Over the past few years, we’ve gone from dabbling in the oaken arts to a full on wood obsession, stocking up on oak vessels of virgin, French and American heritage, tinged with everything from red and white vino to fortified wines and spirits. The latter have included just about every brand of fire water the mind can conjure. The results of our wide ranging barrel experiments have siphoned out to the beer-drinking public primarily via our Quingenti Millilitre line of brews, and have been well received by our fans (and us) thanks to an incredible depth of flavor that wouldn’t be possible without the woody, charred, vanilla and other flavor nuances imparted by the aging receptacles. Stone and our fans are so enamored with our barrel-aging program that, over the course of 2014, we’re sharing a four-part blog post series taking questions posed by curious Stone fans and including answers from our master of barrels, Research & Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez. For this, the first part of that series, he is tackling queries having to do with the imparting of oak flavors. Sit back, relax (enjoy a fine barrel-aged brew if you have one handy) and be prepared to have some serious knowledge dropped.
It’s 7 a.m. on a Friday and stainless steel gleams bright in our dawn-lit Escondido brewery. Packed in behind a 120-barrel Rolec brewhouse is a small, custom-made pilot batch brewery dedicated entirely to recipe formulation and experimentation. Steam begins to billow out, as if from a loud, angry Victorian-era locomotive. The piney, resinous, earthy smell of hops fills the air, and over the course of a morning, a beer is born.
I was dumping a 55-pound bag of malted barley into a hopper when something occurred to me: I have probably never used more than 20 pounds of grain in a beer recipe, let alone the 500 pounds I was helping mill at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. Usually Liberty Station Brewing Manager Kris Ketchum takes on this laborious task all by himself, but on March 8, a dozen women clad in pink boots and armed with can-do attitudes descended on the 10-barrel brewhouse to participate in the first ever International Women’s Collaboration Brew (IWCB) Day!
We, like many hopheads, are immensely bullish on the incredible flavor and intense citrusy, bitter impact provided by our ultra-fresh Stone Enjoy By IPA. But believe it or not, for us, it isn’t just about the beer. Yes, given the massive outpouring of affection for this West Coast double IPA, that last statement sounds kind of odd, but it’s true. Stone Enjoy By IPA was forged with greater intentions than mere satiation. It was designed to convey the importance, nay, the necessity of drinking hoppy beer when it’s fresh. We overtly stamp each batch with a 35-day Enjoy By date, and when that day comes up on the calendar, this beer should be out of your fridge and off retailers’ shelves. Drinking it beyond the date printed on that evergreen bottle simply won’t provide the same, vivid experience. But we went far beyond the bottle, communicating the facts on freshness via our Stone Enjoy By IPA website and our social media channels. It was a worthwhile endeavor, and much of that was thanks to you. Through social conversations online and over pints of this beer, many who had no idea how important beer freshness was have been converted, thus improving their quality of life and craft beer enjoyment forever. For those of you who helped increase the reach of that lesson, we thank you and are excited to share the steps we’ve taken to further broaden the reach of this important message and share in the many splendors of Stone Enjoy By IPA.
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.
Stone makes nine year-round beers. For most brewing companies, that’d be enough, especially when you add in the massive number of specialty beers, collaborative ales and other cool non-year-round stuff we cram into the brew schedule. But we’re not most brewing companies. We know that the face of American craft beer is constantly evolving, and with it, the tastes of beer drinkers across the nation. While we’ll never follow trends (but will absolutely do our darndest to start a few), it’s important to keep our eyes, ears and palates open to what our fans desire, and we’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb (in the literal sense) to fail to see beer fans’ love of session India pale ales. They’re popping up everywhere as folks look for lower-alcohol beers delivering the poignant flavors of imperial IPAs. There’s definitely a plethora of modern day scenarios and a need for lighter ABV brews. These served as the impetus for brewing our Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning session beer, Stone Levitation Ale in 2006. But beer lovers cannot survive on amber ales alone—even if they are intensely hoppy and just 4.4% ABV—so we spent much of 2013 working on several recipes for our very own session IPA, and now, that fruity, piney, altogether hoppy newcomer, Stone Go To IPA, will be available to fulfill your big flavor sans overwhelming ABV needs all year long.
Stone has some pretty strict philosophies when it comes to food. We stand by local and organically cultivated ingredients because we know they’re better for the environment, and they taste pretty darn good, too. You can get amazing items prepared with truly farm-to-table ingredients every day at our three Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens locations, but there are a few nights out of the year where we take it to the next level of freshitude—Fresh Dinners. These feasts are made solely from ingredients procured the very same day, and some of those ingredients come from our very own Stone Farms.
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.
Back in 2006, when we decided to branch into the restaurant business, we admittedly didn’t know a lot about what we were getting ourselves into. Up until that point, we had breathed, slept, ate and, of course, drank beer and only beer. But one thing we did know was that quality was going to be at the forefront of our foray into the restaurant biz, and that so long as we held fast to that and our personal philosophies on how to provide said quality, we’d be alright…and so would fans who came to visit. Fast forward seven plus years and you’ll see we’ve done a damn good job (becoming the highest volume joint in the region), and as we predicted, the vast majority of our restaurateur successes have come from staying true to ourselves and our ethics.
It’s rare that we at Stone are lost for words, yet, in remembering our dear friend Matt Courtright, it’s tough to even know where to begin. But it seems the most appropriate place is with the very special person that we miss so much. Mattwas an architect from Michigan who followed his passion for craft beer beyond his vocational and geographic boundaries, making a drastic career change to become a professional brewer. From the moment he came aboard, we knew we had someone special within our ranks. And not just because he was an extraordinary brewer—which he most certainly was. No, there was much more to Matt than his workplace assets. So much more.