The Thrilling Adventures of Team Spröcket: Part I

Earlier this year, we announced the winners of the inaugural edition of our annual company brewing competition, The Stone Spotlight Series. Taking first place for a black rye Kölsch-style brew our fans came to know as Spröcketbier (there’s still a bit of this delicious beer out there, so consult the Stone Beer Finder to get a taste) was Team Spröcket—QA Supervisor Rick Blankemeier and Warehouse Supervisor Robbie Chandler. This big win allowed the duo not only to brew this spicy, refreshing beer on Stone’s full-sized system and have it distributed nationally, but also to on tour with the beer, visiting a number of beery locations throughout the country. The following is Blankemeier’s account of what he calls a “thrilling adventure,” one in which he and Marshall met and shared many a pint with beer fans and brewers every bit as passionate as they are.

First Stop: Philly

The flight was way too early, but our spirits were high. Taking a couple of days off of work so we could fly to Philly to help sell our winning beer? You bet we were happy about that. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but it’s fun to switch up the routine every now and again. This would be the first visit to Philly for me and Robbie, so we were excited to see what the City of Brotherly Love was all about (and maybe gain some insight on why they booed Santa).

After a six-hour direct flight (thanks Stone!), Stone Sales Rep, Lee Marren, was there to pick us up and put us through our paces. We knew Lee sells Stone beer in the Philly area, but what they neglected to tell us was that he is a cyborg intent on working us tirelessly the whole time we were there. Though Lee was hesitant that it’s taboo for a local to be within a certain radius of touristy spots, he started by taking us to Pat’s King of Steaks for some grub. The cheesesteak (whiz wit) was good, but even better was the show that Pat himself put on by yelling at some customers that nearly forgot their sandwich, and yelling at one of his line cooks for making two of the same sandwich and delaying the process by (gasp) 10 seconds. Another thing I learned about Philadelphians is that yelling at people who wronged you–however slight–is highly encouraged. I was raised in suburban Colorado, where that’s not a regional custom, so, as you can imagine, this was quite an experience for me.

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Stomachs full, we made our way to east Jersey for our first event at Chickie and Pete’s. The place was great—very low key and fun. The people were nice and the Spröcketbier flowed freely. Afterward, we made our merry way back to Philly and bar-hopped to check out the local craft beer scene before finally checking into our hotel at 2 a.m. to get a few hours of sleep before Lee the Cyborg got us awake and ready for a full day of—you guessed it—more beer.

Our first stop was the Food Market, a really cool deli/bottle shop where we conducted tastings of Sprocketbier and Stone Go To IPA during the lunch hour. We had some great interactions with Philadelphians. A highlight was a young gentleman who informed us he was sorry for being late for our tasting. He was so excited to try some of the new Sprocketbier and would have been on time, but a fight broke out on the train on the way over. This was the third time I noted someone telling me details of a recent fight they’d been in or around since arriving in Philly. A staggering stat, considering I’d barely been in the city for 18 hours!

Next stop was a fine establishment called the Hulmeville Inn. This was arguably my favorite event on the Philadelphia leg of the journey. We ran into a local homebrew club that was there for the event and spoke about nerdy beer geek things, which was a pleasure for me. I learned that the Hulmeville Inn was built in the 1780s and documented to be the overnight stopover for none other than George Washington when he was on his way to New York to be inaugurated our first President. I’m a history geek as well as a beer geek, so this fascinated me. I also learned that some jackass ran his car into the front patio of the place a couple of weeks before we got there and they had to renovate the whole area. The best part was when Rod Stewart came to sell us pickles. It wasn’t really Rod Stewart, of course, just a guy in a red tracksuit with a Stewart-esque hair wig that was selling pickles and pepperoni sticks to customers. He even had a teenaged minion that took the cash and distributed the goods. (Breaking Bad much?) I bought spicy horseradish pickles from him, and you know what…they were damn tasty.

Our final stop was the Perch Pub in downtown Philly, where we had a blast. The view was great, the beer was fresh and the food was awesome. The locals came out in droves for the event, and Robbie and I were kept busy talking about the beer, the process and what we had planned for the rest of the Spröcketbier Tour. It was a great ending to a whirlwind visit to the City of Brotherly Love. I was bugging Lee to take us to the Rocky statue so Robbie and I could take a triumphant picture next to the Italian Stallion, but he refused to be within a mile of it, explaining his Philly cred was already in jeopardy by his taking us to Pat’s and that if he was spotted near the statue, he might be banished. Oh well.

Next Stop: The ATL

Our flight from Philly to Atlanta began with what’s probably the shortest radio interview ever conducted. Robbie and I were scheduled to phone-in to a Philly-based craft beer radio show about the same time we were supposed to board the plane to the ATL. To paint the picture, Robbie and I were essentially cuddling in the airport waiting area by the gate while sharing ear buds connected to my smart-phone. We then had to get up to wait in line and continued our furious bro-cuddling while being pummeled with questions. Robbie and I basically spewed all of the info about the Stone Spotlight Series competition, described what we were going for while brewing Spröcketbier, and made a charming joke about how we were sharing ear buds and cuddling in the City of Brotherly Love–all in under a minute. It was arguably entertaining, but irrefutably efficient!

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Atlanta was the exact opposite of our whirlwind, manic go-round in Philly. We had lots of time to relax and chill between events. Our Georgia Sales Rep, Brett Collier, picked us up from the airport and took us to eat at a sports bar with fantastic wings and a great beer selection while we watched the Hawks game. He then dropped us off to check in at our hotel and take much-needed naps before we headed over to the The Marlay House for our keynote event. Located in Decatur, a really cool little suburb outside Atlanta with lots of locally-owned businesses and shops, the Marlay house is a beacon for this deceptively craft beer-centric city. I have to admit, the Atlanta area has a much better beer scene than I expected coming in. We ran into a bunch of homebrewers along with an all-female craft beer appreciation society called “Girls’ Pint Out.” We also met up with Stone Southeast regional Sales Manager Scott Sheridan. I think if you looked up the word “laidback” in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Scotty sitting on the beach with an IPA. There’d probably be a definition that read: adj. the opposite of Lee Marren. Bonus factoid: Scot also looks like Dean Martin. I’ll let that paint a picture in your mind-boxes. Everyone who came out was great and we had an awesome time chatting it up with the locals. I’m definitely going back to Atlanta at some point in the near future, because the 24 hours I spent there wasn’t nearly enough time.

Stop #3: C-Town

Another early flight, a changeover in Dallas, and we were on our way to the shining jewel of the upper Midwest…Cleveland. I know what you’re thinking, because everyone we ran into in Cleveland said the same thing: “Wait, you guys won a brewing competition and as a reward they sent you to Cleveland?! Are you sure you won?” I’ll admit, I was thinking along similar lines, but it turns out that Cleveland is an amazing craft beer town. Our local Sales Rep, Lairdy Lee, picked us up from the airport and drove us the short distance to the hotel to get checked in, then we were right back on the road en route to our first stop at The Brew Kettle. It’s an amazing place where they brew their own beer, smoke their own meat and you can even sign up to brew on their in-house brewing systems. They had Spröcketbier on tap, so that automatically upgraded them in my standings by a couple of points, and their smoked wings were amazing, as were the people, who took extra special care of us while we were putting food and beer in our faces. I highly recommend stopping by the place if you’re ever in the area.

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We had the first half of the next day completely open and Lairdy suggested we go over to the West Side Market area to visit a couple of breweries. This was the first chance for us to see another brewery whilst on our adventure, so we jumped at the chance. First stop was Great Lakes Brewing Company. Great Lakes is an amazing example of a rapidly growing craft brewery trying to squeeze every ounce of beer out of a limited area. This is definitely a common theme amongst most craft breweries today, Stone included. The industry is growing at an amazing rate and trying to keep up with an increase in demand requires some creative solutions. They had fermenters and production on multiple stories in an old building. Everyone was super friendly there and we ended up having lunch at their pub across the street from their production facility.

Next up on our impromptu brewery tour was just down the street at Market Garden Brewery. We met up with brewmaster Andy Tveekrem and he graciously let us sample some lagers off of the tanks. I’m a huge fan of a well-crafted pilsner, helles or dortmunder, and his beers were amazing. Andy’s brewing setup was small, but very well designed and laid-out. It was a thing of beauty. We didn’t have enough time to stick around too long, but the beers were great and the company was even better.

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The party at the Tremont Taphouse, our destination for the afternoon, was in full swing when we rolled in. A couple of very nice newspaper reporters interviewed us in a corner booth. We went into our usual, well-practiced description of the competition and the beer itself, wherein Robbie coined the term, “undrunkable,” to describe our beer. I’m not the biggest fan of the term personally, but it’s a fun way to describe how sessionable, yet tasty, our beer turned out. We also discussed the state of the craft beer industry and the generosity of craft breweries. Basically, we had fun being the rock stars and having people care about our opinions on matters great and small. The rest of the event was spent talking to the locals and going through tasting notes from the various beer enthusiasts trying to nail down the Spröcketbier recipe.

From there, we piled into a taxi and headed to Progressive Field to catch an Indians game. The stadium wasn’t far from Tremont, but we underestimated the popularity of Cher and it took us a while to beat traffic from her concert that evening. Progressive Field is a great place to catch a game. They have an impressive list of craft beers available and it’s pretty to boot. The Indians took on the White Sox. One of my best friends back in my home state of Colorado is a big White Sox fan, so I had to send him pictures and updates on how bad they were getting thrashed by the Tribe (final score: 12-5 Indians). It was a great time.

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Last stop before bedtime and another early flight the next day was to silence our gnawing hunger. We were told by numerous Cleveland veterans that there’s only one place we have to go to eat: Melt Bar and Grilled. And it was mind-blowing. They have an absurd number of variations on the classic grilled cheese sandwiches there. I had the buffalo chicken sandwich, and everyone else had the “Dude Abides,” homemade meatballs and fried Mozzarella with marinara sauce and, of course, more cheese. I can’t tell you how much that hit the spot after a long day of drinking.

I just want you all to know that while poor Cleveland may be the butt of many jokes, the people are awesome and, after being there, you can’t deny it’s one of the better craft beer towns out there. Throw in the fact that the food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere and it’s easy to recommend giving Cleveland a chance if you ever get the opportunity to go.

Follow the Leader: Who Was Your #CraftBeerShepherd?

It’s easy to look at craft beer as some sort of underground club, with all of the secret passwords (Reinheitsgebot?) and acronyms (IBU, OG and CO2 to name a few). Plus, you know some particularly beer geeky bottle-shares must have unique and complicated (if not completely dorky) handshakes. But once you get into the world of beer, it isn’t so intimidating. The hardest part is becoming aware that the world of craft beer exists at all. Having a guide already privy to the lingo, hot spots and best brews makes things a lot easier. Nearly every craft beer fan has a good-hearted shepherd to thank for taking the time to expose them to something better, and we want to recognize these people for the good they do. To put it simply, by selflessly guiding people toward the promised land, they make the world a better place. That’s why we’re asking you to take a moment to call them out for their good deeds on social media. Go online and tell us who showed you the light by telling your story and tagging them on Facebook or calling them out on Twitter using #craftbeershepherd. When doing so, take a second and ponder where you would you be without them—perhaps falling for gimmicks like Vortex bottles, black crowns, crafty branding and subsisting solely on American adjunct-laced swill. Praise be to the #craftbeersheperd!

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Long Lost Epic: Stone Stochasticity Project Quadrotriticale

By now, many are familiar with our newest brewing foray, the Stone Stochasticity Project. But even two brews in, you may not be familiar with the term “stochastic,” especially in the context of brewing. The definition of stochasticity is wordy and probably only truly makes sense if you’ve studied Probability Theory in depth (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy doesn’t count—that’s Improbability Theory), but even our one-track minds picked up on the potential and complexity of this idea. In layman’s terms, stochastic is a non-deterministic, or random, state. So, why not just say that? For one, the scientific background would be lost, and random just doesn’t have the same ring as Stochasticity, nor all the connotation. Two, the Stone Stochasticity Project is much more than just brewing beer. It involves delving beyond what most people think about beyond beer’s four main ingredients. So where does that leave us in our ever-evolving quest for good craft beer? Right at the newest member of this series, Stone Stochasticity Project Quadrotriticale, a beer that holds up to the stochastic and technical nature of this venture.

Top Chef in the House: Amanda Vs. The Arbolcots

We knew Amanda Baumgarten could cook, but once we caught a glimpse of one of her homebrew recipes, it was abundantly clear that her artisanal skills extended beyond the kitchen and into the brewing arena. A former cheftestant on Bravo TV’s wildly popular competition show Top Chef, the talented toque recently opened a thriving gastropub called Waypoint Public in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. Despite being in one of the most craft beer-centric parts of the city (the community is also home to Toronado San Diego, Tiger! Tiger! Tavern, Mike Hess Brewing Company, Thorn St. Brewery and lots more), her restaurant is known for having one of the best beer selections in town. That clout rose even more this summer when Baumgarten was able to add a beer of her own devising to the tap list—Amanda Vs. The Arbolcots.

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Barrel Aging Part II: Original Wine & Spirit Flavors

Earlier this year, we solicited questions from our fans about our barrel-aging program, then funneled all of those queries, like fine imperial stout into barrels, to our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. Steve is in charge of our barrels and has a storied vocational lineage that includes many years spent at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and E&J Gallo Winery. Basically, he knows everything. (He’s not a self-proclaimed know-it-all, mind you…we’re the ones getting sublimely self-righteous on his behalf.) One of the many cool things about Steve is that he relishes the opportunity to share info about his specialized line of work. As such, he was happy to tackle our fans’ questions. He tackled so many, that we’re doling out his answers via a four-part series. This, the second installment, covers inquiries about wine and spirit flavors that are trapped in the barrels we use and ultimately lend flavor to the beers we age in those oak vessels.

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Crank It Up: Kyle Hollingsworth / Keri Kelli / Stone Collective Distortion IPA

Our new double India pale ale, Kyle Hollingsworth / Keri Kelli / Stone Collective Distortion IPA recently wrapped up a whirlwind, coast-to-coast pre-release tour. Considering this fruity and pleasantly earthy brew’s rock star status, it seemed fitting to afford it the touring band treatment its co-creators are used to. That duo consists of The String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth and guitarist Keri Kelli of Alice Cooper and Skid Row fame. Together, like savants providing a reliable backbeat for a most magnificent jam session, the duo guided us toward the recipe for this neo-traditional beer. The hop bill consists of Calypso, Comet and Nugget hops, given staccato-esque punctuation thanks to healthy dry-hopping with Vic’s Secret, a recently introduced hop from Australia. But anybody can come up with an out-there (or Down Under) assemblage of hops. What turns this already blaring imperial IPA up to 11 is spicing from coriander seeds and—a first for us—elderberries. It’s unlike any IPA we’ve ever made…and we’ve made a lot of IPAs!

All Aboard: Team Stone Orientation

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.

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Spicing Up Spring: Stone Smoked Porter w/Chipotle Pepper

Most of our fans are under the impression Stone Smoked Porter w/Chipotle Peppers debuted in 2012. There’s good reason for this. In May of that year, we launched a website, announcing the existence of that beer along with its cousin, Stone Smoked Porter w/Vanilla Bean. This coincided with our national launch of both beers, but as those whose fanatic-level knowledge of our humble brewing company know, both beers came into being years before, though their impetuses were quite different. The epiphany for the bean-bolstered brew came when one of our small batch brewers plopped a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream into a pint of Stone Smoked Porter, while the smoked jalapeño-infused version was presented as an alternative to thin, fizzy, low-flavor macro-lagers offered around Cinco de Mayo.

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Taste Bud: Meet Our New Chef

It took us years (yep, plural, as in more than two 365-day spans) to open San Diego’s largest operating restaurant in the city’s Liberty Station community. Because of that site’s historic status—the mixed-use development was built on the former Naval Training Center campus, which was formerly the largest U.S. Navy training site on the West Coast—there were many considerations that needed to be taken to maintain the integrity of the structure we took over, especially since we were installing a kitchen and seating for more than 600 diners at a time, but also a 10-barrel brewhouse with a 60-barrel capacity cellar. We put a lot of thought into every single detail at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, and that goes double (if not triple or quadruple…this is starting to sound like a run-down of Trappist ale styles) for the food. We knew we’d need a special talent—someone bold, determined and committed—and that’s just what we found in our Executive Chef Thomas Connolly. liberty-tom-connelly-3

Arts & Drafts: Stone’s Fan-Made Gallery

Acting as a refreshing wind in an industry formerly dominated by watery lagers, craft breweries quench imbibers’ thirsts while also fueling their minds and imaginations. A stroll through any Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurant, Stone Company Store or even our flagship brewery, will turn up Stone-inspired artwork and aesthetic touches ingrained in those facilities’ architecture and design. While our signature style and imagination are highly visible to the public, for the most part, only members of Team Stone get to see the creative pieces designed for us by our fans, many of whom use Stone and our beer as their muses. Luckily for us, many of these artists gift us with their creations, allowing us to populate our venues with collections of fan-made art, ranging from sculptures to skateboards. We cherish their work and generosity, and are happy to share some of the fruits of their inventive labor with you here.

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