I never forgot my first brewing job. It was 1994, Chris was still in school and home brewing like crazy. I had just graduated from LaSalle University in Philly, packed up a uhaul and headed to Boulder Colorado with a mission to learn how to brew. I happened to walk into the Oasis Brewery on a day with the s?%$t hit the fan asking for a job. Bill Sherwood, Brew Master (and now longtime friend), said “change your shirt and I’ll put you to work”. I still keep in touch with a few guys from those days, two in particular have started their own breweries as well (Freddie has Sweetwater Brewery and Dean has Ale Asylum). Bill is at Stone Brewing Company now; he and I had been emailing back and forth about water treatment when he hit me with “Mitch just walked in and asked if you would be into a collaboration brew with Stone?” Mitch Steele is Brew Master for Stone, it turns out they host a homebrew contest every year and the winner gets to ‘big batch’ their recipe along with inviting another brewery. Jason Fields and Kevin Sheppard’s beer was a Chocolate, Cherry Stout with vanilla beans…a perfect fit for a brewery moving to Chocolate Town U.S.A. and known for their ‘Mad Elf’ holiday beer using copious amounts of sweet and sour cherries! The kicker is they wanted to brew in a week or two, so we had to move fast. Chris and I jumped at the chance and booked our plane tickets.
The emails back and forth started flying: how much chocolate, when do we add it and how, what kind of cherries, how do they ferment and how will we match the original recipe. It’s always fun and interesting to talk/share brewing techniques and brewing points of views with other brewers, inevitably I always walk away learning something.
The day before brew day Chris and I board a plane to San Diego: We make it to Chicago, but Chris is starving so we were off to feed the pit. Funny thing is we weren’t paying attention to the time change and realized this as we were scarfing down pizza ….. uh oh….we bolted to the gate where they are waiting and waiving for us to board…duh almost missed the plane!
Bill meets us at the airport and we head to feed Chris…fast…(he gets grumpy when you don’t feed regularly) Bill takes us to a little stand on the water where fish taquitos and burritos hit the spot with our first beer Ballast Point Amber. Now we ready to explore some breweries; we pick up our youngest brother Mathew (who flew in from San Fran) and head to Pizza Port in Carlsbad. Really fun, casual place with killer beers. When we travel we check out as many breweries as possible, this trip is no exception. Hops abound on the west coast and this brewery definitely lived up to its reputation. Then we head to Green Flash’s new brewery (which is still under construction). Brew Master Chuck Silva greets us and proudly shows off his new digs. They really have put together quite a brewery. Very well thought out, organized and seemed to have a huge amount of space for growth. Questions like ‘do you guys want a beer’?’ start to fly and before you know it Chuck is riding over on a three wheeled bike (which I would love to have) with a six pack in the back of Double Stout,……yum…. After much brewer talk Chris jumps on the bike for a tour with Mathew on the back. It’s a little shaky but funny.
Brew Day rolls around and we are off to Stone: we don’t waste much time, brew starts quickly with a new unknown recipe we don’t have any idea how long the day will be. Jason and Kevin are the rock stars today, their recipe is the template and inspiration for this brew. It’s the jump most craft brewers made, a five gallon batch of home brew gets upsized in order to have enough to package and share. I have never seen so many people taking pictures! Stone has their crew (who were awesome), Jason and Kevin are there with some friends, press, and of course we were snapping away. I think most of my shots are of people taking pictures of people taking pictures…..pretty behind the scene.
Chocolate goes into the mash first, the smell permeating the brew house was incredible. Then the grain. Two hours later the mash is transferred to the lauter tun and we taste first runnings. Dark, roasty, sweet, huge chocolate aromas with an almost caramel body abound. It turns out with so many dark malts and chocolate, the sparge decided to be stubborn. The brewers eventually coaxed the wort out of the malt but instead of a couple of hours that it would normally take, I think it took 5-6….first hops were boxes of warrior to balance the malt sweetness with a little bitterness. End of boil gets hundreds of pounds of lactose sugar and hundreds of pounds of chocolate. Then it’s off to fermentation..two days later sweet and sour cherries are added. Chris and I didn’t get a chance to join in the fun pitching cherries, but Mitch was kind enough to forward a picture of his crew in action.
Wrap Up event: After the brew day Stone hosted a great event where some local home brewers came out (with their beer for us to try) along with some special beers on tap. Two of my favorites were the 12 Anniversary beer, with its huge chocolate flavors and the preview to their Belgo IRS.
Back to the real world: The next day Chris and I have to head back to the real world. After our first flight is cancelled we luckily re-routed through Chicago and arrive (5 hours late) in Harrisburg. All in all it was a fantastic trip, not only did we get to brew beer, visit some great breweries, we got to catch up with some old friends and family too.
Thanks again to Stone Brewery, and Especially Bill…..