Barrel Aging, Part 4: Brewing Beers for Barrels

Over the past year, our Research and Small Batch Manager Steve Gonzalez has fielded questions from curious beer fans and homebrewers on the topic of barrel-aging and Stone’s wood program. In addition to one last batch of his responses, we’re also offering up a cool video spotlighting our Small Batch Brewing Team. They are passionate people with a wealth of experience that, as exemplified by this four-part blog series, is as refined as the beers their expert techniques produce. Get a glimpse of what makes these folks so awesome then take in one last burst of barrel-aging knowledge.

Stone fan Kyle Tucker asks: Stone tends to focus on higher ABV ales, IPAs, double IPAs, etc. Generally, barrel-aging is great for sour beers and stouts. What kind of results would be had from barrel-aging an IPA (which is generally better fresh), and would it be an option for your guys to have a barrel-aged Stone Ruination IPA, for example?

We aged Stone Ruination IPA in Bourbon barrels and released it as Batch 06 of our 2013 Quingenti Millilitre series. It was Batch 06 of the 2013 series. It was really good, but we probably won’t do it again. All that hoppiness was a little more muted than fresh Stone Ruination IPA, but still present in that beer. It was aged for a very long 16 months. We experimented with the idea of dry-hopping it or blending fresh Stone Ruination IPA into it, but in the end, we decided it was better without any help. We have done very small-scale experiments with Stone Cali-Belgique IPA and Stone IPA aged in Bourbon barrels also. I didn’t care for them, personally, and we won’t be moving forward with that again.

The two of our IPAs that are amazing in barrels are Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA aged in rye whiskey barrels and Stone Cali-Belgique IPA aged in red or white wine barrels. The SSRA had all that awesome orange and chocolate flavor combined with spice and vanilla from the spirt barrel. It was so good, we bottled it as Stygian Descent, Batch 01 of our 2014 Quingenti Millilitre series. I would like to try aging that beer in Bourbon barrels at some point and potentially try it in red wine barrels. It could work. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA in wine barrels is amazing. The Belgian yeast combined with native micro-flora from the barrel enhances the spiciness and fruitiness of that beer. The piney character of the hops in the beer melds with the fruit flavors and bitter tannin of the wine barrel to become something deliciously different.

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Stone fan Michael Piorunski asks: Have you made an “all-California” barrel-aged beer with California malt, hops, yeast, water and oak?

I haven’t considered doing that. We do use a lot of local ingredients and, certainly, California has a ton of wine barrel coopers, but malt might be tricky to get. We did make a beer called Stone Passion Project that was made with passion fruit from our own Stone Farms. That was a really cool and fun barrel-aged beer with local ingredients. The malt and hops were mostly Continental European, but the barrels were all from California wineries.

Stone fan Mike Upson asks: I have it on good authority that there is a Bourbon barrel filled with StoneWall Ale continuing to age at your facility. Is that true?

If there is, I haven’t seen it! We don’t age very many of our beers for that long. The current record is 26 months. Maybe at some point in the future, we’ll lay something down for an extended aging period as a sort of “liquid time capsule,” but for now, we’re not doing that. StoneWall Ale is now over its peak. It is still a pretty tasty beer, but if you have any left, I would recommend not saving it any longer.

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Stone fan Tim Oyer asks: Is it possible to buy used barrels from Stone to use for homebrews? I’d kill to have a barrel from Crime or Punishment for my own attempt at a spicy treat!

We do not typically sell them. Once we are done with our barrels, we convert most of them into really cool chairs and benches for our Stone Company Stores, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens restaurants and Stone Farms. We did add some beer to a used Crime (Lukcy Basartd Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels with incredibly spicy peppers added) barrel, though. Boy, it was still hot! Even with just that 3% remnant of Crime locked in the wood. I really liked it.

Home Run: Stone Beer at the Ballpark

The lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” evoke memories of sunny days, the scent of fresh-cut grass and the sharp crack of pine making forceful contact with a small, red-stitched orb. There’s nothing quite like baseball season. America’s Pastime stirs the souls and passions of people from all walks of life—young to old, blue collar to white collar, West Coast to East Coast. It also appeals to both craft beer fans and people who don’t give a rip what they swig while they take in the boys of summer, so long as it’s ice cold, triple-hopped, cold-filtered or [insert lame, meaningless macro-beer company's Madison Avenue-developed buzz term here]. For so long, those enthusiastic about quality beer and baseball had to forgo the former when enjoying the latter, which makes us all the happier that, this year, we were able to debut a number of ballpark craft beer options for those seeking ales of substance in our hometown. This is a major accomplishment that comes after many years of hard work and negotiation to gain access to the prestigious Petco Park. Check out our new locations then visit them the next time you take in a San Diego Padres game.

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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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#PairedWith: Stone Saison

Few, if any beer styles offer such a wide-ranging array of flavors as saison. Alternately referred to as “farmhouse ales” for the French and Belgian rural structures in which the style originated, no two taste the same, and therein lies the glory of the saison. Anything goes…and we like that! Tangy, earthy, peppery, herbaceous, floral, spicy and fruity are among the numerous descriptors that can accompany this rangy beer style. So, when conceptualizing our new Stone Saison, we were essentially able to go in any direction we wanted. It seemed only right to bottle up a Belgian-style beer that, while different from most of the incredibly hoppy offerings we’re known for, clearly embodied who we are; something 100% Stone! It was a tall order, but one sip is all it’ll take to show fans why we think we came through with flying colors.

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Farm to Fork: Stone’s Farm-to-Tableism

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.

Stone Farms’ Solid Roots Exposed

In 2010, we caught wind that a vital business in our hometown of Escondido, California was in a world of hurt. That struggling institution was a 19-acre farm called La Milpa Organica from which we sourced some of the ingredients used to craft our pan-global cuisine at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido. Despite valiant efforts and a ton of elbow grease, La Milpa Organica went out of business by year’s end. As supporters of the farm-to-table movement and proud advocates for our corner of the world, we took advantage of the fact that we had the resources to do something to keep a center for organic farming in Escondido alive. So, rather than bemoan the loss of something good, in March of 2011, we went outside our craft beer box, took over the farmland, then proceeded to stand there, pitchforks in hand a la American Gothic with an OK-now-what look on our faces. Such was the beginning of life on Stone Farms.

Give Us Liberty (& Give Us Beer)!: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station

They say good things come to those who wait. Fermentation has proven this true for us time and time again; however, we are, at our core, pretty darn impatient. We have grand aspirations and want to push the craft beer envelope by providing new ways for people to experience hand-crafted ales and lagers. Grand aspirations require grand gestures. Grand gestures take grand effort. Grand effort mandates a boatload of time, and that equates to a whole lot of waiting for our grand aspirations to be forged into reality. Never has this been truer than in the case of construction of our second farm-to-table restaurant, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. It took us years to take it from the grand aspiration phase to the tangible and absolutely magnificent (if we do say so ourselves, and we just did) brick-and-mortar bastion of good beer and quality cuisine it’s become. The waiting was the hardest part, but, once again, it was all worth it. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station is open for business and Worthy all of the hard work it took to get it to that point. Allow us to show you around…

The main dining room at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station

Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone get BUFF… again.

Remember when we came out with that badass collaboration beer? What’s that? Oh, which one, you ask? Yes, of course. We should be more specific, as they’ve all been pretty unbelievable. (And we’re totally allowed to brag this hard because there were other brilliant brewers involved, so please consider this our way of supremely complimenting them… while giving ourselves just a little pat on the back.)

Annnnnnyway, so as you may recall, in 2010, we released Dogfish Head / Victory / Stone Saison du BUFF, a hellaciously herbaceous beer that we–and countless others–fell in love with instantly.

Dogfish Head / Victory / Stone Saison du BUFF is back at long last! But it won't last long.

Dogfish Head / Victory / Stone Saison du BUFF is back at long last! But it won’t last long.

Cheers To An Amazing Year!

2011 is drawing to a close, and we’d like to send out a huge thank you to all our fans. With your help, we’ve accomplished some amazing things this year.

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The brewing team has been rocking it this year, making over 25 different beers in the last 12 months. Among them were seven special releases, including the mammoth & widely lauded Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA.

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We began releasing our sought-after and delicious barrel-aged beers in 500ml bottles this year, and you blew us all away by raising $15,000 for charity with the very first release.

Community Supported Agriculture: Stone’s Next Frontier

Jacob McKean

NOTE: You must place your order at the Stone Company Store-Escondido at least one week in advance of your first pick-up date.

As loyal blog readers, you are undoubtedly aware of Stone Farms, our 18-acres of beautiful farmland and oak-covered hills located just 8 miles north of our brewery in Escondido.

While only about 4.5 acres of the property are actually farmable, this marvelous plot of land has thus far yielded a gorgeous array of vegetables for the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens and the Stone Farms stand, which is set up right in front of the brewery every Friday from 2:30-6pm. The biodynamically managed farm has been producing a bounty of heirloom vegetables, whose remarkably vivid flavors and bright colors have been exceedingly popular with farm stand regulars.

An example of a Stone Farms C.S.A. box

Now we’re taking it up a notch and allowing folks to buy into a Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A. AKA “veggie box”) program. Here’s how it works:

  1. Every Thursday, the Stone Farms crew harvests veggies to be sold the next day. From the earth to your plate in under 24 hours!
  2. The crew puts together boxes featuring a variety of these amazing veggies, generally 8-12 different items per box along with a loaf of fresh baked bread from our kitchen…about enough for 2 hungry people for a week.
  3. You, the organic vegetable loving craft beer drinker, come to our farm stand on Fridays from 2:30-6pm and pick up your box every week for 10 weeks. The boxes cost $25 each.
  4. While you’re here, you might decide to get your growler filled with something spectacular, like Stone Ruination IPA Dry Hopped with Citra & Centennial Hops, for example. A calendar of our special Friday growler fills can be found here. These typically cost between $7-$14 depending on the size of the growler.
  5. You return home stocked with some of the freshest veggies & beer imaginable. You rejoice, hard.
  6. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How do you get to take advantage of this staggeringly amazing opportunity, you ask? By buying your C.S.A. share at the Stone Company Store—Escondido. It’s that simple. Available while supplies last.