Category Archives: Stone Brewing Co.

Brewing Records and Why They Matter

Last week I had beers and dinner at The Porter in Atlanta with author and brewing historian Ron Pattinson, who was traveling through Atlanta to speak at an event during Asheville Beer Week.

Ron writes the blog Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and has written numerous books containing painstakingly researched recipes from brewing’s past.  Ron helped me a ton when I wrote my book on IPA and IPA history, and his work on recipe research helped me to decipher a lot of the brewing logs from the 1800s so I could relate them to current brewing terms and techniques. It’s a real shame that so many historical records from the 1700s and 1800s were lost when breweries sold or shuttered their doors. And in the case of the American breweries, Prohibition resulted in many brewing records being destroyed or lost forever. But people like Ron have been able to really do a deep dive and understand how beer was made back then.

Ron and I had some great conversations last week, but we finished up the evening  talking about current breweries and wondering how a future beer historian might be able to access today’s brewing records and write about them. In these days of the Information Age, one might think it should be easy to find electronically any brewery’s recipe and write about how the brewery brewed them. But not really. Here are my thoughts on why this might be very challenging.

I’ve been a proponent of documenting everything in the brewing process since the mid 1990s when I spent time in Anheuser-Busch’s Corporate Brewing Dept. and in their St. Louis Brewery. I remember clearly the VP of Brewing Doug Muhleman’s stance on record keeping: “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen”. AB kept electronic records of all their brewing and QA analysis, kept detailed recipe logs, taste results, and maintained process and ingredient change logs at every brewery. Doing so allowed the brewing managers to track back when there were flavor issues or other quality issues in order to understand what might be potential causes. So now I wonder if these records are available anywhere now, with the Inbev buyout and the drastic changes at the brewery? It’s very hard to say. The database was built in house by AB, and probably will never be accessible to anyone outside the company, if it still even exists.

I’ll never forget working on the American Originals project to brew AB’s pre-Prohibition beers and how hard it was to find any detailed records of those beers, or the project that others were working on in Corporate Brewing to detail the recipe history of Michelob going back to the late 1800s. Very tough tasks indeed, and I can see history repeating itself with hard-to-find recipes and process descriptions for today’s beers.

When I worked in AB’s big St. Louis Brewery, in the late 1990s, one person was charged with the daily update of what was called “the McNab book”, which was a handwritten record in a binder that tracked every fermentation and lagering process. McNab was the brand name of an in-line instrument that recorded the yeast content of the beer as it moved from primary fermentation to lagering. Then, during the lagering process, the 0 hour, 10 day and end of lager cell counts were tracked in the McNab book, as were QA analytical values, and all of this data was used to determine proper zinc sulfate additions in the brewhouse. Zinc sulfate was used as a yeast nutrient, and affected the yeast cells’ flocculation (settling) rates, which in turn impacted natural carbonation, diacetyl reduction, and the unwanted acetaldehyde formation in the final beer. One person was charged with evaluating the McNab trends and with tracking the cell counts to proactively make zinc changes when the 10 day cell counts were too high or too low. This was a record that Brewing Directors in Corporate Brewing reviewed when they visited the brewery, so it was important to keep it accurate, neat and legible.

When I moved to Merrimack NH in 1999, I took the mechanics of the “McNab” book with me and adapted it to our brewing process in Merrimack. I added sections for brewhouse and primary fermentation, and noted which lager tanks were blended as they were filtered and packaged. And yes, much of this information was later available electronically, but I found it very difficult to structure the reports that had all data I wanted into a format that was easy for me to use. In addition, I found that I had much better retention of the information if I actually wrote it myself vs printing off a pre-fabbed report to review.  So I filled out spreadsheets. Lots and lots of spreadsheets. And as I filled them out, I gained a real thorough understanding of how we were brewing our beer over time. I also maintained an overall brewhouse recipe spreadsheet, which the brewers had at their workstations, which was updated with recipe changes as they occurred. This is a form that I again took with me from the St. Louis brewery operation and adapted to Merrimack’s operation. We had a “Yeast Tree” document that tracked the use of every culture we received from 0 to 10 generations. And we had an electronic change log that documented recipe changes. But these records were all lost to me when I left AB to join Stone Brewing, and I’d be surprised if anyone could still find them today.

In 2006, when I got to Stone, which was like many craft brewers in this respect, all the brewing logs were filled out on paper by the brewers and were kept in file folders. One of the first tasks I assigned to myself was to create an electronic record of all the recipes Stone had ever brewed, so we could refer back to them if needed, and also to make sure we weren’t accidentally repeating a hop combination or recipes that we had already used. But we had just moved into the new building on Citracado, and many of the really old brewlogs were filed in various offices, and in some cases, people’s homes. So I went back as far as I could with the brewlogs I was able to find, and then moved on to other things. I kept several other spreadsheets, including a master recipe sheet, a change log that included both recipe/ingredient changes AND process changes (new equipment, procedural changes and the like), and a brewing record that was based on the original AB McNab log that I called the “BrewDiary”. I had a separate worksheet in the spreadsheet for each core brand that tracked each batch of beer from start to finish, and then one large sheet for all the special releases,collaborations and one-offs we brewed.

During my final year at Stone Brewing, when we were putting together the list of beers to re-brew for our year-long 20th Anniversary celebration, we were asked to re-brew the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale, and the Stone 6th Anniversary Ale, which was a bigger version of Stone Smoked Porter. That’s when I regretted not following through on that early project to completely build files for the old recipes! After some discussions with original Brewmaster Steve Wagner and with former Head Brewer Lee Chase, there still wasn’t much detail available on either beer. The brewlogs were apparently buried in a box somewhere in the Stone archives, we made jokes about getting HazMat suits to sift through all the dusty boxes to find them.  In the end, I reversed engineered the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale from Lee’s original homebrew blog that we did for each VE release, and we interviewed many Team Stone members who had been with company a long time to learn about what went into the 6th Anniversary Porter-we had missed a lot originally-it was actually more complex than just a scaled up version of Stone Smoked Porter.

So my point in all this is that I suspect there are a lot of craft brewers over the years who have followed a similar pattern. They have graduated from handwritten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box somewhere, to spreadsheets, or maybe even to more complex equipment supplier automated databases or ERP systems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to document how beers were brewed during our current times? Especially if breweries continue to grow quickly or get sold or close shop.

Several years ago I was able to travel to England and brew a beer at Wadworth brewery. And I had some discussions with their Brewmaster, Brian Yorsten, about record keeping. He told me that they had recently moved from filling out the ornate brewing logs like the brewers in the 19th century used to the more modern practice of keeping records on spreadsheets. And he absolutely hated it, and eventually went back to filling out the logbooks.  Logbooks are easy to store and access, provided someone doesn’t throw them out with the trash. Computer records are not always easy to access, especially when stored in ERP systems or house-built databases.

I’m wondering right now if a concerted effort could be made by the industry to preserve some brewing logs from early craft brewers in a safe place, like a library or a museum, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the techniques and ingredients being used today. As difficult as it was to research beers brewed in the 1800s, I sadly suspect that 100 years from now, it might be even harder for historians to research the beers that are being brewed today. Sure, there’s a lot of high level information available since brewers have been providing recipes to brewing magazines and homebrewers for many years. But nowhere have I seen the details of how someone’s beer is brewed, exactly how they describe their ingredients, what equipment they are using, and their brewing processes. And that’s the stuff the researchers will want to understand.


Not All Who Wander Are Lost

This quote from Tolkien strikes a chord with me. I guess I’m a bit of a restless spirit, and I’ve had a desire to travel and experience new areas for most of my life. One of the things my wife Kathleen and I have really enjoyed in our lives together has been the opportunity to live in different parts of the country, travel around different regions, work at different jobs, and experience and embrace different cultures and lifestyles.
I’ve had several major changes in my long career in brewing that in some ways have been fueled by this desire to explore, and now another change has come. I will be leaving Stone Brewing at the end of June to partner up with some brewing industry veterans on a new project. Stone made a video to announce my departure to the team, and I used this Tolkien quote in it, and it just seemed to fit.
My time at Stone has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve been given so many opportunities to brew great beer, travel to great places, and put myself in a position to represent and speak for Stone and for craft beer. There aren’t words to express how grateful I am to have had this role at Stone, and for everything I have been able to do with it. As excited as I am about this new project, it’s incredibly hard to leave a company that does such great things and that has treated me so well. And the hardest part about it is how much I am going to miss everyone at Team Stone that I’ve worked with over the past 10+ years. Team Stone is a great team of dedicated, skilled and passionate brewers and craft beer fans, and I cherish the time I was able to work with all of them. I consider my coworkers good friends and great ambassadors of craft beer, and I am sure they will continue to have major success and brew great beer.

Greg, Steve, and Pat (our COO) have been nothing short of incredible as we prepare for this transition. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I think they get why I’m doing this and what it means to me, and they have been very kind and have expressed a lot of gratitude for my contributions. I respect and admire these folks so much, and wish them and Stone nothing but the best success as things move forward. We have pledged to continuing to support each other in the future, for which I am very thankful.
I will still be part of craft brewing as I work on this new venture. And once details can be revealed, they will be. But for now, know that I will continue to be an active member of the craft beer community, and I am looking forward to continuing to cross paths with everyone as this moves forward. I’ve been lucky to have made so many great friends in the industry-the best industry on Earth, and I look forward to making more friendships in the future and continuing to share beers with everyone at industry events.

Cheers,  Mitch

The Russell Schehrer Award



At the annual Craft Brewers Conference held in Denver this year, I was honored to be awarded the  Brewers Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing.

Without trying to sound too sappy, I was more than humbled by this. And shocked when I got the phone message from Dick Cantwell, telling me that I was the recipient of the 2014 award. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in brewing, ever since I landed in Michael Lewis’ Brewing Science class at UC Davis in the early 1980s. After 4 years trying to start a brewery, I got an early start in the 2nd wave of brewpubs in California in 1988 at San Andreas Brewing Co., moved on to a wonderful 14 year career at Anheuser-Busch, where I was able to develop many new beers for AB, and now am celebrating 8 years with Stone Brewing Co. It’s been a wild and fun ride, and I love the brewing business as much, or more now, than when I started 26 years ago.

I’ve been fortunate enough to brew with and learn from some of the most skilled, knowledgable brewmasters in the business-from the old school German Brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch to Steve Wagner at Stone Brewing Co., and I’ve been able to brew with many other huge talents in Stone’s collaboration brewing program. You never stop learning in this business-or if you do, you quickly become irrelevant. So I relish the opportunity to brew beer with others.

Look at the previous brewers who have won this award. I am in some amazing company. And many of the previous winners approached me to say “welcome to the club”. I am glad that that, with the exception of Greg Noonan, whom I only met once, I know everyone else on this list, consider many of them good friends,  and consider all of them inspirations. It’s an amazing business we’re in, and an amazing time in brewing history. I simply feel fortunate to be able to be a part of it.

Previous recipients of the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer award for innovation in craft brewing:

2013 – Peter Bouckaert, New Belgium Brewing Co.
2012 – James Ottolini, St. Louis Brewery, Inc.
2011 – Jennifer Talley, Squatters Pub Brewery/Salt Lake Brewing Co.
2010 – Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
2009 – Steve Parkes, American Brewers Guild
2008 – Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing Company
2007 – Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker Brewing Company
2006 – Dan Carey, New Glarus Brewing Company
2005 – Greg Noonan, Vermont Pub and Brewery
2004 – Dick Cantwell, Elysian Brewing Company
2003 – Phil Markowski, Southampton Publick House
2002 – John Mallett, Kalamazoo Brewing Co.
2001 – John Harris, Full Sail Brewing Co.
2000 – Mark Carpenter, Anchor Brewing Co.
1999 – Fal Allen, Pike Brewing; Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
1998 – Garrett Oliver, The Brooklyn Brewery
1997 – John Maier, Oregon Brewing Co./Rogue Ales

I may never know who originally nominated me for this award, but I want to thank them. This is such an honor. And I want to acknowledge the contributions of Team Stone, and especially our Brew Crew, because this wouldn’t have been possible without their never ending hard work and passion that it takes to get our beers out into the world for people to enjoy.

I also want to give a shout out to Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit organization for women in the brewing industry that several of our female team members at Stone belong to. Teri was the deserving recipient this year of the annual Brewers Association Recognition Award. Teri and I started professionally brewing at about the same time in the Bay Area, I remember the first time I met her when I was at San Andreas and she was at Golden Gate Brewing in the late 1980s. She has done so much for this business, and has had a wonderful and innovative career, and I was so glad to see her get this recognition.

UK Revisited

Less than a week after I returned from Asheville, I packed the family up and we flew to London for the holidays. I got to brew another beer with Fergus Fitzgerald at Adnams in Southwold, this time an 8.5% Double IPA (California Style!) that will be dry-hopped with Centennial, Citra and Mosaic. This beer should be available in Wetherspoons pubs in mid-January.

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It’s become a tradition-my first beer after arriving in the UK is always a Fuller’s!


I love seeing historical brewing sites-this was in London.

I am very curious to see how people react to our beer, since the alcohol  is much higher than what beer drinkers in Britain generally find acceptable. It’s an interesting point of difference between the US and UK beer drinking cultures. When having beer discussions with folks in the UK, the alcohol content is one of the first things always mentioned when describing a beer.  Whereas, in the US, some of the first things we mention are the IBUs and/or hop varieties. It’s part of the culture in the UK to drink multiple pints in a session at a pub, so the alcohol content is kind of an important consideration, I get it. But it also sometimes seems a little extreme, like when we brewed our first beer for JD Wetherspoon back in 2008, a 7.2% IPA that many people wouldn’t even try because the alcohol was so high. I’m sure we’ll have people on both sides of the fence with this beer, and am looking forward to seeing any comments. I do think craft beer fans will really like this beer.


The recipe sheet for our Double IPA.


Mash-in complete. West Coast IPA!


This was the street our cottage was on. At the end of the street, turn right and you’re at the Adnams Brewery.


Cool historical poster at Adnams


Hop Dosing system at Adnams.


We mashed in at 5:00am, and so I got to get some shots of an amazing sunrise from the Southwold shoreline at about 8:00 am.

On Christmas Eve, we went back to London and spent 3 days there with the family. It was a great opportunity, the kids had never been out of the country before.


I have a lot of pictures of my son’s hand.


We took a Thames River Cruise on Christmas day, and saw this guy piloting an amphibious car.

London in the evening was beautiful:

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What a brewer does

I get asked, on a regular basis, what my daily routine is like. I sometimes think people are disappointed with my response, as it’s remarkably unexciting for the most part, although my routine is peppered with moments of fun. After all, we are making beer!


A lot of brewers refer to themselves as “janitors” which is really appropriate.


I remember seeing this photo on Facebook, and thinking-“wait, they forgot one-the guy sitting at a desk, reviewing databases and spreadsheets and talking on the phone.” That’s me.

When I first arrived at Stone Brewing Co., I spent my first few weeks learning the brewhouse, and learning how the automated programming worked. I had expected that I would be brewing at least a few times per week. Wrong. I realized pretty early on that we already had some very skilled people brewing the beer, and that I was needed elsewhere-like installing some quality criteria and protocol, reviewing and optimizing our processes and procedures, managing our ingredient supply, and managing our growth. And yes, I do recipe formulation, and I really enjoy it but it’s a very small part of my job. Though innovation will continue to be a key part of my role as we move forward.

I remember being at a beer dinner a few years ago and sitting with a beer writer who made some derisive comments towards what he called “clipboard brewers”. I held my tongue, but that is what I am, I walk around with a  clipboard or notebook, talking to the team, and making notes on what opportunities or issues we have in various process areas. Auditing processes, working on optimizing the time spent on various steps, and understanding the impact of all the equipment on the quality and consistency of the beer are all important parts of my job. When a brewery grows, that’s what the brewmaster job evolves into. Not every brewmaster can be the hands-on brewer all the time, and as breweries grow, it becomes more about directing the flow of beer through the brewery, managing the team, managing the process, thinking forward, and finding opportunities to make the brewing processes better.

I recently saw a post from my friend Jaime Jurado on Facebook where he quoted a former coworker of mine, Otto Kuhn, who is currently the Resident Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch’s Merrimack NH brewery. Otto and I worked side-by-side as Assistant Brewmasters in Merrimack for several years, I respect his brewing skills tremendously, and he became a good friend. His quote went like this:”You’re Brewmaster when the owner of a brewery entrusts his entire brewery to you, and trusts in you to keep its employees safe, and make the best beers you can. And to stop screwups by leadership and to be responsible for making the best decisions for the company you can.”

That pretty much holds true for being a Brewmaster at any size brewery. If you are a one-person show, and also own the brewery, it still works.If you are working fior a mega brewery, it works. Make the best beer you possibly can, keep the team safe, and be part of making key business decisions. The only thing I would add to this, especially in a growing brewery like ours, is that the Brewmaster needs to develop the team’s skill set and creativity.

Do I miss hands-on brewing? Of course I do. And I do get out in the brewhouse occasionally, though not as often as I’d like. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy what I currently do, and I enjoy having the ability and responsibility to grow this brewery, come up with creative and tasty beers, and hire talented team members, many of whom I think could run their own brewery at some point, if they want to.

So to finally answer the question on what my day is like:

My daily routine starts at about 7:00 am with a quick sniff test on samples of fermenting beer. This allows us to identify any problem fermentations that show themselves as excessive amounts of sulfur, diacetyl (butter) or acetaldehyde (green apple seed, pumpkin). By catching any issues during fermentation, they can be easily corrected, usually by simply waiting for the yeast to take care of the issue on its own, though adding a dose of fresh yeast or fermenting wort to the tank can help also. During this informal tasting session, we also taste approve beer in bright tanks ready to be packaged. No beer of ours ever gets put in a bottle or keg unless it is taste approved by a brewing manager.

I spend the rest of the early morning drinking copious amounts of coffee, and reviewing emails and shift reports from the past 24 hours-basically to make sure we don’t have any quality issues, brewing process issues, or beer supply issues. I get 200+ emails a day, so I need to make sure I’ve responded to the ones that require some response from me.

At 8:30, we have our daily production meeting, where all the brewery managers gather in a conference room, and we go department by department, reviewing the daily plan and discussing any issues and priorities. This is an important meeting for all of us, as it helps us coordinate our work schedules. For example, coordinating when a piece of equipment is going to be available for maintenance work, where and when we have construction activities going on, if we have any quality/analytical issues, or whether we are at risk of not having all the beer we need for packaging.

The rest of my day, until about 3:00 pm, is either meetings, walking around the brewery, meeting visitors, or getting work done at the desk.

Getting work done at the desk involves a lot of things, and includes managing ingredient supply, the brewing, filtering and packaging schedule, reviewing sales projections, expansion and capacity plans, and the all-important task of managing the team, including staffing plans, interviewing, training and career path development. Reviewing our database of processing data, and looking at ways to make our processes more efficient also plays a big part of my daily routine.

Unfortunately, meetings are a huge part of my day, and I can spend, at times, 70-80% of my week in meetings. We have weekly team leader meetings, new beer release meetings, project and capital meetings and meetings with my boss, along with a host of other things that come up occasionally. I’m not a big fan of meetings, as I usually walk out of them with more work added to my plate. But they are a necessary evil, especially in a company as big as ours has gotten.

3:00 is taste panel, and I taste at least 3 times per week. It’s a critical piece of our beer quality and consistency program, and we taste everything that was bottled, bright beer ready for packaging, beers ready for filtering, and process waters. One of my former bosses always called taste panel the most important part of the day, and I believe that.

Bottom line, though the daily routine will differ depending on the size of the brewery, a Brewmaster has to take responsibility for the quality of every single beer that is released. And whether the brewer does all the work him/her self, or manages a team that does it, the beer quality and consistency is of paramount importance. In my situation, that means having a team of brewers who are well trained, smart and educated, who understand which quality and process issues can impact the taste and consistency of the beer, and then take appropriate action when they see the issues. This ability doesn’t happen overnight, it takes experience and training.

More on the definition of a “brewmaster” in a future post.



GABF Medals-my thoughts…

Well, the 2013 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony just wrapped up and once again, Stone Brewing Co. did not win any medals. You won’t get any sour grapes from me, we don’t always try to brew strictly to the GABF style guidelines (which are critical criteria to win medals), and I certainly wouldn’t advocate changing any of our recipes in an attempt to win. But I won’t lie, it is a little disappointing, because I do believe in the quality and taste of our beers and our approach to brewing innovative and interesting beers. But I always say: “if you win a medal, it is fantastic, shout it from the rooftops! But if you don’t win a medal, it’s not a negative reflection on your beer, because for a variety of reasons there are many excellent beers that simply don’t win medals.”

If you are not familiar with the judging process at the GABF, it goes something like this:

First, the judging panel is made up of professional brewers, beer writers, and industry affiliates who all have extensive experience with sensory analysis and great knowledge of beer styles. These are all people that I have tremendous respect for. Everyone on the panel has an exceptional palate, and their varied experiences work well when it comes time to come to a consensus on the beers they are judging. A lot of these folks have been judging for many, many years, myself included, though I took a break this year. It’s a very fatiguing experience, seriously, it’s 2 1/2 days of carefully evaluating sometimes up to 150 beers. It’s fun, but really intense, especially when the judges don’t agree on what beers are the best at the table. This year there were over 200 judges from 11 different countries!

Judges are typically assigned to 6 or 7 person table, and you stay with that table for a session of 2-3 rounds of judging. There are 5 of these sessions total over 3 days. Often the judges will split the table down the middle, and each side will get 6-12 beers. If it is the first round in the style category, the judges on each side must select 3 to move to the next round, which, depending on the style and the number of entries, may not be the final round where medal winners are chosen. For the first round only, judges must fill out a detailed judging sheet and indicate whether your beer was selected to move forward. I review these judging sheets in great detail when they come back to the brewery, and I take solace in the fact that most of our beers do get passed on for more judging, despite rarely making it to medal status. Rarely do I see negative comments on our beers.

With close to 5000 beers having been entered into the competition this year, winning a medal at this event is a really nice feather in your cap. As a long time GABF Beer Judge, I can honestly say that the quality of beers being entered increases every single year. It used to be easy to pick three medal winners, now it’s often hard to choose 3 beers from the first round just for passing on to the next round-the beers are that good. And deciding which style to enter your beer in is its own art form-it can be tricky. I remember Stone Pale Ale finally won a medal a few years ago, when we switched it from the American Pale Ale category to the Special/Strong Bitter category.

Some of my brewer friends that I am really happy for as I review the results and write this:

Matt Cole at Fat Heads Brewery near Cleveland OH. Matt is one of my favorite people in this business, and his Head Hunter IPA has won several GABF medals over the years. This year he won 3 medals, a gold for his Hop JuJu Imperial IPA ( a VERY difficult category), and his Scharzbier and Fresh Hop Ale also medaled. I am so happy for Matt, he’s one of the best brewers in the country and a very good friend. I have had the pleasure to brew with Matt a few times, twice at his place-rye beers each time, and once at Stone, where we brewed a Texas Brown Ale.

Matt Brynyldson, whom I have known for a long time, and have collaborated with (El Camino UnReal with Shaun O’Sullivan), again won the mid-size brewer of the year award by getting 4 medals this year. Matt wrote the forward to my book on IPA, and is such a brewing talent and good guy, and Firestone-Walker kicks ass at this event every year. Way to go Matt!

Julian Shrago, whom I got to know several years ago at the Southern California Homebrewers festival, took the plunge and went professional at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, and is brewing some really fantastic beers. I see him a few times a year, mostly up at LA-area beer events, and love what he’s doing. And apparently the GABF judges do as well, as he won a staggering 5 medals and was awarded the best mid-size brewpub brewer of the year. Congratulations Julian!

Alexandra Nowell at Kinetic Brewing in Lancaster CA won two medals this year! For their session beer and their kolsch. I got to know Alex earlier this year when we brewed a session IPA when she was at Drake’s in San Leandro. She’s a very talented brewer, and is brewing great beers at Kinetic.

Tonya Cornett at 10 Barrel Brewery in Bend won another medal, this time a Gold for their Berliner-Weisse. We just collaborated with Tonya and Megan Parisi to brew Suede, an amazing floral-accented and roasted Imperial Porter, brewed with jasmine, calendula, and avocado honey. Tonya has won many medals over the years, she is just an exceptional brewer.

Our friends Peter, Vicky, Todd and Bill at Alesmith won another couple of medals this year, one for their Old Numbskull Barley Wine, and for Decadence 2012. One of my favorite breweries in San Diego, and they usually do very well at the GABF.

I’m happy for Brock Wagner at St. Arnold’s in Houston for winning two medals this year. I’ve judged with Brock a bunch, and he’s been to our brewery a few times. Seems like we talk about brewing equipment a lot! He brews great German style beers and his Helles and German Wheat Ale won this year.

Wicked Weed in Asheville, NC won a gold for their Serenity Brett Ale. Brothers Luke and Walt are amazing brewers, and I got to know them on on a trip to Asheville this past spring. They have a really cool approach to brewing, and they are a lot of fun. And they haven’t even been open a year yet! I hope to see them again soon.

Our friends at Pizza Port also rocked it, with their Ocean Beach location getting 3 medals and Solana Beach getting one. I love Pizza Port, we go to their Carlsbad location a lot, and it’s absolutely my favorite place to get a great beer and some really tasty pizza.

Ben Edmunds from Breakside in Portland, OR, who I just saw in London, won 2 medals this year. He is one of my favorite Portland brewers, we met presenting at a barrel aging symposium last year during Portland Beer Week.
Matt Van Wyk from Oakshire in Eugene also presented at that barrel aging symposium, and appropriately, won a gold in the wood and barrel aged beer category.

San Diego pioneering craft beer bar owners Scott and Karen Blair (Hamilton’s, Small Bar, etc) and their brewer Cosmo at Monkey Paw won a gold medal in the American Strong Ale category with Bonebus. Awesome!

It’s hard to win more than one medal at this event, and here are some congratulations for those not already mentioned that pulled this off: John Martin, who owns Drake’s and Triple Rock (and is one of my oldest friends in the beer business) whose breweries combined got 3 medals, Dick and David at Elysian won 2, Dan at New Glarus also won 2, fellow judge and SoCal brewer Victor Novak at TAPS won 2 medals- for his Helles and his Schwarzbier. He does well at this event every year. Steven at Boulevard won 2 medals, John at Troegs also won 2. Andy and Jim at Four Peaks won 2 medals. Ted Rice at Marble in New Mexico won 2, Figueroa Mountain Brewery won an amazing 5 medals from their 2 locations.

Congrats also to my good friends Shaun and Nico at 21st Amendment, Jamie at Ninkasi, Jason and Jim Ebel at Two Brothers, Spike at Terrapin, Tomme and Gwen at Lost Abbey, Rich and his team at Bear Republic, Brian O’Reilly at Sly Fox, the team at Iron Hill, Doug, Brendan and Scott at Odell, and Phil at Ommegang for winning medals this year. Well-deserved!

And for Stone, better luck next year!







GABF and Yakima, WA

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling over the past month, and decided, after thinking hard about it, to not go the Great American Beer Festival this year. This is the first year in many years that I won’t be going, and there will be some regrets, but I need a couple of weeks at home and in the office before I travel again, to Austin at the end of October for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas National Conference (in my mind, the best set of brewing technical sessions in the USA).

I remember the first time I went to the GABF, back in the early 1990s when I lived in Colorado and was working for Anheuser-Busch. I had a couple of friends fly out to join me, and along with my wife, we went to every session. My expectations were quite high, I had been hearing about this event for several years, and was really glad we finally got to go and experience it. And plus I was able to visit a lot with Bill Millar, who owned San Andreas Brewing Co. and gave me my first brewing job. The number of breweries serving beer blew me away, and I enjoyed trying beers from many brewers I wasn’t familiar with.

Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed this epic beer festival. I went again on my own while I lived in Ft. Collins, and then was able to convince the folks at the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group that we were missing out by not participating in a big way. Fortunately they agreed with me, and we had good booths featuring some of our specialty beers and even some experimental beers over the years. We also worked with the Brewers Association to host some off-flavor training booths at the fest, which we did for a couple of years.

In the late 1990s, when Tom Schmidt, the taste training guru at Anheuser-Busch, decided to retire, he nominated me to take his place on the prestigious Professional Judging Panel that awards the medals every year. To say I was thrilled was an understatement, and I have since judged nearly every year. I’m going to miss it this year, but Stone Brewing Co. will be represented with a judge, and I’ll get back on the saddle for the World Beer Cup at next spring’s World Beer Cup.

So what will I miss? Mostly I’ll miss seeing my friends in the business. There are years where this is the only time I get to see them, and it’s easily the best part about being there. I’ll also miss the judging sessions, which, though very rigorous and fatiguing, are also very rewarding, inspirational, and educational. And they are a great way to get to really know other brewers and the affiliated beer industry folk that serve on the panel. I’ll miss the post GABF parties at places like The Falling Rock, Euclid Hall, Cheeky Monk, Hops & Pie, and Star Bar. I’ll miss visiting the local breweries: Wynkoop, Rock Bottom, Flying Dog, Copper Kettle, Breckenridge, Sandlot, Crooked Stave and others. And I’ll miss the beer, all the new beers I would get to try, and the joy of discovering an excellent brewery that I hadn’t previously known.

So with this list and all these accolades about the GABF, what drove me to not go? Several reasons, the biggest one simply being a need to be at home and get back into my routine for a couple of weeks. The GABF is a marathon for everyone, it’s loud and crowded, especially the Friday evening and Saturday evening sessions, and I tend to lose my voice every year, probably because I spend too much time speaking at high volume, drinking beer while doing so, and getting affected by the altitude and dry air. And when I get home from many consecutive nights of too little sleep and many consecutive days being “on the go” from about 8:00 am till about 2:00 am, it’s taking me longer and longer to recover every year. And finally, since I’ve been at Stone, the only time we’ve won medals have been the years where I haven’t attended, so maybe my staying home will be a good luck charm! Wish us luck this year!

This is the biggest, and still in many ways, one of the best beer events that America has to offer, and if you are a beer fan and haven’t gone, please do yourself a favor and make the arrangements to go in the near future. It gets bigger and better every year, it’s an extremely well run event, and it’s a bucket list item for sure if you like beer.  Stone is going to have a great booth this year. We are serving some very special beers, and for the first time, we will also have a booth representing our Liberty Station Brewery.

This past week, I did a quick trip to Yakima, WA to wrap up our hop selection and speak at the Master Brewers District Northwest meeting. It was a very good trip, and I’m excited about our hops this year. It was great to see my brewing friends from WA and OR, and try “new” (at least for me) beers from breweries like Worthy, Icicle, Pfriem Family Brewers, 10 Barrel, Pike, Bridgeport, Fremont and Two Beers, among others. A lot of brewers in the Northwest are canning their beers, and there was a great discussion on mobile canning lines during the MBAA meeting. And it was neat to see Haas’ new experimental brewing operation, which is an absolute technical marvel, and also Bale Breakers Brewery, owned and operated by several 4th generation hop farmers from the Smith Family at Loftus Ranch. Try their Field 41 Pale Ale, brewed with Simcoe, Citra and Ahtanum hops, some of our favorites at Stone. Wonderful beer.





UK here we come!

We’re off tonight to visit the UK and brew a Black IPA at Adnams with Fergus Fitzgerald for the JD Wetherspoon pub chain. The recipe will be similar to the Stone Supremely Self-Conscious Ale that Kris Ketcham has been brewing at our Liberty Station brewery. That beer uses Amarillo and Simcoe hops in the dry-hop, but I think Fergus has lined up some other hops to potentially throw in as well. The beer will be served at most/all Wetherspoon’s locations during their International Real Ale Festival in early November.

And tonight will be my first opportunity to try the new Stone Bistro in the San Diego airport-terminal 2.
We’ve got a great trip planned, including a visit to Simpson’s Malting (we’re using their malt with increasing frequency), then while back in London, visits to Meantime Brewing, Beavertown Brewing, and Kernel, all of whom are among the most exciting craft brewers in London. And we’ll also visit some of our favorite pubs in London, including The Rake, Craft Brewing Co. Clerkenwell, and several others.

Several of my brewing friends are also coming over, so I look forward to seeing them, if we can align our schedules.
I’m also looking forward to my first Fuller’s beer. That’s become a tradition on these trips, getting a Fuller’s Real Ale at Paddington Station as soon as we arrive on the Paddington Express from Heathrow. I’ll never forget tasting a cask of their London Porter for the first time when Steve Wagner and I were in London for the first Wetherspoon beer we did at Shepherd Neame. It immediately became one of my favorite all time beer experiences.
I’ll be posting pics and beer stories either along the way, or shortly after I return, depending on how much time I have and whether I have good internet service.

What is Quality Part 3. How important is the recipe?

Below is an email I recently sent to our Brewing, Packaging, Maintenance, and QA Teams at Stone Brewing Co. I actually meant to send this at the end of 2012 to congratulate our team on the release of some very cool new beers-namely Stone Enjoy By IPA, and Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA (now called Stone RuinTen IPA), but found it recently in my “Drafts” folder (doh!). I still believed in the relevance of the message, so I sent it just before our 17th Anniversary celebration.

I think this applies to any production brewery. In a one/two man brewpub operation,obviously the brewer has control and influence over every part of the brewing process starting with formulation, ingredient securing, brewing, fermenting, aging and packaging. But in a production brewery, one has to rely on the talents and skills of many people to get a good beer out the door.

To The Stone Brew Crew:

Whenever we put out a new beer, I’m always asked “who came up with the recipe?”, and I am uncomfortable answering that question, because it is a simple answer that really doesn’t accurately convey why the beer is successful and tastes delicious.

I think far too much credit is given to the formulation/recipe for a beer’s success. I honestly believe that recipe formulation is one of the easiest parts of making a great beer, and accounts for about 5-10% of its potential success. In my opinion, anyone with some understanding of ingredients and styles can create a great recipe, but actually working with that recipe to brew a great beer is the hard part.

Think about it:

1. Without having sufficient supply of the highest quality ingredients, the beer will fail. This means formulating the beer knowing what ingredients are of the highest quality and their availability. Nothing ruins a good beer quicker than having to make inadequate ingredient substitutions.
2. Without having a robust brewhouse that produces consistent wort, and without having a pure yeast strain and carefully monitored fermentations, the beer will fail. Fermentation provides most of the “Beer” flavor you get in beer. Poor yeast health, improper temperature control, or insufficient oxygen addition will cause a poor fermentation with off-flavors.
3. Without having well designed, high quality, reliable production equipment that is maintained and optimized on a regular basis, the beer will fail. You need equipment that will allow you to produce consistent, high quality beer.
4. Without a great team of brewers, who understand craft beer, the beer they are brewing, and the best practices and procedures needed to make that beer, the beer will fail. Our brewers need to be equipped with the education and experience to make smart decisions that are in the best interest of beer quality.
5. Without having 100% focus on sanitation and cleanliness in the brewery, the beer will fail. This has killed many, many small brewers in the past 25 years.
6. It’s often stated that nothing “good” can happen to a beer when it is packaged. Without a great team who bottle and keg the beer, who understand the quality that needs to go into every single package, and who know how to respond when quality issues start to appear, the beer will fail.
7. Without a QA team that accurately measures the progress of the beer and reports it to the team, and looks for ways to improve our understanding of what is happening in the brewing, fermentation, finishing, and packaging processes, the beer will fail.
8. Without proper scheduling of the brewing and packaging of the beer, the beer will either sit too long, or not long enough in the tank, or will be shorted in supply to our sales team, who can then lose valuable handles and shelf space. Ultimately, without proper planning, the beer will fail.
9. Without having a sales and media team that understands the industry and our beers, and works tirelessly to ensure awareness, and deliver our message and vision, the beer will fail.
10. Without having company leadership that encourages risk taking, focuses on taste and quality, supports innovation in everything the company does, listens and supports creative ideas from the team, and supports all of the above items, the beer will fail.

My point is that while it’s great to get accolades about creating a beer recipe, not enough credit is given to the other critical parts of brewing a great beer, some of which are listed above. There are plenty more components that go into making a great beer, and everyone on our team plays a very important role in our success.

I thank you all for everything that you do to make our beers so successful.

Beer Recommendation:


I was at the Stone Brewing World Gardens and Bistro Liberty Station yesterday afternoon, and after having a sampling of Kris Ketcham’s wonderful beers, got a small pour of Montreal’s Dieu de Ciel! Rosee dHibiscus, a wonderfully refreshing beer that has Hibiscus flowers added in the brewing process. We’ve done some pilot brewing with Hibiscus ourselves, and I really enjoy the fruity floral character that the flowers impart-not to mention the rose hue that also results. Hibiscus plays particularly well in Belgian style beers. As hot and muggy as it was yesterday, this beer was absolutely perfect. Check it out!


A Final Note:

We recently had a tragedy at the brewery and it has shaken all of us up pretty hard.  Everyone on our team is grieving and mourning in their own way, and one thing that has really helped has been the tremendous outpouring of support, well wishes, and condolences for our loss. The Craft Brewing Industry is a wonderful business to be in, full of really good, thoughtful, and caring people, and I thank everyone who has reached out to me or anyone else in our company to offer support. It means more than you can know.

Also, I am not going to comment on this tragedy further, unless asked to do so for any official future statements from Stone Brewing Co.

Thanks so much, and cheers.