A Case of What If: Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

While we hold true to time-honored traditional brewing processes, we’re anything but conformists. Ours is a brewery where, rather than blindly adhering to methods and styles simply because “that’s the way it’s been done for hundreds of years,” we make a practice of regularly taking a step back, clearing our minds of all we know and contemplating simple but essential queries like “why not?” and “what if?” Our beers are founded on the logic gained from centuries’ worth of brewmasters who mashed in ahead of us, but their true flavor and character is a result of our inquisitive, experimental nature. A poignant example of this is presented in our Belgian-style India pale ale, Stone Cali-Belgique IPA.

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Chill Haze…The More You Know

Some of our fans may have noticed that our Stone IPA has not had its usual bright, golden, clear appearance lately. We have seen it ourselves: we are having issues with ‘haze formation’ (AKA ‘chill haze’) in this beer…and even some possible occurrence of so-called ‘floaties.’ We thought it might be useful to present an explanation so that everyone knows what is going on.

Some important things to know about chill haze and floaties:

  1. Chill haze will not affect beer taste at all. The chill haze has no flavor.
  2. There may be a slight increase in foaming as the beer is poured. The haze particles form nucleation points for CO2 bubbles. Again, this is not a flavor issue, as there is no taste difference.

So, what exactly is chill haze? (Hold on…we’re gonna go in deep! If you’re not interested in brewing science, it’s safe to stop here.)

The phenomenon known as chill haze is a colloidal haze that forms when proteins from the malt form a loose bond with polyphenols from hops. Without being overly technical [Too late Mitch! –ed.], this haze compound forms at colder temperatures (hence the name). And normally, when the beer warms back up, the haze disappears. You can observe this after you pour the beer into a glass and watch it clear up as the beer warms. Or take a bottle out of the refrigerator and let it warm up, and it will also get clearer. But eventually, especially if the beer is stored refrigerated (as it should be) the haze particles will not dissolve as the beer warms, and it then becomes known as permanent haze. Permanent haze tends to clump together in the beer and stay there. The scientific technical term for this permanent haze that clumps together is “floaties.”

Normally, our beers do develop a little bit of haze as they age. This is perfectly normal, and nothing to be concerned about. However, we don’t like the amount of haze that is forming in Stone IPA right now. It is too much, and we are working hard to get the situation back to normal. We especially do not like to see floaties in our beer! Here are some things that we are looking at to resolve this situation:

  1. Because chill haze is formed from protein and tannins, any change in composition in your brewing ingredients can result in a change in the amount of haze that forms. Thus, in years where malt has higher protein or beta glucan levels, we can see more haze form in our beer. Dry-hopped beers tend to form more haze, because the increased hopping adds more polyphenols to bond with the protein. So we are intensely studying our incoming malt to evaluate the changes in protein, beta glucan, and other factors that might be contributing to the haze.
  2. Chill haze can usually be effectively removed from beer before it is bottled. The traditional brewing procedure is to chill the beer after fermentation close to freezing, and age it several days or weeks before filtration, which forces the chill haze particles to form in the beer. Then, when the beer is filtered, the haze particles are trapped on the filter bed, leaving the beer clear and haze-free. That is what we normally do here at Stone, and up until now, it has been effective. However, one issue we are struggling with as we’ve grown is our chilling systems cannot keep up with our production, and some tanks are taking too long to reach chill temperatures. We suspect that these tanks are not getting good chill haze formation prior to filtration, and so the haze forming compounds are still in the beer after filtration and form haze and the dreaded floaties as the bottled or kegged beer is kept refrigerated.
  3. There are other techniques that can be used to reduce chill haze, including adding Irish Moss or other types of protein flocculants in the brewhouse. These compounds bond with the proteins during the kettle boil, creating larger, solid particles that are settled out as “trub” in the whirlpool. They are added to enhance the trub formation during the kettle boil, which is important, because wort needs to be good and clear before adding yeast. Excess protein in wort can impact yeast performance and beer flavor. An added benefit is that the decanting of clear wort off the trub effectively removes much of the protein that would otherwise go on to form chill haze in the finished beer. At Stone Brewing Co., we use a product called Whirlfloc in the kettle boil, which is used by many, many brewers. But as the beta glucan level of our incoming malts change (thanks to Mother Nature), we need to regularly re-evaluate the amount of Whirlfloc we are adding, and we are conducting those tests right now.
  4. We are also auditing and evaluating our filtration process and centrifugation process to make sure there isn’t something there that is contributing to the increase in haze formation.
  5. And there are other, more severe methods that can be used to remove chill haze components, such as adding silica gel, PVPP, or papain to the cold beer as it ages. These products react with either protein or polyphenol and form large haze particles that are easily filtered out. This is the kind of technique that is used by bigger brewers because it is generally foolproof. But it’s just not us to resort to these methods.   We’ve never added anything like that to our beers at Stone.  We don’t want to over-process our beers, nor do we want to start adding anything now that could affect flavor. We will get this solved without resorting to adding chillproofing agents.  Interesting that a chill haze beer can actually indicate a purer beer (even though the novice might interpret the opposite).

We’re telling you all this because we don’t mind just laying it on the table.  Even though there’s zero flavor difference, we love the look of a crystal clear Stone IPA just as much as you do (and also realize the potential for a hazy one to be misinterpreted in our often over-sanitized and processed world).  Please bear with us as we work diligently to solve this situation, and in the meantime, enjoy your slightly hazy Stone IPA just as much as any other time.

137,088 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, 137,088 Bottles of Beer…

If you read the blog, you know that Steve Via broke our keg line record a few weeks ago. Well, Keg Masta Steve isn’t the only one around here kicking ass and taking names. Our bottling line crew recently set a new record by bottling a staggering 137,088 12-ounce bottles of Stone IPA and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (95 pallets and 12 cases) in one day!

The previous record was 130,728 bottles (90 pallets and 47 cases), set on December 17, 2008, with each person clocking thirty minutes of overtime that day. Not only did the bottling line break the old record by 6,360 bottles, but they did it with significantly less overtime.

The Bottling Line Crew

Our record-breaking bottling line crew, from left to right: Steve Parks, Manny Amador, Kevin Nolan, Eric Szaras, Nelson Clara, Zack Robertson, Caitlin Misner, Ryan Roersma, Zack Soderbeck, and Beau Bratton

Our bottling line has come a long way since Ben Lee, our Production Coordinator, started on the bottling line over six years ago. “A 21,600 bottle day was a huge deal back in the day,” said Ben. Ben remembers having to place bottles onto the line manually, and then load them into boxes by hand after being filled. Bruised and swollen hands weren’t the only fun side effect. “We had to wrap our fingers in duct tape to avoid getting shredded by the bottle caps.” After one person loaded the bottles manually, another person had to stamp the boxes, load them onto the pallet, and repeat.

Lee Chase and Steve Wagner showcasing our first ever 12 oz. bottle with Stone Brewer, Toshi Ishii looking on. Note that the "Maheen" bottling machine in the background is roughly the size of the three of them.

April 14th, 1999: Lee Chase and Steve Wagner celebrating our first ever bottling run, with Stone Brewer, Toshi Ishii (right) loading bottles into the "Maheen" bottling machine. Note that the "Maheen" is roughly the size of the three of them combined.

Though our bottling line was still pretty rudimentary during Ben’s days on the line, he was at least lucky enough to start right after we bought our first Filler machine. Before the Filler, we employed two old “Maheen” bottling machines (one for 12oz. bottles and one for 22oz. bottles), which required a minimum of two people to operate. We taxed the Maheens to their limit, running them for two shifts a day. “We were doing about 60 cases an hour with them,” said Stone President & Brewmaster Steve Wagner, recollecting the “rudimentary, highly manual” pieces of machinery. “We thought that was a huge amount of beer at the time.”

Bottling Line Operator Bryce Williams-Tuttle managing the Filler

Bottling Line Operator Bryce Williams-Tuttle managing the Filler. About 3/4 of the machinery on our bottling line is used and/or refurbished.

A lot has happened since Ben or Steve worked on the line (most notably, the extinction of the dinosaurs). The crew has doubled in size, and the level of automation has increased exponentially. As mentioned before, we eventually installed a Filler, which we bought used from the Molson plant in St. John, Newfoundland. We acquired a second used filler from Pyramid Brewing on August 20, 2007, and later installed a Climax Uncaser and extra Accumulation Conveyors on July 19th, 2008.

The newest addition to the line is a Slitter-Sealer machine, which we obtained from Abita Brewing in Louisiana. The gently used Slitter-Sealer was installed last Friday (the day after the bottling crew broke the record), and it makes the crews’ lives a hell of a lot easier. Instead of having to manually break tabs, fold, and seal about 20 boxes per minute, the machine will take over, sealing about 50 boxes per minute (once it’s running at full speed). Bill Sherwood, our Facilities Manager, likes the “chop-chop, flip-flap” action of the Slitter-Sealer, calling it a “Dr. Seuss kind of machine.”

Beau Bratton manually breaking box tabs, folding, and sealing.

Beau Bratton manually breaking box tabs, folding, and sealing.

According to Packaging Supervisor, Kris Ketcham, breaking the bottling record was “a perfect ending to the last day that we will probably ever have to manually break box tabs, fold, and seal.” Breaking the record was indeed a fitting end to the last day ever manually sealing boxes—but not the end of the story. We’re sure our stellar bottling line crew will continue to rock our socks off, and we can’t wait until they reach their next milestone.

-Matt Steele

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