Earlier this year, we announced the winners of the inaugural edition of our annual company brewing competition, The Stone Spotlight Series. Taking first place for a black rye Kölsch-style brew our fans came to know as Spröcketbier (there’s still a bit of this delicious beer out there, so consult the Stone Beer Finder to get a taste) was Team Spröcket—QA Supervisor Rick Blankemeier and Warehouse Supervisor Robbie Chandler. This big win allowed the duo not only to brew this spicy, refreshing beer on Stone’s full-sized system and have it distributed nationally, but also to on tour with the beer, visiting a number of beery locations throughout the country. The following is Blankemeier’s account of what he calls a “thrilling adventure,” one in which he and Marshall met and shared many a pint with beer fans and brewers every bit as passionate as they are.
First Stop: Philly
The flight was way too early, but our spirits were high. Taking a couple of days off of work so we could fly to Philly to help sell our winning beer? You bet we were happy about that. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but it’s fun to switch up the routine every now and again. This would be the first visit to Philly for me and Robbie, so we were excited to see what the City of Brotherly Love was all about (and maybe gain some insight on why they booed Santa).
After a six-hour direct flight (thanks Stone!), Stone Sales Rep, Lee Marren, was there to pick us up and put us through our paces. We knew Lee sells Stone beer in the Philly area, but what they neglected to tell us was that he is a cyborg intent on working us tirelessly the whole time we were there. Though Lee was hesitant that it’s taboo for a local to be within a certain radius of touristy spots, he started by taking us to Pat’s King of Steaks for some grub. The cheesesteak (whiz wit) was good, but even better was the show that Pat himself put on by yelling at some customers that nearly forgot their sandwich, and yelling at one of his line cooks for making two of the same sandwich and delaying the process by (gasp) 10 seconds. Another thing I learned about Philadelphians is that yelling at people who wronged you–however slight–is highly encouraged. I was raised in suburban Colorado, where that’s not a regional custom, so, as you can imagine, this was quite an experience for me.
Stomachs full, we made our way to east Jersey for our first event at Chickie and Pete’s. The place was great—very low key and fun. The people were nice and the Spröcketbier flowed freely. Afterward, we made our merry way back to Philly and bar-hopped to check out the local craft beer scene before finally checking into our hotel at 2 a.m. to get a few hours of sleep before Lee the Cyborg got us awake and ready for a full day of—you guessed it—more beer.
Our first stop was the Food Market, a really cool deli/bottle shop where we conducted tastings of Sprocketbier and Stone Go To IPA during the lunch hour. We had some great interactions with Philadelphians. A highlight was a young gentleman who informed us he was sorry for being late for our tasting. He was so excited to try some of the new Sprocketbier and would have been on time, but a fight broke out on the train on the way over. This was the third time I noted someone telling me details of a recent fight they’d been in or around since arriving in Philly. A staggering stat, considering I’d barely been in the city for 18 hours!
Next stop was a fine establishment called the Hulmeville Inn. This was arguably my favorite event on the Philadelphia leg of the journey. We ran into a local homebrew club that was there for the event and spoke about nerdy beer geek things, which was a pleasure for me. I learned that the Hulmeville Inn was built in the 1780s and documented to be the overnight stopover for none other than George Washington when he was on his way to New York to be inaugurated our first President. I’m a history geek as well as a beer geek, so this fascinated me. I also learned that some jackass ran his car into the front patio of the place a couple of weeks before we got there and they had to renovate the whole area. The best part was when Rod Stewart came to sell us pickles. It wasn’t really Rod Stewart, of course, just a guy in a red tracksuit with a Stewart-esque hair wig that was selling pickles and pepperoni sticks to customers. He even had a teenaged minion that took the cash and distributed the goods. (Breaking Bad much?) I bought spicy horseradish pickles from him, and you know what…they were damn tasty.
Our final stop was the Perch Pub in downtown Philly, where we had a blast. The view was great, the beer was fresh and the food was awesome. The locals came out in droves for the event, and Robbie and I were kept busy talking about the beer, the process and what we had planned for the rest of the Spröcketbier Tour. It was a great ending to a whirlwind visit to the City of Brotherly Love. I was bugging Lee to take us to the Rocky statue so Robbie and I could take a triumphant picture next to the Italian Stallion, but he refused to be within a mile of it, explaining his Philly cred was already in jeopardy by his taking us to Pat’s and that if he was spotted near the statue, he might be banished. Oh well.
Next Stop: The ATL
Our flight from Philly to Atlanta began with what’s probably the shortest radio interview ever conducted. Robbie and I were scheduled to phone-in to a Philly-based craft beer radio show about the same time we were supposed to board the plane to the ATL. To paint the picture, Robbie and I were essentially cuddling in the airport waiting area by the gate while sharing ear buds connected to my smart-phone. We then had to get up to wait in line and continued our furious bro-cuddling while being pummeled with questions. Robbie and I basically spewed all of the info about the Stone Spotlight Series competition, described what we were going for while brewing Spröcketbier, and made a charming joke about how we were sharing ear buds and cuddling in the City of Brotherly Love–all in under a minute. It was arguably entertaining, but irrefutably efficient!
Atlanta was the exact opposite of our whirlwind, manic go-round in Philly. We had lots of time to relax and chill between events. Our Georgia Sales Rep, Brett Collier, picked us up from the airport and took us to eat at a sports bar with fantastic wings and a great beer selection while we watched the Hawks game. He then dropped us off to check in at our hotel and take much-needed naps before we headed over to the The Marlay House for our keynote event. Located in Decatur, a really cool little suburb outside Atlanta with lots of locally-owned businesses and shops, the Marlay house is a beacon for this deceptively craft beer-centric city. I have to admit, the Atlanta area has a much better beer scene than I expected coming in. We ran into a bunch of homebrewers along with an all-female craft beer appreciation society called “Girls’ Pint Out.” We also met up with Stone Southeast regional Sales Manager Scott Sheridan. I think if you looked up the word “laidback” in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Scotty sitting on the beach with an IPA. There’d probably be a definition that read: adj. the opposite of Lee Marren. Bonus factoid: Scot also looks like Dean Martin. I’ll let that paint a picture in your mind-boxes. Everyone who came out was great and we had an awesome time chatting it up with the locals. I’m definitely going back to Atlanta at some point in the near future, because the 24 hours I spent there wasn’t nearly enough time.
Stop #3: C-Town
Another early flight, a changeover in Dallas, and we were on our way to the shining jewel of the upper Midwest…Cleveland. I know what you’re thinking, because everyone we ran into in Cleveland said the same thing: “Wait, you guys won a brewing competition and as a reward they sent you to Cleveland?! Are you sure you won?” I’ll admit, I was thinking along similar lines, but it turns out that Cleveland is an amazing craft beer town. Our local Sales Rep, Lairdy Lee, picked us up from the airport and drove us the short distance to the hotel to get checked in, then we were right back on the road en route to our first stop at The Brew Kettle. It’s an amazing place where they brew their own beer, smoke their own meat and you can even sign up to brew on their in-house brewing systems. They had Spröcketbier on tap, so that automatically upgraded them in my standings by a couple of points, and their smoked wings were amazing, as were the people, who took extra special care of us while we were putting food and beer in our faces. I highly recommend stopping by the place if you’re ever in the area.
We had the first half of the next day completely open and Lairdy suggested we go over to the West Side Market area to visit a couple of breweries. This was the first chance for us to see another brewery whilst on our adventure, so we jumped at the chance. First stop was Great Lakes Brewing Company. Great Lakes is an amazing example of a rapidly growing craft brewery trying to squeeze every ounce of beer out of a limited area. This is definitely a common theme amongst most craft breweries today, Stone included. The industry is growing at an amazing rate and trying to keep up with an increase in demand requires some creative solutions. They had fermenters and production on multiple stories in an old building. Everyone was super friendly there and we ended up having lunch at their pub across the street from their production facility.
Next up on our impromptu brewery tour was just down the street at Market Garden Brewery. We met up with brewmaster Andy Tveekrem and he graciously let us sample some lagers off of the tanks. I’m a huge fan of a well-crafted pilsner, helles or dortmunder, and his beers were amazing. Andy’s brewing setup was small, but very well designed and laid-out. It was a thing of beauty. We didn’t have enough time to stick around too long, but the beers were great and the company was even better.
The party at the Tremont Taphouse, our destination for the afternoon, was in full swing when we rolled in. A couple of very nice newspaper reporters interviewed us in a corner booth. We went into our usual, well-practiced description of the competition and the beer itself, wherein Robbie coined the term, “undrunkable,” to describe our beer. I’m not the biggest fan of the term personally, but it’s a fun way to describe how sessionable, yet tasty, our beer turned out. We also discussed the state of the craft beer industry and the generosity of craft breweries. Basically, we had fun being the rock stars and having people care about our opinions on matters great and small. The rest of the event was spent talking to the locals and going through tasting notes from the various beer enthusiasts trying to nail down the Spröcketbier recipe.
From there, we piled into a taxi and headed to Progressive Field to catch an Indians game. The stadium wasn’t far from Tremont, but we underestimated the popularity of Cher and it took us a while to beat traffic from her concert that evening. Progressive Field is a great place to catch a game. They have an impressive list of craft beers available and it’s pretty to boot. The Indians took on the White Sox. One of my best friends back in my home state of Colorado is a big White Sox fan, so I had to send him pictures and updates on how bad they were getting thrashed by the Tribe (final score: 12-5 Indians). It was a great time.
Last stop before bedtime and another early flight the next day was to silence our gnawing hunger. We were told by numerous Cleveland veterans that there’s only one place we have to go to eat: Melt Bar and Grilled. And it was mind-blowing. They have an absurd number of variations on the classic grilled cheese sandwiches there. I had the buffalo chicken sandwich, and everyone else had the “Dude Abides,” homemade meatballs and fried Mozzarella with marinara sauce and, of course, more cheese. I can’t tell you how much that hit the spot after a long day of drinking.
I just want you all to know that while poor Cleveland may be the butt of many jokes, the people are awesome and, after being there, you can’t deny it’s one of the better craft beer towns out there. Throw in the fact that the food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere and it’s easy to recommend giving Cleveland a chance if you ever get the opportunity to go.