Cali-Belgique: The Untold Story

Matt Steirnagle
Starting last August you may have noticed a mysterious, hyphenated newcomer lurking around the more familiar Stone Brews at your local retailer. Being a Stone fan, you would have found this joyous and remarkable, as the last entirely new bottled Stone release was OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale back in 2004. Fans are used to anticipating a unique Stone Anniversary Ale or Stone Vertical Epic Ale each year, but this is something entirely different and unexpected. What’s the story, here? Just what is Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, and how did it come to be included in such an exclusive lineup?

The enigmatic Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

The enigmatic Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

Here’s the skinny: Whenever we brew a Belgian-style beer, such as one of the Vertical Epic Ales, we need to culture up a large amount of Belgian-style yeast, without which none of those distinctive Belgian flavors and aromas will emerge. Ordinarily our yeast is grown in a miniature batch of Stone Pale Ale, then separated and transferred to one of the big fermentation tanks. Because Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale was going to be so pale, our brewers worried that residual Stone Pale Ale mixed in with the yeast might noticeably darken it, so they used Stone IPA wort instead.

See where I’m going with this? After the yeast was removed, our brewers sampled the (now fermented) brew left in the yeast tank and found that it was good. Really good. We had done a pilot batches of Belgian-Style IPAs (or Belgian inspired california style IPAs) in the past with great results, and had thought of doing something like that on a larger scale. Head Brewer Mitch Steele saw the left over beer as an opportunity for a larger batch and a dry-hop trial (For those of you that don’t know, dry-hopping is soaking hops in fermented beer, rather than boiling them into the wort.) Greg liked the result enough to challenge Team Stone to come up with a name for it, and to create a whole new category of Stone releases accommodating its semi-regular production: The year-round limited release. This means it might not be around all the time, but at least you won’t have to wait a full year for the next release (the next one will probably be out by late March). Ben Lee, our production coordinator gets credit for coming up with the name. Stone (’cause we made it) Cali (designating California origins) Belgique (French for Belgium) IPA. To honor northern Dutch-speaking Belgians we printed half of the bottles with the moniker Stone Cali-België IPA.

So is a Belgian yeast strain the only thing that makes this beer special? Not quite. We finish Stone IPA with Centennial hops, which gives it that distinctly floral, grapefruity quality that it’s known for. Without these particular hops, Stone IPA would be a very different beer. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA is finished with Chinook hops, which have somewhat heavier, spicy qualities. Our brewers changed hops because the exotic flavors produced by Belgian yeast compliment the complex character of Chinook hops, and because we were already making two beers (Stone IPA and Stone Ruination IPA) showcasing the glory of Centennial. It may seem like the difference is trivial, but IPAs are all about hops, and changing the variety of finishing hops can have as much of an effect as changing the grape varietals in a wine. We’ve thought it over, and have decided to update the text on Cali-Belgique bottles to reflect this difference.

- Matt Steirnagle, brewery tours