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.
In the craft beer universe, there are companies like The Lost Abbey and Cascade Brewing that are considered the masters of blending barrel-aged beers. Count us among the masses who bow to such expert operations for their abilities in this specialty area. Though not widely known throughout beerophile circles, the brew crew at Stone has dabbled in the blending arena over the past half-decade, so we know how much skill it takes to develop oaken masterpieces versus unpalatable wood beer soup. What’s that? You are among the many unaware of our blending forays? Well, let’s change that immediately. Allow us to introduce you to the Stone Mixtape Ale series.
Ah, Stone Smoked Porter. The second beer that we ever released, waaaaaay back in December of 1996. It’s a good thing, too… the world was in need of something wonderful, what, with Macarena still tormenting the airwaves and Jingle All The Way polluting movie theater screens. Anyway, back then, we called it Winter Stone, thinking it was just going to be a seasonal release. But when we took it away in the spring, people got a little up in arms and clamored for its triumphant return. (One of the most vocal supporters for bringing it back was Greg’s mom… so we kinda had to comply.)
As time went by, and we kept climbing higher and higher up the hop ladder, the humble Stone Smoked Porter stayed in demand, with its mellow smokiness and nuanced notes of coffee and chocolate. It kept a strong, almost cult-like following. Our unsung hero. Part of the reason it still remains so popular with its loyal fan base is that it pairs so damn well with a wide variety of food, ranging from barbecue to desserts. Heck, I’ll go so far as to say it’s our most food-friendly beer. And if you’re thinking, “Gosh, I bet that would be great with some vanilla beans or chipotle peppers in it,” you’re gonna freak out about this next paragraph. Read More
Sure, Stone Smoked Porter is delicious by itself. No question. But it’s also pretty damn tasty with some artisanal vanilla bean ice cream in it. Hordes of Bistro-goers agree that our Real Beer Float made with Stone Smoked Porter and Niederfranks Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is out of this world. That’s exactly how Stone Brewer Laura Ulrich got the idea for Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Beans.
Around the time our Bistro first opened, Laura tried a Real Beer Float and had an epiphany—you know, the old light goes on above the head moment. “I don’t really like ice cream,” said Laura, “but I tried it and it was like nothing I’d ever had, and I said ‘I bet vanilla beans would be amazing in a cask of Smoked Porter.’” Laura presented her brilliant idea to our Head Brewer, Mitch Steele, and he agreed to try it. It was difficult to achieve the right beans-to-beer ratio at first, but our brew crew has nearly perfected it. “At first the vanilla beans were pretty potent,” said Laura, “so we cut back. We’ve cut back ever since.”
Laura used to get the vanilla beans for the brew from our Bistro kitchen. She would show up on the Bistro’s back porch like a poor stray brewer and beg for a few vanilla beans. Our kind kitchen crew obliged her for a while, but as the beer became more popular they finally told Laura to get her own vanilla beans. So she lined up a distributor, and the rest is history.
Thinking of adding vanilla beans to your homebrew? It’s super easy. Think of it like brewing a tea with vanilla beans and tossing it in your brew. Here’s how we do it:
- Slice the beans down the side w/out slicing the whole bean in half
- Open the beans and scrape out the goo
- Cut up the leftover bean shells
- Boil the goo and diced shells in water
- Let it cool to the proper temperature and add it to your brew!
So why did Laura want to add vanilla beans to our Smoked Porter? Why fix it if it ain’t broke? “I think it’s just a little more rich,” said Laura. “The C02 with the vanilla beans just has that old school flavor to it—that flavor that you remember as a kid growing up and having a root beer float.”
Whatever your reason for enjoying Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Beans, be it nostalgia for a past era of roller-skating waitresses and root beer floats or plain old gustatory indulgence, you won’t be disappointed.
Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Beans is only available on special occasions in the Bistro and in the Stone Company Store for growler fills. Check out our growler fill schedule to see when it will be available again, and follow @StoneStore on Twitter for advanced notices on growler fills and Twitter-only specials.