Yesterday, Big Rock released the latest in their Alchemist Series. This latest one is Erratic Stone-Fired Ale, a Stein Bier. Only 3300 bottles (750ml flip tops) were produced. I have not tasted it yet (although I do have a bottle in my possession, so I will report on it when I try it), but the style alone suggests that Big Rock is continuing to up their game.
Stein Bier, for those who are unfamiliar, is an old German brewing method, back before kettles that could be consistently fired by coal/coke/gas. Essentially the brewer would super-heat a bunch of rocks (granite was the most durable) and drop them into the wort to heat it to boiling temperature. Stein is German for “stone”, so there you go. The process would give the beer an intense caramel flavour (due to the wort caramelizing on the surface of the stone) and a slight smoke character.
Big Rock claims that they did exactly that – added hot stones (B.C. granite, they say) to the brew kettle. I suspect they used the stones for supplement, rather than for the entire heating, if for no other reason than reliability. But if the stones had any significant contact time, the character should still come through (as I say, I will let you know when I open it).
Stein Bier is virtually unheard of today. I can only think of one or two American breweries who have tried it. Which means I think Big Rock is the first Canadian brewery to try brewing a stone beer. I could be wrong but I don’t recall hearing of one in Canada before. Which leads me to say that I am becoming increasingly convinced that Big Rock is determined to get back into craft beer business in a serious fashion. So far their new releases have been flavourful and interesting interpretations – even if not the most bold examples of the style. The release of a stone beer ups the game that much more.
What is more, in the interests of transparency (they say they are tired of being accused of copying other breweries’ beer even though theirs had been in planning for months), they have released their entire 2013 beer schedule. No specific dates, of course, but they have listed all 16 seasonal and one-time beer that they will be releasing this year (you, I hope, can find the graphic here). It is a very interesting list, including various beer with fruit and spices, including rosemary, plum, spruce, pinot gris grapes and licorice. There are also some classic styles such as Marzen, Bohemian Pilsner and an IPA with Fuggle and Bramling Cross. I also see a “Belgian Style” Cherry beer, but they do not indicate if it will be a lambic.
Of course, the proof is always in the tasting, but the list itself is intriguing. It certainly is not a list produced by a brewery playing it safe. Big Rock, I think, is quite serious about re-creating their reputation. At the end of the day, the quality of the product will determine whether their project succeeds or not. They should expect a well-deserved skepticism from the beer community, at least at first. Which is also fair.
I am very curious where this leads.
There is some other beer news that I should likely report as well. In no particular order:
- Village Brewing in Calgary is releasing (today actually) their latest seasonal, Village Ginger, a (obviously) ginger-infused beer.
- Ribstone Creek has created Buckin’ Bronco IPA as a limited release beer for the Calgary and Edmonton Craft Beer Festivals. It will also be on tap at select Edmonton pubs (no word yet on where).
- In other Big Rock news, a couple of weeks ago they release a new can mixed pack with 3 each of Saaz Pilsner, Grasshopper, IPA and two seasonal releases: Paradox Dark Light Ale (a low-alcohol dark ale) and Purple Gas, a wheat beer with saskatoon berries and agave. Longtime Albertans will know that “purple gas” is a reference to the subsidized gasoline given to Alberta farmers for many years, which was dyed purple to distinguish it from regular-priced gas. I don’t think Alberta was the only jurisdiction to do this, but it remains a central part of Alberta folklore.