Sudsy Civic Pride: San Diego Beer Week 2014

San Diego Beer Week in America’s craft beer Mecca means more beer, food, pairings, nth level and over-the-top events than one person can attend. This excess of events naturally has heads turning in every direction, trying to figure out where to spend their time and sate their thirst for incredible beer. To make this process easier, here’s a complete run down of all the events we have planned at our two Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido and Liberty Station.

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Classic Combo: Stone Smoked Porter w/Chocolate & Orange Peel

A Mandarin orange wedge dipped in molten ganache, a Grand Marnier-infused 70% cacao truffle, a velvety sweet craft cocktail combining Cointreau and chocolate liqueur, one of those holiday specialty confections that looks like a milk chocolate orange and breaks apart into delicious citrusy-sweet segments…heck, even something as simple as a piece of chocolate and a slice of orange. Regardless of the edible example one references, the symbiotic flavors of chocolate and orange are as plentiful as they are scrumptious. So, when looking for yet another way to use complimentary ingredients to augment our time-honored recipe for Stone Smoked Porter, we decided to lean on this long-time favorite and add our own incredible iteration of cocoa-citrus pairability to the world. Enter Stone Smoked Porter w/Chocolate & Orange Peel, the third transformatively enchanting version of this peat-smoked stalwart to be bottled and distributed to Stone fans.

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The history of our special editions of this beer date back over half-a-decade ago, when Small Batch Brewer Laura Ulrich was wowed by a beer float featuring a hefty scoop of vanilla bean ice cream afloat in a pint glass filled with…you guessed it, Stone Smoked Porter. It got her to thinking about ways to bring that flavor to life in a beer sans dairy confections. She went on to infuse industrial strength Madagascar vanilla beans into a pilot brew and subsequently blow the minds of her Stone brethren and sistren, including Co-founder and CEO Greg Koch. Stone Smoked Porter w/Vanilla Bean is a big reason Greg was so receptive when our Merchandising mastermind Chris Carroll suggested infusing chili peppers into the beer to create a craft alternative to fizzy, yellow cerveza for Cinco de Mayo. Harnessing a chili with a low heat index and smokiness built to match that of the beer, Stone Smoked Porter w/Chipotle Peppers was born. This brief history begs the question: What was the impetus behind Stone Smoked Porter w/Chocolate & Orange Peel. The answer: Greg wanted to see what else the Brew Crew could do with this beer.

The brewers kicked around numerous ideas, and the one they kept gravitating toward was something dubbed the “Stone Smoked Porter—Autumn Addition Edition,” where we would harvest fall-time herbs, spices, fruits, gourds and who knows what else from Stone Farms to bring the essence of autumn to life within this masterful dark ale. The Brew Crew took steps down that crunchy, red and orange leaf-strewn road until, one day, the idea of adding cacao nibs and orange peel to mirror the aforementioned classic chocolate-citrus combo came about. The suggestion was shouted from the rooftops or penned on a whiteboard in towering, bold letters. It was uttered at a most normal volume and tone, but it resonated as though delivered in a booming voice descending from the heavens all the same. It was clear this the best direction for us to go, so Brewmaster Mitch Steele immediately changed course, brewing a pilot batch of this beer that made it clear this was, indeed, the way for us to go.

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The name Stone Smoked Porter w/Chocolate & Orange Peel is actually a bit of a misnomer, since there is no actual chocolate in the beer. Cacao nibs—roasted pieces of cacao beans—provide the bitter notes of chocolate in its purest form while also introducing an earthen spiciness that complements the porter’s peat-induced smoke. Pure cacao liqueur (pure cocoa without any sugar or dairy added) is added during the brew, then the beer is steeped with cacao nibs for chocolaty intensity. Those characteristics are contrasted beautifully by the orange peel, which also brightens up the beer’s overall taste profile. It took a while to get to this chapter in the Stone Smoked Porter saga—more than five years, actually—but like most of the greatest things in life, additional time translated to something phenomenal. Cheers to a most splendid fourth chapter in a tremendously delightful tale.

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Stats & Tasting Notes by Brewmaster Mitch Steele

  • ABV: 5.9%
  • IBUs: 53 IBUs
  • Availability: Limited22-ounce bottles and draft, beginning October 20
  • Hop Bill: Magnum and Mt. Hood
  • Distribution: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA, and Puerto Rico
  • Appearance: Pours deep brown with a tan head.
  • Aroma: Peat-smoked malt, orange peel and coffee with hints of cocoa.
  • Taste: First impression is the smoky flavor from the peat-smoked malt that characterizes our regular Stone Smoked Porter, followed immediately by a blast of orange peel and citrus. Cocoa and roast malt characters follow, but the orange peel is particularly prominent in the aftertaste.
  • Palate: Medium body with a light sweetness and citrus tang, along with balanced hop bitterness.
  • Overall: This is a fun beer to brew. We’ve loved this orange and chocolate flavor in beer for a long time, and our team has made several casks of this particular version that are always very popular. The orange notes blend in well with the dark-roasted malt character, and the peat-smoked malt adds layers of flavor.

Suggested Pairings by “Dr.” Bill Sysak

  • Appetizers: Goatcheese-stuffed mushrooms, coconut shrimp, bacon-wrapped dates, pulled pork sliders, hummus, artichoke dip
  • Soups: Beef stew, lentil, New England-style clam chowder, French onion soup, chili con carne
  • Entrées: Pork tenderloin, lamb chops, filet mignon, stuffed Poblano peppers, Indian yellow curry
  • Desserts: Tiramisu, chocolate lava cake, oatmeal cookies, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream

Number One Bastard: A First Tangle with Liquid Arrogance

There are watershed moments in everyone’s existences where they look back and see that an event, perhaps comprised of little more than a few seconds and seemingly meaningless at the time, changes the trajectory of one’s life forever. For some, it can be sage words from a wise individual or exorcising themselves from the grip of a premature demise. For others, a chance encounter with the love of their lives or a moment of introspection so deep it inspires sea change, the pursuit of lifelong dreams or the abandonment of ill-conceived ventures in favor of aspiring to something better. And then, for some, there’s the discovery of something life-changing—an artifact, an heirloom, a new technology, a book, a religion, a field of study…or a beer. At first blush, that last one seems like an exaggeration; something you’d expect from a macrobeer commercial wherein some heretofore severely lame, nerdy member of society cracks open a cold-as-the-Rockies can of lo-cal, lo-flavor adjunct pilsner, then suddenly finds himself surrounded by a harem of supermodels on the deck of his new yacht as it pulls into the personal dock at his annexed island mansion in the Bahamas. My story does not end like this, but the tale of my first encounter with Arrogant Bastard Ale does lead to a very happy ending.

Picture it, a Friday night in San Diego during the fall of 1998—a young man yet to quaff his first beer saunters into a low-frills, seemingly Irish-themed bar on the edge of a strip mall that, otherwise, is completely occupied by Asian restaurants. The name of that establishment—O’Brien’s Pub. The mission of the group—beers to kick-start the weekend. Did anybody in the quintet know this was an early Mecca for craft beer in a city that would evolve to become, arguably, the epicenter for craft beer in the United States? Nope. They all just happened to work a half-mile away at a microelectronics manufacturer that often inspired them to seek out adult beverages to help erode the stress of the nine-to-five. The other four laborers in my group hit up O’Brien’s pretty regularly and, thinking I’d make a decent addition to their social circle, had asked me to come along. A fan of friends and adult beverages, I took them up on their invite.

Upon entering the pub, as if by fate, a group of five cleared out from a table in the otherwise packed-to-capacity bar. We scurried over to claim their vacated territory as our own and, as my friends perused a whiteboard with a bunch of foreign-sounding names messily scrawled upon it—Bear Republic Racer 5, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot—I thought to myself: Crap, I’ve never had a beer before and I don’t want to sound like a loser. What am I going to order? I started combing over my severely limited vernacular where beer brands were concerned, weighing each against the criteria that television ads and billboards had provided to tell me which was the fanciest, top tier choice. A waitress came to the table and, as if sensing the opportunity to completely humiliate a beer rookie, asked me what I’d like to drink. I cleared my throat and, in my deepest, manliest voice, replied: “Um, a Heineken?”

I’d hoped for the others to not even hear me or, if they did, only passively acknowledge the selection as they proceeded to issue their orders…but that didn’t happen. Instead, each of their faces elongated to gaping caricatures akin to Edvard Munch’s famed masterpiece, The Scream. It was as if their jaw muscles had gelatinized at the mere utterance of the Dutch macrobrew. I thought for sure at that moment that my drinking buddies had gone from to-be to would-be status, but then they exhibited the positive behavior that I would later learn is the hallmark of any good craft beer fan. Rather than shame me for being so ignorant to the craft culture, they had the waitress cancel my order and told her, “He’ll have an Arrogant Bastard Ale.” Rather than feel belittled or inferior, I felt gratitude that they’d taken me under their wing and helped me out. And, though I had no idea what Arrogant Bastard Ale was, I had to admit, it sounded a heck of a lot more interesting than any beer I’d heard of up to that point.

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Stone Co-founders Greg Koch (left, and kinda hard to recognize without that beard) and Steve Wagner etch signatures into 3-litre bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale in the VERY early days of this watershed beer.

Collaboration not Competition: A Look at Craft Beer Culture

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?

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Tongue Twister: Stochasticity Project Hibiscusicity

Today, we released upon this nation a beer with the most challenging name in the history of our 18-years-young operation. That’s saying a lot considering we’re the craft brewers who brought you such multi-syllabic wonders as Drew Curtis/Wil Wheaton/Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout, Stone Mixtape Ale vol.9 – Goats in the VIP Room Blend, The Bruery/Elysian/Stone La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado and, of course, Stone Suitable For Cave Aging – An Imperial Smoked Porter Tribute to Danny Williams. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Of course, odd nomenclature is the rule of thumb for the Stochasticity Project, which, since its debut earlier this year, has yielded ales called Varna Necropolis and Quadrotriticale. Before unleashing this new moniker on you, perhaps its best to go back a step and examine a term that’s both plenty perplexing and worth taking a look at—Stochasticity.

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Crowd Pleaser: Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout

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.

Barrel Aging Part III: What the Funk?

Let’s talk about funk. No, no…put away the slap bass, hi-hat and wah pedal. We’re talking about the tart, earthy, barnyardy, almost indescribable (unless you employ terms like “barnyardy”) and extremely wide-ranging characters brought on in the process of aging certain beers. While some may quaff a beverage and use that term “funky” to describe it in a negative way, the funk we go for here at Stone is an objective from the outset; a means by which to add character to already flavorful beer as a way for the base ale to be reborn as a new and deliciously provocative offspring of itself. Great examples of this funk come through in barrel-aged versions of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, Stone “The Tiger Cub” Saison and certain additions of Stone Vertical Epic Ale. But how do we rein in the wild yeast and other organisms that create funkiness or, worse yet, infection and the “bad funk” through the lengthy evolution of our barrel-aged brews? Stone fans hit us with questions via social media and our Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez has provided some answers to the proverbial question: What the funk?

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Constants & Variables: The Lupulin Loop

As the Brewing Manager at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. I would like to introduce a new series of beers that will rotate through our central San Diego brewery-restaurant. We at Stone make no secret of our love for hops and are always pushing the boundaries with beer experimentations—especially when it comes to hops. For years, we’ve played with multiple hop varieties, and the impact to our IPAs has been immense. One may ask, with so many hop varieties out there, how we do we continue to develop so many new and successful IPAs? Truth is it’s never as easy as throwing a bunch of hops into our wort and crossing our fingers. Every hop is different, unique and complex with a wide range of flavors and aromas that could be compared to fruits, spices and even vegetables. We spend a lot of time getting intimately acquainted with the myriad of hops in our chilled down lockers, and now it’s time for our fans to get in on that familiarization.

Enter what I have come to refer to as, “The Lupulin Loop.” Why the Lupulin Loop? Maybe I just watched Groundhog’s Day too much as a kid. Maybe it’s because Tom Cruise just came out with that movie Edge of Tomorrow. Or maybe I’m still trying to play through Bioshock Infinite and I learned that when Elizabeth goes through the tears she goes to another dimension where everything looks the same but it’s actually different. Regardless, it’s all about constants and variables. With these beers, they’ll always have the same malts, alcohol, IBU (international bittering units), PH, color…or as close to the same as I can possibly get them. The only thing that will change in the beer is the single variety of hop being used (even for bittering). The base of the beer is the constant (the loop), while the hop (Lupulin…the compound in hops that provides that addictive bitterness we all love) is the sole variable.

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Looking Back (& Forward): Stone 18th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival

We put in a full year of planning, effort and beer wrangling to make the annual Stone Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival the best and biggest it can be. Considering it’s the largest annual beer fest on the West Coast, we’re inclined to believe we do a hell of a job. We just wish it didn’t go by so quick. In less than 24 hours, we blow through 364 days’ worth of work and just about as many (but even more) kegs! Take, for instance, this year. Over 50 breweries from around the country showed up and brought 187 beers. And that’s all in addition to the 50 Stone beers we busted out to celebrate 18 years in the craft brewing biz! It was the kind of fete we wished every fan that helped us get to this ripe (young?) age could have participated in. But alas, even with nearly 8,000 tickets sold (and more than a quarter million dollars raised for charity, thank you very much), some will only experience this special day via this blog post. So, we’re going to go as in depth as possible so those who couldn’t make it know what to expect when they hopefully come out next year, and those who did join us can have fun reliving the Stone 18th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival.

Hoppy Uncharted Territory: Stone 18th Anniversary IPA

We pride ourselves on being unpredictable, but we’re able to be honest with ourselves and say that, when it comes to our annual anniversary beer releases, fans know what to expect—something extremely hoppy! And most years, that means an over-the-top India pale ale. Ten out of the 17 anniversary beers we’ve produced to-date have been IPAs, including the past four consecutive years. So, it should come as no surprise that this year, our milestone-celebrating beer is another IPA. But, much as we’ve refused to be completely predictable with our anniversary IPAs (the past four years have featured an imperial British-style IPA, double black IPA, lemon verbena-infused imperial rye IPA, and 100% German-hopped double IPA), 2014’s commemorative hop monster is extremely original. In fact, we’re billing Stone 18th Anniversary IPA as the “hoppiest golden-brown IPA on Earth!” (Yes, that’s our subtle brand of sarcasm you’re picking up there!)