Stone Brewing Co. Spotlight

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If you haven’t heard, Stone Brewing Co. will soon be ready to spread their Gothic wings and take flight. California-based Stone is already the 10th largest craft brewery in the country, according to the Brewers Association, but Stone is looking to move up that list, by building both a brewery and a restaurant somewhere along the East Coast. While Stone is still in the proposal stage, this news is exciting for all East Coast craft beer snobs.

Brewmaster Mitch Steele took a few minutes off from emptying bags of hops into beer tanks and searching the planet for inspiration to give us a feel for where Stone is heading. We discuss a little bit of Stone history, and look into what’s on tap for 2014. Of course, the article wouldn’t be complete without trying a few drinks and compiling a list of Stone Brewery’s “must have” beers.
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Paste: Where is your place in the craft beer world, and where you are going?

Mitch Steele:   Stone Brewing Co.  is the 10th largest craft brewer in the United States. With the various expansion projects we’re undertaking at the moment, from searching for a location to open an East Coast brewery and restaurant, to more Stone Company Stores, fans will certainly be able to witness more growth and special release beers from Stone.

Paste: How has the craft beer industry evolved since Stone opened in 1996?

Steele: Just looking at a glimpse of the entire industry, the number of breweries has grown dramatically over the years. The increased brewery count has definitely caused the quality of beer to also drastically improve. Brewers should be feeling a pressure to be as unique and innovative as possible, in order to come up with flavorful and boundary-pushing beers. It’s a wonderful time to be a craft beer drinker.

Paste: Stone Brewing Co. is known for collaboration and special releases. What are some upcoming releases or ideas for Stone in 2014? How do you decide on your new releases?

Steele: When it comes to creating a collaboration beer, for us, it’s about stretching our boundaries. Working with other brewers gives us the opportunity to brew with new ingredients or experiment with beer styles we’ve never tried before. The craft beer community has a unique bond so we also enjoy solidifying friendships with the brewers who work with us on these beers. We look to collaborate with other brewers that approach brewing like we do and take pride in the beers they create, and perhaps also desire to push the boundaries of a beer style.

Later this spring, we’ll release our next collaboration beer with two musicians Keri Kelly and Kyle Hollingsworth. Keri is most well-known for playing with Alice Cooper. Kyle Hollingsworth is the keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident and an avid homebrewer. Stone Co-founder, Greg Koch and I had a chance to meet Kyle at Great American Beer Festival, and it was suggested that we produce a collaboration including Keri Kelly.
Regarding other special release beers, fans can expect to see more Stone Enjoy By IPA releases throughout the year and some additional collaboration beers.

Paste: Is there any chance you will expand Stone Brewing Co. outside of the United States?

Steele: For now, Stone beers are available in very small quantities in areas outside the United States such as Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Bangkok, Norway, Scotland, England, Germany and the territory of Puerto Rico. Stone Co-founder and CEO Greg Koch is very passionate about having a brewery somewhere in Europe. The company has made a request for proposal available, but we’re still looking for a location and hoping to find the perfect spot for this facility soon.

Paste: What’s the story behind Stone’s gargoyle?

Steele: Well actually, first the name Stone was decided, because after all, gargoyles are made out of Stone. Before my Stone career and even before the two Co-founders Steve Wagner and Greg Koch started Stone Brewing Co., they initially planned on brewing very traditional European-style beers, and they chose the gargoyle logo to reflect a traditional European motif.

Gargoyles are protectors known to ward off evil spirits, and typically used on top of buildings. In the case of Stone Brewing Co., this ‘mascot’ logo protects our company from modern day evil spirits such as chemical additives and cheap adjuncts, not only keeping safe the beer we make and sell, but also the food Stone serves in the restaurants. Overall, the gargoyle is used to protect our company from ever “selling out.”

Paste: What are your personal “must have” beers?

Steele: I definitely have to include Russian River’s Blind Pig IPA on this list. When I first tried Blind Pig IPA in 1996 at Pizza Port Solana Beach (at the time Vinnie Cilurzo ran Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula, Calif.), I was blown away by the beer’s hop intensity. To this day, I still love the beer and get one anytime I see it on tap.

Stone’s Top Six Must Have Beers
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Stone IPA
Style:   India Pale Ale  ?ABV: 6.9%?
The verdict: Anytime you try another IPA, chances are you’re reaching for your Stone IPA measuring stick. Available in 41 states, Stone IPA is wonderfully balanced and incredibly refreshing. Few IPA’s offer such a complex mix of citrus fruits and still have a commendable surge of hoppiness.

Stone Smoked Porter
Style: Porter??ABV: 5.9%?
The verdict: Out of the gate, the Smoked Porter has a pretty decent-looking pour that sticks around if you’re a slow drinker. The Smoked Porter has a hefty serving of dark chocolate, caramel, and a dash of coffee.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA
Style: American Black Ale? ABV: 8.7%?
The verdict: I must admit, I enjoyed smelling this beer almost as much as I did drinking it. For as dark as the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale pours, I didn’t expect it to have such a well-balanced mixture of dark chocolate and grapefruit—with each flavor sharing and without being overpowering.

Stone Ruination IPA
Style: Double IPA? ABV: 8.2%?
The verdict: Spoiler alert: Stone Ruination is pretty boozy. “Aggressive” comes to mind when I think of a word to describe this tasty beverage. It’s sophisticated, relentless, and it demands your undivided attention. I would recommend letting this warm a tad before you start sipping.

Arrogant Bastard Ale
Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 7.2%?
The verdict: No worries. Without the oak, the Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale still hangs. There is a nice mixture of hoppiness and dark caramel, but it keeps you honest with a surprising and haunting booziness at the back end.

OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale
Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 7.2%
The verdict: Coming up on 10 years since its first release, Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale is decked out in all kinds of flavors. From the blend of caravanilla (caramel and vanilla—my effort at being a wordsmith) to its gentle oak flavor, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale is a notch tastier than its oaked-less predecessor.

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