Big news for the craft beer industry today, as one of the most recognizable professional brewers on the planet, Mitch Steele, is stepping down from his position as brewmaster of Stone Brewing Co. to start his own brewing project with a handful of investors. Stone just announced via a goodbye video from Steele that his last day will be June 30, in only two weeks. It will be the end of a 10-year career at Stone for Steele, during which time he was instrumental in shaping the company’s ever-expanding, hop-driven portfolio.
The brewmaster had just recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary at Stone. His initial hiring made waves in craft beer as well, given that Stone managed to pry the award-winning brewer away from Anheuser Busch, where he was an Assistant Brewmaster making Budweiser in New Hampshire. Since then, he’s become one of the industry’s most respected brewers, winning awards for both his actual beers and for continuing to innovate even as Stone has grown into the 10th largest American craft brewery, according to the Brewers Association. He’s especially associated with his use of hops and the development of such Stone beers as Sublimely Self-Righteous, Enjoy By IPA and Go-To IPA—in fact, Mitch Steele is one of very few people who can claim to have “written the book” on IPA, because, well, he did.
In the video, a visibly emotional Steele quotes Tolkien before hinting at his immediate plans for the future:
“I had an opportunity that dropped into my lap. These guys approached me; they’re industry vets who have got 20-30 years; they wanted me to be a partner with them in starting this new operation. It’s a bucket list thing—an opportunity like this may not ever come again. It was something that I thought if I didn’t give this a shot, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”
He also naturally ruminates on his time at Stone, from specific beers to the various members of the brewing team who have come on during his tenure, such as current Stone Lead Brewer Jeremy Moynier, while also assuring drinkers that the Stone beers coming out of the company’s new locations in Berlin, Germany and Richmond, Virginia will be fine without him. No particular heir apparent is announced as the new official brewmaster at Stone, and a source at the company tells Paste that the current innovation team (composed of key brewing team members) will continue to develop and approve beer in the same process as before, with final approval coming from co-owners Greg Koch and Steve Wagner. It seems as if, at least for now, the company simply won’t have a single person holding the “brewmaster” title.
After a final thank you, the video closes with a message to Steele from Koch, Wagner and the rest of the Stone team:
“Mitch: As you wander, we know that you’ll never be lost, as there are brewery doors around the world that will open for you and invite you in … and none more readily than the doors at Stone. We wish you incredible journeys. You’ve made an indelible mark, and we are proud to call you friend.”
When we know more about Steele’s new brewing project, we’ll let you know, but we’re all curious to know what kind of beers he wants to make next, and how they might be different from the portfolio at Stone.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.