The Beer Issue
First opened in San Diego in 1996, Stone Brewing Co. has become one of the most popular craft breweries in the country and a household name among fans of serious IPAs and creative beer. Averaging 43 percent year-to-year growth, the brewery now distributes to 37 states, including—thank goodness—Nevada. And as Stone always offers the latest and most innovative in craft beer, we tapped brewmaster Mitch Steele to learn about trends in the industry, aging beer and what you’ll be drinking in 2013.
On drinking local: I think when there’s good local beer people are going to gravitate toward that. ... We’re seeing an explosion in the number of breweries that are opening right now, and it’s been very interesting to watch.
On collaboration beers: We’ve been brewing collaboration beers since 2008, so we’ve been doing it for a while. I see it continuing because, No. 1, it generates some excitement. Again, it’s an ability to do something new, and that’s what’s fun about collaborations. It’s a nice way to celebrate the camaraderie of the industry, which is really important to a lot of us.
On canned microbrews: Cans are a great package. From a quality standpoint, in some ways it’s better than a bottle, as far as air ingress. You just don’t get as much air into a can as you do in a bottle. Whether we’re going to do it or not, I don’t know. We certainly have discussed it very casually, and right now we don’t have the room to do it. I certainly don’t have a problem with a craft beer in a can. I’ll buy it and enjoy it. ... It’s kind of a mind-set thing. I think people associate beer in cans with something that’s not at the same level of flavor or quality that people look at with a craft beer.
On beer trends in 2013: I don’t have a crystal ball. (laughs) I think IPAs are going to continue to grow, that’s a given. People are just really getting interested in hops as a primary flavor in a beer and the different types of flavors that hops can provide.
One of the things that I like to think I see happening is a trend to lower-alcohol beers with a lot of flavor, more of the sessionable. Session IPAs and session beers, beers that are less than 4.5 percent alcohol. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not, [but] it’s something I’m watching. I still think people are looking at alcohol content, though, when they make their purchasing decisions.
On aging beers: There’s this kind of thing going on where people are liking to age beers, and there are certain beers that shouldn’t be aged. We’ve always seen that people would take beers that we would tell people they needed to be drunk fresh, and people would take them and age them. And it’s like, “No, you’re not supposed to age it! It’s supposed to be fresh. We want you to drink this fresh.” Because as a beer sits in a bottle or a keg or can or whatever, the first thing that kind of fades for the flavor is the hop character.
On social media’s role in the industry: Social media is huge. It’s everywhere. A lot of craft brewers don’t have the budgets or the wherewithal to advertise through traditional means. Social media is a great way to get your message out and to get people continually engaged in what you’re doing. I just think it’s absolutely incredible, the potential there.