Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Brewing at Stone

Given how little time I spent in San Diego - just three days, really - it's no surprise that I crammed things in.

First, it's disclosure time. Stone and ChuckAlek paid my travel expenses and for most of the food and beer I consumed whilst in the US. For which I'm very grateful.

The two breweries are at about exactly opposite ends of the industry. Stone has two 120-barrel brewhouses, ChuckAlek a 1-barrel system; Stone started in 1996, ChuckAlek last year. That they are working together on a project says much about the camaraderie of the San Diego scene.

ChuckAlek have a series of one-off Porters and Stouts called, er, Archive Series. There's a new one each month. The recipes are interpretations (in varying degrees of strictness) of ones in Porter! and the Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer. (Sorry, couldn't resist some tarting.)

Grant from ChuckAlek picks me up at 9 am. We're off to brew. A reasonably (but not stupidly) early start. Just as well. I only arrived at 5 pm yesterday, after a refreshing 16-hour journey. It's a wonder I know which month it is. I'm feeling quite chipper, oddly.

We're brewing at Stone Liberty Station, a brewpub in San Diego itself (the main brewery is in Escondido) which opened exactly 12 months ago. It's housed in a former US Navy training complex to the West of the city centre. With its cloisters, there's an oddly monastic look.

When we arrive the restaurant is empty, save for an army of staff, getting it ready for the lunchtime siege. The place is huge. Not quite on the scale of Munich's Hofbräuhaus, but not far off. The main room seats over 400 and there are several smaller ones, plus a big courtyard garden. That's one of the reasons we have trouble finding our way into the brewhouse: the place is just so damn big. They even have a courtyard with two bocce pitches.

Kris (Ketcham, the man in charge of brewing at Liberty Station) is already looking hot when we peer inquiringly through the window. He, literally, points us in the right direction. We have to go outside and around the back. He's already started the preparatory work.

I'm glad I checked the weather forecast before leaving Amsterdam. Usually, it's a pleasant low 20's celcius in San Diego in May. But an unseasonably early appearance of the Santa Ana winds has bumped the temperature up into the high 30's. Way too hot for me.  Really low humidity is the only consolation.

The Santa Ana is to blame for the wild fires which have spring up around the city. Once again I'm glad to live in rain-soaked Holland.

Grant grinds the malt. I'm relieved not to be asked to hunk the sacks about. Sweaty work. It's English malt - from Crisps. Though the sacks of coloured malt also bear the name French and Jupps.

"That's very appropriate," I mention, "they used to supply London brewers with black and brown malt. It's quite possible that the original contained malt from the same source." I'm full of useless crap like this."I'm pretty sure they were the last maltsters to make brown malt the scary way."

"Why did they stop?"

"Too many fires."

I realise I've forgotten to tell you what we're brewing. It's one of my favourite beers. For educational purposes. To bludgeon an historical point into a bloody mess. That much more Porter went to India than IPA. Barclay Perkins East India Porter from 1867.

Grant's intern Kaleb turns up to help. I get to play, too - some paddling in the mash tun. The easy bit at the start, when it isn't too thick. It's quite a hands-on brewery. One of the reasons Kris was glad to transfer here from the main brewery.

It reminds me of something. My last foray into brewing at Colonial Williamsburg. I got to do some paddling there, too. Despite a couple of centuries of technological advances, brewing's core remains constant.

Once we've finished mashing in (at 153.9 F), Kris fetches us a blueberry and basil Kölsch straight from the filter. Slightly strange. It's a nightmare beer for Kris. Blueberry seeds clog his equipment.

"It's not very Kölsch convention compliant." I suggest. It's taken as the joke it is.

A worried Mitch Steele, head of brewing at Stone, turns up later than planned. He'd been stuck at the brewery until late, wild fires closing off his route home. Not that he's able to give us his full attention. A fire is within two miles of the main brewery. Every minute or so an email about the situation in Escondido bleeps into his phone.

We try an English IPA from ChuckAlek, which Grant has brought in a growler. Pretty good stuff. I wish I could remember which hops are in it*. I'm not taking notes, you see.

Mitch is bombarded with emails as the fire races towards the brewery. I'm surprised he can concentrate at all.

In the grant, the wort looks as black as tar and nearly as viscous. Even in a thin tube, it's pretty much opaque. Brilliant. It tastes great: like oversugared espresso, but more fun. I'm sure I'll love it. If I get to taste it. That's one of the downsides of cooperating on beers in distant lands. I don't always get to try the finished product.

When the wort is safely warming in the kettle, we go for lunch. Ribs and fish taco for starters, lobster roll for my main. Very nice. Not that you needed to know that.

Mitch continues to nervously check his emails. The fire is within a quarter mile of the brewery, he tells us. His relative calm impresses me. Worry trousers me would have struggled to follow the conversation. Or speak coherently. Hell, I struggle to speak coherently at the best of times. Or listen properly, my family would say. Bit of an attention deficit on my side.

Mitch gets a phone call: police have ordered the evacuation of the brewery. His meal finished, he hurries off.

This what had been happening around the brewery:

The sequence ends when the brewery was evacuated.

I'll leave you with those frightening images. Next time I'll be doing my hop thing before roasting at gas mark nine for two hours in the garden.

* Grant tells me the beer is called Trading Co. EIPA and the hops are Admiral, a newish British variety.

Stone Liberty Station
2816 Historic Decatur Rd #116‎,
San Diego, CA 92106

ChuckAlek Independent Brewers
2330 Main St, Suite C
Ramona, CA 92065

Apologies for the lack of photos of the brewhouse. I somehow forgot to take any.

1 comment:

BrianW said...

I was at Stone this past weekend and the first beer I ordered was your EIP. It was a lot more roasty and a lot less hoppy than the Pretty Things EIP. Given the whole San Diego/West Coast IPA reputation, I was totally expecting the opposite. But it was still very tasty.