percent ABV to give our fans a lower-alcohol option packed with big-time flavor. That creation would come to be known as Stone Levitation Ale.