We’ve been (mis-)labeled “arrogant.” We get it. You brew up a beer called Arrogant Bastard Ale and have the audacity to demand that everybody be entitled to the finest beer today’s craftsmen and women can brew, and people form certain opinions. But in reality, we’re not arrogant. What we are is extremely passionate and confident in craft beer and our abilities in that arena. To a person, our Brew Crew works tirelessly to up their technical knowledge and abilities. From keeping up on best practices and emerging techniques for upping beer’s flavor, increasing the efficiency of our brewhouse, stimulating our yeast so they perform as optimally as possible or staying on top of the ever-changing hop crops and the immense influx of new botanical varietals being produced from the Pacific Northwest to Australia and New Zealand, Brewmaster Mitch Steele and his team have their hands (and heads) full. Each day offers a new opportunity to learn and grow, and our beers reflect that—perhaps more now than ever before.
Talk about mixed emotions. December 12, 2012 rolled around and, come 12:12 p.m., we were elated to finally be able to crack open a vertical tasting like no other. A few hours later, we felt a haze of gloom descend over us as we realized that experience we’d spent nearly 11 years preparing for was over, never to return. It was right there at our Stone Epic Festival, with 11 bottles representing every vintage of Stone Vertical Epic Ale gaping back at us with their empty, open maws, that it all sunk in. This chapter in the history of Stone Brewing Co. was done; eclipsed by the passage of time and a finite supply of triplicate day/month/year dates.
So far, 2015 has seen a flurry of activity here at Stone. This is nothing new. For several years, we’ve been hard at work debuting beers at a rapid and voluminous clip. But this year’s been different. In addition to introducing new brews like Stone Delicious IPA, 2015 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine – Extra Hoppy and 2015 Stone CHAI-SPICED Imperial Russian Stout, we’ve also broke the sad news that some of our beers are being retired, never to return to production again. First, it was Stone Levitation Amber Ale, followed almost immediately by Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA. Both were met with much lamenting, but none so much as the next beer to wave bye-bye. It’s no wonder, it’s only the first beer we ever produced beginning 19 years ago: Stone Pale Ale (which will make its valiant return to the suds scene as Stone Pale Ale 2.0 starting in April). Well, the shake-up isn’t over. There’s still one more beer that will be exiting production for eternity and, as hard as it is to say good-bye, the time has come. Spring 2015 will see the last-ever brew session for Stone Ruination IPA.
While we follow our own muse at Stone, we also pay attention to our fans. Believe it or not, even with more than 600,000 followers across all of our social media channels, we read each and every comment posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and more. It’s awesome to have fans that care enough to take time out to chime in on all things Stone, and every now and then, we glean suggestions that have serious merit. For instance, when we announced that our first ever beer, Stone Pale Ale, would be departing from our portfolio, we received a number of passionate comments. We went in knowing such an announcement would evoke emotional responses, because we, too, are fans of this 19-year-old mainstay. Early on in the social conversation, one of our fans asked for us to share the recipe for Stone Pale Ale so that, even though we won’t be brewing it anymore, it can live on for those with the gumption and wherewithal to brew it at home. This suggestion was immediately run up the flagpole to Stone Co-founders Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, who applauded the idea. The end result is this blog post, which contains the recipe for the soon-to-be-decommissioned Stone Pale Ale. We’re happy that this beer has meant so much to so many—ourselves included—and will have its place among craft beer enthusiasts beyond its lifespan in our brewhouse. Enjoy!
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!
The American craft brewing industry is extremely cohesive, with businesses mirroring each other from the West Coast to the East Coast, North to South, Alaska to Hawaii. Even so, San Diego is very unique. With more than 100 brewhouses having opened throughout the county over the past 25 years, the question we hear most is about competition within the industry. It’s an understandable inquiry (imagine having 100 cheese-makers in one county…yeah, we’re looking at you, Wisconsin!), but it always makes San Diego brewers scratch their heads. For the most part, we really don’t see other breweries as competitors. To us, they are our comrades in the fight for the rise in awareness and availability of high-quality beer in a world dominated by macrobeer. That’s the great thing about artisanal industries like craft beer—just like us, our compatriots are working on bettering the craft, and each great new beer gives us, and other breweries opportunities and ideas. It’s a “collaboration not competition” mindset, a constant alliance and source of inspiration among our breweries. We’ll admit that it’s far from the norm for most industries, so one feels compelled to pose the question: How did such a unique business culture arise?
Picture it…a room full of thirsty beer bloggers, media and industry types seated at tables with tasting glasses. It can be daunting to pour beers for such a discerning crowd—especially one with plenty of dump buckets at their disposal. But that was the mission at hand during a session of the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference, during which representatives from a number of quality craft breweries (including our friends at The Lost Abbey and Firestone Walker Brewing Company) sought to wow these 150-plus beer enthusiasts with their latest creations. Now, we weren’t nervous. We’re Stone. We save jitters and anxiety for others. We had total faith in what we had to offer, but even so, found ourselves pleasantly surprised with the incredible reception our beer was afforded as well as the myriad compliments it earned. Like us, these people have devoted their entire lives to beer, so to be lauded with kudos and positive reviews was high praise, indeed. Today, that beer, Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout, begins showing up on store shelves and draft accounts across the country.
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.
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.
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.