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.
A beautifully sunny day, 400 people, 30 unique beers on tap and unlimited pours—what might sound like the foundation for a ruckus affair of over-indulgence and belligerence was anything but. In fact, it was one of the tamest event days in the history of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. That’s what happens when you pack the joint with homebrewers and genuine craft beer connoisseurs united in their noble mission to not only taste, but evaluate the merits of each beer for the purpose of selecting a champion to grace store shelves nationwide. Enter Stone’s fifth annual AHA Rally and Homebrew Competition.
Thanks to Stone Enjoy By IPA and our hop-forward brewing style, our brewery is viewed as a vocal proponent of the drink-fresh-beer-now movement. That’s fitting. We believe in that big time—when it’s appropriate. At the same time, we’re not above taking a quality brew (even an IPA) and aging it in oak barrels if we think we can morph that fine ale into an other-worldly, delicious, wine- or spirit-laced concoction. Such is the modus operandi behind our Quingenti Millilitre line of barrel-aged Stone beers.
Even with enthusiasm and knowledge at an all-time high among craft brewing fans, certain styles come across as a bit mysterious to the average beer nerd. Chief among those head-scratchers is barley wine. Is it a wine?—No. Is it a strong ale? –Yes. Is it an old ale?—Well, kinda. Is it delicious?—In the case of Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, absolutely! Ditto a number of versions both European and American (the latter being Anchor Old Foghorn and Rogue Old Crustacean), which led our co-founder and original brewmaster, Steve Wagner, to create his own take on it in 1998. Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine (or O.G. as we refer to it around the brewery) has since gone on to become one of our most happily anticipated annual releases.
When Stone’s co-founder and original brewmaster, Steve Wagner, set out to brew our company’s first beer, he led with his love for the old English standard—pale ale. This was a common style among the small but rising number of American microbreweries at the time; however, Wagner decided early on that Stone Pale Ale would be anything but common.
A porter brewed with peat-smoked malt and enough hops to bring the IBU (International bittering unit) count to 53 is undoubtedly innovative. That beer concept is right up there with the plethora of novel smoked ales and lagers that have become so prominent across the county over the past several years. But the beer we’re referring to, Stone Smoked Porter, isn’t among that new wave. It’s been tantalizing taste buds while hovering within the top layer of craft beer’s cloud of smoke since 1996!
When Stone co-founder and original brewmaster Steve Wagner crafted our initial batch of Stone IPA, little could he have known that that highly hopped first attempt at amplifying a British classic would become so popular and, for many beer drinkers, an India pale ale by which all future New World interpretations of the style would be judged. For many, Wagner’s bright, potent creation was their first IPA. (Was it yours? If so, let us know on social media using #StoneIPA)
We took a different approach to formulating this year’s Stone Vertical Epic Ale – the last in the series. Co-founder and original Stone Brewmaster Steve Wagner and I had agreed that we wanted to brew a Belgian-style holiday ale, given the release date of 12.12.12 and the celebratory nature of this beer. Armed with that baseline, I decided to open up the formulation to our team of brewers, who are a talented and creative bunch, to say the least.
So in early summer, we told our team the goal for the Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale and allowed anyone who wanted to brew a pilot batch to take a turn on our More Beer 20-gallon brew sculpture. A total of eight recipes were brewed and they were all fantastic. Ultimately, we chose this one from brewer Josh Jordan because it was so smooth, dark and luscious, and the spice combinations were amazing.
He shared that recipe with us and, in the spirit of the rapidly fleeting holiday season, now we want to share it with you. So here is the recipe we went with and, per long-standing tradition, I’ve suggested some musical selections that I think will pair well with each step of the brewing process. Have fun!
Y’know… it seems like hops get a heck of a lot of attention for their delightfully flavorful contributions to our awesome beers. Rightly deserved, but there’s a little unsung hero that we feel is finally due some credit: our yeast strain.
To tell the truth, my favorite part of putting together our book—The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance—with Steve and Greg was getting the low-down on where the Stone yeast strain came from. You see, when a mommy and daddy yeast cell love each other very much… no, not really. (They don’t even get to have that much fun; yeast cells reproduce asexually through a process called budding… but I digress.) Our yeast’s ultimate origins were told to me by Steve, and I laughed my ass off when he told me the story. From the aforementioned book, I quoteth:
They say all good things come to an end. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I think they’re right. Unfair? Absolutely! Especially while some of the most awful atrocities refuse to go away. (Can you believe that Kenny G is still churning out new CDs?)
But enough about the bad. Let’s focus on the good… the REALLY good. I’m talkin bout Stone Vertical Epic Ale. Travel back in time with me to February 2nd, 2002, before someone inexplicably thought to give Dr. Phil his own show when the groundbreaking Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale came to be. The premise was visionary, and hadn’t ever been tried with beer before. Eleven beers in total—each one with its own unique twist and turn in the saga—were to be released one year, one month, and one day after the previous edition (i.e. 03.03.03, 04.04.04, etc.), with the intention of aging them all until at least December 12, 2012, when the series would officially draw to an end with its final delicious release: Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale.
Did a little light go off in your brain to make you look at your calendar just now? You’re right, that is, like, two months away! So, what are we planning to do? Go gentle into that good night? Hell naw! We’re Stone! And as usual, we’ve got BIG plans…