After caving for the first time and spending the night in a hotel because of a pretty heavy snow storm, we made our way to Stewart’s Brewing Company in Bear, DE on Thursday, 3/27/2014. The first thing we did when we walked in was order a flight of their beers, then head brewer Ric Hoffman sat with us while we indulged. Afterwards, he showed us around and went over everything that makes the brewery unique.
Stewart’s started right around the same time as Dogfish Head back in 1995, and they still have the original 18 year old equipment including a 7 bbl brick-lined brew kettle. That system uses direct fire open flame, however their wood-covered hot liquor tank is electric. Because it is a super old fashioned English style system, very few things are automated so it’s a very hands-on/ manual process for Ric and the other brewer, Eric “Bo” Boice. Ric and Eric are currently brewing 2 – 3 days a week totaling anywhere from 110 – 120 brews a year, although they come in more frequently than that to make sure certain processes are working as they should be. Up until two years ago they actually had to come in every day to adjust the temperature but have since installed temperature control. Production averages about 700 bbl per year, while the peak year was at 825 bbl, and they are able to do this using four 7 bbl fermenters, two 14 bbl fermenters, two 14 bbl conditioning tanks, and eight serving tanks.
All of the five year-round house beers at this brewery are English in nature and open fermented: Governor’s Golden Ale, Irish Red Ale, India Pale Ale (which replaced a Pale Ale), Highlander Stout, and Wacky Wheat. Irish Red used to be a seasonal but, after winning a medal at the WBC in 2000, it was quickly made year-round. None of the house beers are very aggressive (“Awesome beer without the attitude”) and they have had to win over their clientele over the years. At one point, they were barely able to sell an IPA and Coors Light was their best-selling beer, but now the patrons have a taste for the unique styles Stewart’s has to offer and get them all the time. They also have quite a few seasonal offerings, including Delaware Diamond Lager, which is a Munich-style Helles that retains a little bit of a sulfury character. The Oyster Stout – a classic Irish dry stout – is a fairly new seasonal beer and the second batch of it took a silver at GABF in 2012. A Kolsch in their repertoire known as Wind Blown Blonde was taken out of their line-up for about 10 years, but when they brought it back in 2008, it promptly won gold at WBC & GABF that year.
While we were there, we got to try a cult favorite in the community – Stumblin’ Monk – which comes in at just over 9%; patrons are only allowed to have three 10oz tulip glasses per day. Stumblin’ Monk is the most award winning beer of theirs, received a gold at GABF for Belgian Strong Pale Ale last year, and occasionally gets hand bottled for limited release. We also got to try out a vintage 2011 Bourbon Barleywine that was aged for 7 months in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Ric jokingly went on to tell us that they invented a new style known as Delaware Schwarzbock since they think it is ironic that all the new styles added to competitions each year seem to lean towards what the west coast guys are brewing and figured the east deserved some come-uppance. That style is basically a Schwarz beer that has been amped up to bock strength; Devils Backbone comically put one on their menu too. They also have a Maibock that was fermenting in tanks during our visit and should be released soon, then the day after our visit they brewed a Belgian IPA. One more unique thing to note is the fact that they do their own yeast work, using a pressure cooker and making their own slants with the agar to grow the yeast which is grown at ambient temperatures; they have their own cultures/ in-house yeast strains.
Their Brew Crew mug club is currently on a 6 year waiting list to get in, but the 350 people lucky enough to be in it receive a 24oz mug that enables them to get an extra half beer for the price of a pint for $50 a year. They also get $1.50 off the pint price Sun – Tue, get discounts on beer dinners, and get to attend events throughout the year like a Christmas party. Chef Dan Dogan can prepare you some food while you are there as well, including chicken which has been brined in the Golden Ale; the next beer pairing dinner is April 30, 2014. Much thanks to Ric, Eric, and Dan for chatting with us!
Author: Michael Roberts