Pale By Comparison: Stone Pale Ale (1.0)

It was born in 1996 within the humble, rented (strategically near Pizza Port) Solana Beach condo of Stone Co-founder Greg Koch; a 99%/1% collaborative effort between Koch (the one percent in that equation) and fellow Co-founder/original Brewmaster Steve Wagner. Before Stone sold a single beer, the duo spent countless hours experimenting with a wide array of recipes in search of a brew worthy of becoming the world’s first taste of Stone Brewing Co. Such status was tough to live up to, and plenty of trial beers fell short, but when Koch and Wagner first tasted Stone Pale Ale, there was no question in their mind that it was the one!

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Maltier and more full-bodied than most American pale ales—not to mention tons hoppier than most beers at the time—it was a bold direction to go with the only beer in a fledgling portfolio. There was no proven market for a beer like Stone Pale Ale, so it was risky. Many accounts Koch called on tasted the beer and looked at him like he was crazy for thinking anybody would want to drink something so assertive. He was laughed out of a number of bars, pubs, taverns and eateries, but through it all he and Wagner never gave up on Stone Pale Ale. They had faith in the beer and their favorite thing about it was that it was so different from other beers in the mid-nineties suds landscape. That faith was further bolstered by the fact Pizza Port owner Vince Marsaglia saw fit to put the first-ever keg (and thousands of subsequent kegs) of Stone Pale Ale on at his brewpub. Those were big-time bragging rights and proof that people who really understood craft beer would, in turn, understand Stone Pale Ale and Stone Brewing Co.’s overall brewing approach.

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That theory proved legit. Behind a rising number of business owners willing to embrace more than fickle, fizzy, yellow macro-lager, Stone Pale Ale found platforms upon which to shine and, a year later, Stone Pale Ale became San Diego County’s first-ever brewed and bottled beer (first appearing in 22-ounce bottles in June 1997 before making it into 12-ounce six-packs in the spring of 1998). It’s been a steady favorite of our fans over the past 18-plus years amid an ever-changing craft beer landscape. However, everything has a lifespan; nothing is forever. Not even Stone Pale Ale. The same spirit of providing drinkers with something bolder and cutting edge that led to this beer’s creation has led brewers across the country to similarly up the flavor and vibrancy of their beers. That has led to evolving tastes among people who drink craft beer and a thirst for hoppier beers. That’s true of us as well, and, honestly, Stone Pale Ale doesn’t hit our palates with the same poignancy that it once did. That’s not the experience we endeavor to provide to our fans, so we decided in early 2014 that it was time to change things up.

A year ago, we challenged current Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele to come up with an updated version of Stone Pale Ale. We’re not quite ready to spill the hops regarding details. To be honest, we’re still making some final tweaks to the recipe. But suffice it to say, it’ll be something new and in keeping with the direction our brewery is headed. And, if the invigorating effect it has on our taste buds is any indication, it’ll be a beer you’ll be happy to make the acquaintance of. So, join us in most honorably discharging Stone Pale Ale, the beer that helped to build Stone Brewing Co. to what it is today, and ushering in a new era of bold, forward-thinking beer signaled by the upcoming arrival of Stone Pale Ale 2.0.

Perusing the Portfolio: A Rundown of our Beer

You might have heard we released 120 beers last year. Within that 120 were our core beers, dated editions of Stone Enjoy By IPA, collaborations, Liberty Station beers, Stochasticity Project experiments and a multitude of others. Even we had trouble keeping up with this onslaught of ales, so confusion among our fans is understandable. But there’s always a rhyme and reason to our madness. With multiple naming conventions (and design conventions failing that), our releases all have their rightful place in our family of beers. Below, we’ll break it down for you, bottle by bottle, and demystify our portfolio.

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Belgo A-Go-Go: Stone Belgian Fest

Stone is known for its beer and, thanks to the hard work of our staff, some well-stocked craft beer festivals. Names like Oakquinox, Sour Fest, and Pour It Black have become fixtures in the Stone fan lexicon. Each features a triple-digit list of fantastic draft and bottled beers, including rarities only the likes of our Craft Beer Ambassador “Dr.” Bill Sysak has the long-tended industry relationships to procure for festival attendees. From the outside looking in, populating such a list seems easy, but there’s a lot of science and elbow grease to it. We used our newest beer festival, Stone Belgian Fest (the first full-scale annual festival at our sprawling Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station brewery-restaurant), to follow “Dr.” Bill and see how and why he does what he does to make sure fans get the full Stone festival experience every time out. Check out his answers, then make plans to join us for Stone Belgian Fest, 11 a.m. on Sunday, February 22.

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Scottish Export: Stone’s BrewDog Exchange Program

Each year, Stone and Scottish craft brewery BrewDog participate in a brewer exchange program, where one of their brewers gets to escape the cold, gloomy Scotland winter and work on his or her tan (or burn) in Southern California. Meanwhile, a member of our Brew Crew goes across the pond to trudge through the rain and discover all of the insufficiencies of the winter clothes we have stashed in the back of our closet (and maybe pull out once every other year for a trip to the mountains). I was lucky enough to get to go this past November, and I took notes (and lots of pictures)!

First, look at where BrewDog’s brewery is:

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To Be Discontinued: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

We’ve been at this whole brewing thing since 1996 and can proudly point to many, many friends who’ve been with us from the very beginning. They’ve been there for the conceptions of beers both successful (Stone IPA, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Stone Enjoy By IPA and Stone Go To IPA) and, well, not-quite-as-successful (Anybody remember 1997′s Stone Session Ale or Stone Heat Seeking Wheat?). We’ve had (mostly) hits and a few misses (we wouldn’t be trying if we hadn’t!), and through it all, our fans have stuck by us. A lot of that has to do with our mutual desire to see what’s around the next corner. We share that thirst for the unknown. It’d be easy to just keep making the same beers over and over again and release a “seasonal” or “specialty” beer once a year or every few years, but that’s just not who we are. I mean, c’mon, you wouldn’t want or expect Stone to become stagnant or stale, would you? Yeah, neither would we.

From the beginning, we’ve let our creative style and the forward push of the craft beer movement enthuse and drive us. So, it’s only natural that this interest to stay creative births new beers that, over recent years, have come along at the pace of offspring at a bunny farm. And it’s only natural that new beers best received by our fans be the ones we put our focus on.

After all, while we know what we like, your actions (AKA buying patterns) tell us very clearly what you like.

This means that the beers our fans show the most interest in must sometimes supplant others…even those in our portfolio with longer tenures. Though it’s hard to let go of beers we truly love and have put so much of our brewing heart and soul into, soon we will be bidding a fair adieu to two old friends: Stone Levitation Amber Ale and Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA.

Stone Levitation Amber Ale is levitating off shelves forever

Stone Levitation Amber Ale is levitating off shelves forever

Hitting the Ground Drinking: Stone’s 2015 Event Calendar

It’s obvious how excited we are for 2015, given we’ve planned out most of our events. Actually, it’s those events that have led to the lion’s share of our anticipatory spirit. Take a look at the list of happenings below and you’ll get it. We’ve breaking down those events with all of the beer, food, knowledge and amusing shenanigans we could pack into a year. Of course it’s a work in progress. After all, we live in San Diego where beer reigns supreme and events seem to pop out of the ground on an hourly basis. We’ll surely have no shortage of pleasant pop-up events, but these are some of the best that you can bank on and calendar for. Prepare yourself for a jam-packed 2015, and we’ll do the same.

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A Beer Befitting Its Name: Stone Delicious IPA

India pale ales are our bread-and-butter here at Stone. We love them as much as you do. Similarly, we get an immeasurable amount of satisfaction out of experimenting with new hop combinations to create IPAs with flavor profiles that vary from what we’ve thus far experienced. The arrival of Stone Delicious IPA provides a tangible example of why continual IPA and hop exploration are so fulfilling. With the new Lemondrop varietal as a centerpiece and a massive dry-hop comprised exclusively of lemony El Dorado hops from Washington State, this beer lives up to its name behind a plethora of tart, citrusy notes and a stunning grove-like, lemon tree bouquet, providing a graceful yet in no way subtle one-two punch to the senses. Our newest IPA is unique to our stable of beers in every way…including the fact it just so happens to be our first gluten-reduced offering.

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A Year of Beer: Summing Up 2014

Each year we up the number of beers we brew, and each year it seems like we can’t do any more than we already have. Yet, each year we prove ourselves wrong! In 2014, we shattered our previous record of 74 brews with an epic 120 beers. From the tried-and-true, to the boundary-pushing, it was a big year in our brewhouse. But it didn’t end with a jam-packed brew schedule. Between all these releases we planned five festivals and countless fundraisers to reinvest some love into to the community. So reminisce with us about a year that brought us amazing craft beer, thrilling times and monumental developments.

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Let Them Eat Fruit Cake: Beer-Enhanced Holiday Recipes

Last week, we took to social media, asking Stone fans to tell us what time-honored holiday treats they’d like to see our test kitchen tackle in an attempt to make them better using craft beer. A wide variety of suggestions came back, some in the form of pleas. We took some of the most popular and got to work simmering, whisking and brushing a variety of brews into a pair of desserts that, when the dust of the confectioner sugar cleared, were all the better for it. Accept the recipes for both of them as our holiday gift to all of you. Cheers to craft beer, and more craft beer in the kitchen!

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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.