Saturday, December 22, 2007

GK: I'm Off!

"Off." Contextually it can suggest a number of different meanings when someone says "I'm off." Off, as in "heading out." Off, as in "time off." Off, as in "not quite right" (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.).

In this case, it's the former two, and to stave off the latter. Although I don't feel that the latter poses a serious threat to me, best to be on the safe side just in case! And so, to that end, I am capital oh-eff-eff: OFF.

Thailand, to be specific. With jaunts to Cambodia and Laos. Maybe even a day trip to Myanmar (aka Burma). Should be fun.

This will be the longest out and out vacation I've had since the summer of 1995 -- the summer before Steve and I started the brewery.

Heading out late tonight out of LAX. By the time I land, it will be Christmas eve.

During the trip I would like to write more blog entries and get deeper into reflections on philosophy, ethics, business practices and goals. I also want to get the hell away from my computer! So, I'm taking it with me of course.

And therein lies some conflict. Not big, overwhelming conflict mind you, but conflict nonetheless. Another small internal conflict of the competing goals of clearing the head in a variety of manners. Clearing the head by hiking into the hills of northern Thailand and venturing in and around World Heritage sites such as the incredible Angkor Wat, and clearing the head by allowing the thoughts and ideas flow through the fingers-keyboard-screen continuum of the mind/computer connection.

They are unquestionably in conflict with each other. Perhaps however, there is a balance to be found. I'll let you know. The volume, or lack, of blog postings will reflect the winner of this tug.

It may also reflect internet connection challenges, which may work in favor of the hiking around. Probably for the best!

Regardless...one thing I do know, for absolute and undeniable certain is, I'm Off!

Cheers, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Reviewing The Ratings

I admit it. I love the two main beer ratings websites BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. Both are fun, informative and offer a terrific forum for learning about and discussing the mutual favorite subject of beloved beers -- as well as the not-so-beloved beers. These are sites that definitely do not subscribe to the idea that "there's no such thing as a bad beer." Truth of the matter is that beer, as with any artisanal product, can be slaughtered. Miserably. Or rise to joyous heights. Whichever direction a brewer goes, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate members are there to dutifully report their findings.

Each site has its own distinct personality. They're almost like two bars just around the corner from each other. Some patrons go to one, the other, or both as their mood takes them, dropping by to see who else is at the bar. Other patrons are quick to whip up the rivalry on a moment's notice. Some shout out as they enter the establishment much as Norm would do as he walked into Cheers, and others prefer to sit off to the side at a small table in the corner and keep to themselves as they contemplate their afternoon's beer.

Over the years, I've become accustom to reading the things that people have to say about our beer. I've learned to just let it flow through. To accept the comments, both positive and negative.

I've always felt that it's our job to decide what it is that we do, and it's the job of consumers (hate to use such a generic term there, but I'm at a loss for a different, more meaningful all-encompassing term) to decide if they like it. What I mean by this is that we don't try to project what a consumer *might* think they want, and then try to do that. It seems that most companies spend a LOT of time doing that with all their market research and such. They try to figure out what people think they want, and then fulfill that "need."

We don't. We do what we do.

In other words, we focus on doing what we do with an eye towards doing it as amazing as we possibly can. As a result, we recognize and accept that the "what we do" isn't going to meet everyone's tastes. And that's quite OK.

That being said, I'm constantly surprised by the people who get angry a bit when they find that they don't like what we do. You know, the "what's up with your menu...can't you have any normal food?" group. I suppose, for them, our answer is 'no.' We often have our housemade kimchee on the menu. Kimchee is something that tens of millions of people eat every day. "Normal," like so many other things, is relative. For me, most people's "normal" equals booooring. And why would we want to do something that we think is boring?

But I, like usual, digress.

If you'd like to check out the myriad of perspectives out there on the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, there's a few main places you'll find them:

On BeerAdvocate.com you can find the reviews here.

One RateBeer.com where the reviews are split somewhat confusingly into two different locations for our one location, they can be found here and here. (I like the latter grouping of reviews as the RateBeerians that review us there like us better, but the name of our street is not spelled quite right in that one.)

On Yelp.com, they take us to an even more schizophrenic level by splitting us into three pieces, the beer/food oriented listings here and here, and the (at the time of this writing) one lone review of the Stone Company Store here. (One thing they all have in common, along with most online mapping systems and GPS systems, is that the header in each one suggests that we are located somewhere other than where we actually are.)

The truly amazing ability of the rating sites are that they can reveal the collective consciousness in a way that was previously unavailable. The communication, enthusiasm, and authenticity is amazing. When it comes to beer.

When it comes to a dining experience, the rating systems seem to still be a work in progress. The parameters of rating such a complex thing have not quite seemed to gel, and there are still multiple methods to the madness that haven't perfected the triangulation yet. But hell, a beer you can sit and contemplate and write about a lot easier than you can a dining experience. Beer has just shy of 100 identifiable flavor parameters. Add in colors, smells and packaging to the equation, and an experienced beer aficionado can still get their arms around it.

A restaurant however has countless and untold parameters that come into play. There's no surprise here of course, it simply means that it's even more difficult to gel into universally bite sized parameters.

But it shouldn't stop the trying of course!

To all that have taken the time to post a review on what we do and give us insight --- whether we love it or hate it, whether we think you're brilliantly insightful or a grouchy hack --- all the reviews are appreciated!

Especially the good ones.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

On KPBS' "These Days" Program Today

I'll be on the radio this morning at 10am with Colby of Ballast Point Brewing to talk about the San Diego craft brewing scene. Tune in to 89.5FM, the show's archive can be heard on the Stone website.

BTW, These Days featured a show on the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Orchids & Onions awards on Monday, December 3rd. In that show, they mention the fact that Stone Brewing won the People's Choice Orchid for "Excellence in Architecture."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Goal Towards Transparency, pt. 2

I just read yesterday's post and it looks like I need to buckle down and get to the point.

OK.

The "Transparency" that I would like to shoot for is nearly all-encompasing. We already let you know who makes our beer (uh, that's us), where we make our beer (us again, and "right here"), and how we make our beer (just take a tour and we'll show you). The ingredients are listed on the bottle. The location where we make it (that's the 'here' part) is also on the bottle.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for every other beer. Some are not actually brewed 'by' the brewery name listed on the bottle, or at the 'where' listed on the bottle. This is legal according to the "alternating proprietorship" labeling rules as allowed by our government.

In true craft beers this is more the exception rather than the norm, as there is thankfully little nonsense of the smoke and mirrors type in the craft brewing business.

OK. So that's the beer side. And I think we do a pretty damn good job of being transparent at Stone.

However we want to take it further as I suggested yesterday. I would like to be able to tell you where the broccoli on your plate in our restaurant was grown. And when it was picked.

I'm even thinking it would be cool to be able to tell you how much we paid for it. We might not be able to break it down that far, but perhaps we could share with you --- our own Team Stone Members, the public...everyone --- what our food cost is. What our labor costs are. How much we pay for the square footage of the restaurant in 'rent' ('mortgage' is the correct term as we own our own building here...or more accurately, the bank does).

We'd share with everyone the fact that we're expecting around $4Million in sales this year in the bistro. And that maybe we'll actually turn a profit! Most people don't realize that restaurant profit is typically measured in pennies on the dollar. Unless they're in the restaurant biz, in which case you likely know it all too well.

I'll be honest and say that I think there might be an advantage in sharing all these kinds of details. Some people think that we charge to much for some of our dishes. That perhaps we're even taking advantage of them! Let me show you what it costs for good local, organic produce and the natural meats and they'll quickly see that we are not.

I'm going to wrap this up and simply say that I'm going to do my best in this blog, and in our continued business practices, to be as plain-speak, open and honest as I possibly can. If I say anything that you feel needs additional clarity, or even called into question, make a comment and I'll do my best to answer.

You can expect more on this. It's a BIG subject.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Goal Towards "Transparent"

It'll take some serious work. And some guts, honestly. It won't be easy and we'll probably have to deal with some "should we really be doing this?" self-doubt along the way.

It's the goal of Transparency.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Context is needed. So let me go all the way back to this morning....

We had our big annual Full Team Meeting this morning. The one with Everyone in the company. All 227 of us (minus one pre-excused absence and an inevitable 'out sick' person or two). Steve and I did about an hour's worth of speechification, covering the major topics of Where We've Been / How We Got Here, Where We Are Now, and the requisite Where We Are Going.

All in all, I think it was a great meeting. The previous night's festivities of the annual Team Stone Holiday Party probably didn't hurt (although it may have muted the liveliness a little).

In the looking forward part, Steve and I talked about Transparency. The idea of opening our books to the team. While I believe in the idea, a lot in fact, it can still feel a little awkward for someone who often plays close to the chest. Truth of the matter that in today's world, things are complicated enough without us building unneeded cloaks of mystery around them.

When it comes to consumer products, I've always liked the ones that tell me the truth the best. Partly because they tell me the truth, and partly because these same truth-tellers tend to make the best stuff. Part and parcel.

As a brewery, we've always been pretty straightforward in our endeavours. Want to know how our beer is made? Come out and let us show you around! We itch for the opportunities to not only show off 'what' we do, but also 'how' we do it. And we're certainly not alone, as this is a common element in the ethos of artisan producers, no matter what they make.

And on the opposite side of the equation, I've always had a special spot reserved for those that I feel layer in a level or two of bullshit into what they try and get me to believe about their product or company. And it's not a good spot. I, like most people, don't like to be fooled. Interestingly, it's not actually "most people" according to some research (cited at the end of this very interesting article), and there's a split between "boomers" and gens "X" and "Y." Looks like I align with the latter's views.

But I digress. A little.

...to be continued in the next post....

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stone Wins The People's Choice "Orchid"!

I went to the ceremonies last night for the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Annual "Orchids & Onions" Awards. Although I, and many people love onions, in the case of these awards they have been relegated to negative status. Perhaps because onions are stinky? Or more likely that "Orchids & Okra" made even less sense.



It was quite an honor to receive the People's Choice award.

The Jury's comments were equally flattering (quoting from the San Diego Union-Tribune story):

The People's Orchid, by a 79 percent vote, went to Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido, a restaurant and beer garden developed by Stone Brewing Co. McCullough's committee summarized the public's love of the place this way:

“The voters were enchanted by the open and airy interior and the seamless indoor/outdoor connection via floor to ceiling glass doors. The element that drew the most attention of voters was the huge outdoor patio and garden animated by waterfalls and fire pits. Stone Brewing World is a destination very much in tune with Southern California living.”

The jury had glowing comments for the Orchids it bestowed.

It liked the interior designs of the Anthology jazz club in Little Italy and the Guild restaurant in Barrio Logan, the former for its sophistication and the latter for its success despite a small budget.


It was easy to agree with the Jury's "Orchid" awards to two other new restaurants that are located in the downtown area of San Diego -- The Guild, and Anthology -- as they are both stunning places that are uniquely...unique.

The North County Times also covered the awards.

Not knowing the format of the awards ceremony, I must admit that I was not properly prepared with notes to guide my acceptance speech.

video

As a result of not being prepared with notes, I made the gaff of not mentioning Hamann Construction and specifically Job Superintendent John Belcher. We could not have gotten the result we did without John and his team...and their talent and flexibility. These guys were much more accustom to building more 'standard' tilt-up warehouses -- projects that require a high degree of technical proficiency, but don't offer much in the creativity department -- however they successfully tapped both their significant skills, and their inner Michelangelos to create our incredible result.

These photos from March 8, 2006 show them in action, working on the bamboo planter and indoor water feature:





This "Greg's vBlog" video from April 22, 2006 gives further perspective:
video

Also deserving special thanks is Matt Jerman and his team at Landscape Plus. Much more than a landscape 'contractor / installer,' Matt worked with me on a daily basis to transform the outline of the plans to the natural and rustic result that we got. We simply could not have done it without him. Additionally, Randy of KRC Rock with their "rock moving rig" had a talent for just the right touch with two-to-twelve-ton boulders to coax them into nestling just the right way.

This 24 minute long Greg's vBlog from August 11, 2006 gives further looks at these guys doing their thing:

video

Fortunately, I didn't gaff SO bad that I didn't properly mention our architect, Andy Kjellberg ('shell-berg') of McArdle Associates Architects. Day after day, week after week, month after month...and *Phew!*...year after year, Andy kept all the innumerable pieces of the complex project in sync. From the practicalities of an 8,000 square foot coldbox and truck docks at one end, the mid section of bottling, kegging, brewing, and offices, to the Stone Store, the restaurant and gardens at the opposite.

Magically, it all flows as if we actually designed it that way! My thanks to everyone that worked for so long on what we called in all-encompassing and simplifying terms the "New Brewery Project." We couldn't have done it without you!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Arrogant Is As Arrogant Does, cont...

Heh. And wouldn't you know it. The guy had to go and prove me right. To be honest, I was only 90% certain.

Jim, the GM of the bistro, replied to the guy with his best [my words here, not Jim's] "OK, this guy's a crank, but I'm still going to try and give him the benefit of the doubt and the best customer service possible"

I’m truly sorry that you had a bad experience on Saturday. I appreciate your valuable comments, good or bad; they will help us down the road of being amazing. I would like to get some more information from you so I can look into the matter. Did you check in with the hostess at the front desk? Do you remember her name or a description? With all the empty tables, I’m surprised that you were not seated right away.

I think you would be pleasantly surprised with our food and our beer as well. We take great pride in creating high quality food and top notch craft beers. I hope you reconsider a return visit to the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens; we would love to have you.

Best regards,

Jim Hurley
General Manager
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

To which he got the reply:
Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 11:50 PM
To: Jim Hurley
Subject: Re: Saturday's Visit

There were too many people and not enough staff. I do not remember what the hostess looked like. When I go to a brewery I do not expect great food. I expect to find food that is edible. I am looking for things like wings and onion rings. Maybe a good shrimp cocktail. I do not want extravagant food. I would like to find food that is good with beer.

When I go to Temecula, I eat at the restaurant at the South Coast Winery. The food is excellent and the service is great. That is all I look for in a restaurant. If you sat at your bar, people had to serve themselves. What respectable restaurant does not have waitresses or waiters in the bar. The whole experience was very disappointing. My son and his friend apologized for taking us there. We bought presents for people out of town, canceled our place on the list waiting for tables and left. We were looking for a good time and a place to build memories, we did not find that.

OK. This is how it appears to me. He came. Didn't like the fact that he had to wait for a table. Took a look at the menu. It was not what he wanted. Got mad at us for that.

What fails me is why someone who is wanting wings and "a good shrimp cocktail" would go to a restaurant that doesn't serve them. We have our menu posted online. Lots of reviews, glowing and hating, can be found with simple Google search. Why spin your wheels getting angry over your own misperception? Hell, you can limit yourself all you like, but don't ever try to limit us. I won't have it.

Also, the comment about sitting at the bar and having to "serve yourself" is confusing. He recognized that we were short on staff that day (OUR fault, to be certain). However, he meant "bar area" as we always have bartenders on the job. We rarely have roving service in the area where they decided to plop themselves and sit. This might be a mistake on our part sometimes, but it's nonetheless the case. Sitting and twiddling thumbs and getting frustrated serves no purpose. Asking someone "how do I get service here?" serves a big purpose.

His last line really hit home though. Indeed, 'building memories' is why we're here! It's a team effort however, and sometimes guests make the mistake in thinking that they're not part of that team. That they get what they get...if they're lucky they'll like it, and if they're unlucky they won't. But they can sometimes think that they have no influence. They do! I would suggest that a guest do what they would do in nearly any other situation when they want/need something. Ask!

From time to time we'll get an email from someone letting us know that there was a problem with their food the night before when they were here for dinner. I have emailed back with an apology and asked what the server / manager said to try and find out why it wasn't corrected on the spot. "I didn't want to make a scene" is the response. If you get nothing out of this missive of mine, please get that if you go to a respectable restaurant you should assume --- yes, assume --- that they want you to be happy. And if you are not happy with something, they would like to know about it so they can make it right! Hate to complain? No problem...don't! "Excuse me, my entreƩ is cold" is not a complaint. Unless it's delivered like one (which is your choice if you want to do it that way I suppose). However, I would simply suggest that you deliver the message to you server as if they WANT you to have the proper temperature food! It's an opportunity for the restaurant to make it better.

We want to make happy people happier. We want to help the not-so-happy people get happy, but we need their help. You are as much a part of the solution than the restaurant employees are.

The unhappy-and-want-to-stay-unhappy people should stay home. You know who you are. Chances are most of us have actually been that person before. Well, some of us.

Standing in the airport, hearing the news about flight delays, cancelled flights during a weather event, etc., we've all heard the angry guy in front of us in line yell at the airline representative behind the desk "I'm never flying this airline again!!!" Heh. Cool. Glad to hear that. I'd hate to have to sit next to a guy like that on the plane.

And I'd prefer they not come to our restaurant.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arrogant Is As Arrogant Does?

Arrogant Bastard Ale is one of twelve beers we produce (seven year 'round, and five "Stone Special Releases"). It, and it's uncle Double Bastard Ale certainly have the loudest personality of our lineup to be certain.

However, Arrogant Bastard Ale and Double Bastard Ale make up only part of the personality of those of us at the Stone Brewing Co. All the other beers have their part, all the charitable and community endeavours, all of the day to day challenges we face in our respective positions, all of our striving towards trying to do better and improve our surroundings...all those things are also part of the collectively personality that is the Stone Brewing Co.

And most importantly, it's the personality of the people themselves (ourselves) that make up the personality of the Stone Brewing Co.

And yet it pains me sometimes when those on the outside take only the most cursory or casual glance towards us and decide that we're just a bunch of 'arrogant bastards.' They mean it in the pejorative sense of course, otherwise it is capitalized when it is denoting a compliment, which is the proper usage. Of course.

The reality is that it is typically a reflection on them, not on us. They come with their preconceived notions as their rule of how they'll interpret their interactions with us, rather than being open to a new perspectives.

Where the hell am I going with this?

It's when we make a mistake. Whether a simple inadvertent one, one due to someone just not paying enough attention, or a huge gaff due to whatever litany if things someone might be personally dealing with. We do sometimes make mistakes. All people do of course.

One of the ways that I truly believe Stone has stood out over the years is that collectively we strive, hard, to do the best job possible. To "Be Amazing" as I am sometimes wont to put it. Collectively, we are anything but a group of people with a "whatever" attitude.

So it's with a combination of befuddlement and sadness when I get an email like the one I got CC'd on yesterday.
-----
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2007 11:29 PM
Subject: Saturday's Visit

We visited your restaurant and bar Saturday the 24th of November. In spite of the fact that most of the tables were empty, no one was being seated. In the bar area there was no service.We were there waiting for about forty-five minutes before we gave up. We got a look at your menu and decided that the food could not be as good as the prices made it sound. That was fine with me, I do not drink beer. My son who loves Arrogant Bastard and his friend another lover of Arrogant Bastard were with us. They decided that the place was too arrogant a place to eat. We decided to eat at the Hotel Del where the service is great and there is food that is reasonably priced and recognizable. I will be sure to delete your brewery from our list of places to take people when they visit San Diego.
-----


Certainly, the fellow was correct. We don't have service in the bar area most of the time. Patrons go to the bartender and order what they would like. He was incorrect to decide that an iota of arrogance was in play, except perhaps that of his own. It seems a bit of a stretch that anyone, let alone a whole group, would sit for 45 minutes within shouting distance of a bartender, seemingly do nothing about it, and then proclaim such things.

To be certain, it might have been helpful if a bartender had noticed them sitting there 25 feet away and found a moment to walk over and let them know that whenever they wanted anything they should just order it up at the bar. Sounds like they didn't.

In my short one year's worth of experience in the restaurant business, I've quickly learned that the biggest challenges come from the customers that come with the biggest set of expectations. We freely admit that we approach many things from a very different perspective here at Stone. Hell, it's arguable that we've essentially been shouting that message for each one of our eleven years.

When we opened the bistro, I was shocked...nay SHOCKED that so many people, Stone fans included, came with such a wide array of FIRM expectations. And that they were so angry when we didn't fit their mold. Some came expecting "typical pub grub" looking for wings, chicken sandwiches and regular cheeseburgers with a side of nachos. Where on earth they got the idea that a company with a known reputation for approaching the world of beer from a unique perspective would then approach the world of dining from the 'same ol' same ol'' perspective. Local food blogger Lauren covered this subject well in this entry of hers in which she never spelled out that she was talking about Stone, but it was clear that she was. People have said to me "but you're a brewery" as if I didn't get it and they were trying to help me understand, I guess, that breweries aren't supposed to serve food of the sort that we do, have architecture like we do, have a really great wine list like we do, etc.

I beg to differ. I hope this won't sound too much like "It's my ball and we play my way" but the fact of the matter is that it's up to us at Stone to decide all the aspects of the bistro. Your job is to decide if you like it or not. If you do, great! Most people seem to really dig it. If you don't, that's OK too, but don't be confused into thinking that if we'd only change this, that, or the other thing to be the way YOU think it should be, then finally we'd have it right. Frankly, we're not all that interested in those critiques.

Mostly because they're simply not helpful. Or insightful.

To be continued in tomorrow's episode....

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Good One I Almost Missed

Just caught wind of this NY Times article written by Michael Pollan (author of the highly recommended Omnivore's Dilemma).

It all seems very, very distant as I sit here enjoying a Stone 11th Anniversary Ale in the northern High Sierra mountains (about to be) dining on a meal made nearly entirely of fresh, locally grown produce (including the salad greens...and it's late November in the mountains...global warming has at least this advantage this year).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stone 11th Anniversary Celebration video posted by The Local Brew

The guys at The Local Brew just posted a 4 1/2 minute short from the Stone 11th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival. As usual, their work is engaging and punchy. Take a gander. You'll enjoy it.

As I mention in their video, the Stone Crew is indeed an extraordinarily good looking bunch, and I can prove it. However, I will admit that it might be the fact that I know they're really cool people. That always changes your perspective of someone for the better!

Speaking of videos, some new vBlogs have just recently gotten posted on the Stone site. Truth is, they're not all that 'new' as we're playing a little catch up with them. There's still some from my OH, KY, IN trip in August that I hope to get posted this week. And the FRESH!!2 Dinner. Then we can get them back in proper chronological order (for those playing along at home).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving...A Day Late, But Short of Nothing!

Up in Quincy, CA this weekend. Flew up yesterday early in the morning. Staying in my favorite cabin in the High Sierra woods. I've shot a few vBlogs from here, including the second I ever shot (January 25th, 2005) in which I talked about the "New Brewery Project" which had just broken ground, and the "2nd Anniversary vBlog" (January 18th, 2007) in which I mused a bit about being newly in the restaurant business.

It's a great area up here, and nicely off the beaten track. Lot's of great hiking to get some fresh air.

There's also one of my favorite restaurants here. And that's where today's "Day Late, But Short of Nothing" Thanksgiving celebration is being held. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they have a great beer selection!

That tap lineup is actually not a current pic. Right now they have Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Arrogant Bastard Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Sacramento Brewing's IPA and Butte Creek's Organic Pilsner. Not bad. Bottles of Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Lost Abbey Red Barn, and Stone 0.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale.

Take that and combine with a family that knows how to cook (they own the restaurant), and you've got a FEAST. And on top of that, there's lots of vegan and vegetarian fare. I'm told the turkey that was brought is not organic, so I won't be having any of that (bummer) but there's a locally-raised venison (errr...that means 'hunted') Thai-style chili. Not quite a "Thanksgiving" item? It is when culinary school graduate chef Michael makes it! Granted, I'll probably not have much of it and will stick to the vegetarian items, but I'm definitely going to try it!

Cheers to all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bred For Grass Fed?

And there you go. Along comes Sandra from our principle meat supplier Hamilton Meats (I've actually known Sandra for about four years now through Slow Food San Diego) with more samples of Tallgrass (brand) beef and their brochure today.

Their brochure sure looks good. And their website. Almost too good. It's got a lot of polish.

Gotta admit though, the beef tastes fantastic (as I already mentioned in the Ethics of Eating Meat post last week).

That website of theirs sure is slick though. So I thought I'd better look deeper and read some of the articles. Chef brought me this one today from TIME magazine. The Tallgrass site referred to this New York Times article, and this Chicago Sun-Times article.

Glad it looks good on paper, because it sure tastes great on the plate!

Have a great Thanksgiving and don't forget...cranberries and pumpkins don't come from cans!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We Brought It Upon Ourselves

Not individually, but collectively. In fact, I'd love to personally proclaim that I was way ahead on the issue, and that I've been more on the "part of the solution" side than the "part of the problem" side. Well hooray for me if that's true. We're still collectively in this mess. And it will take a collective effort to wake our collective butts up.

What the hell am I talking about?

Corn. Ethanol. Prices of barley. Farm Bill. Idiocy and Ostrich-like behaviors.

I vBlogged about it in one of the poorer rated vBlogs I've posted. Perhaps someone didn't like the fact that it threatened political leanings. Or perhaps it was just boring.

Or even worse, both.

Whatever the case, I linked from the vBlog to a page that had Farm Bill referencing links in it, along with a letter regarding the Farm Bill that I sent to my Congressman.

I predicted rising malt prices. And even I didn't know just how right I was. Ouch. I was super duper right. And now everyone knows that prices for craft beer are going to be shooting up dramatically. Fast. And everyone knows that this is due to a near 100% rise in the cost of malt (along with the unhelpful occurrence of a hop shortage and corresponding price increase), and malt is the principle ingredient in craft beers.

So, we can collectively (and individually as the case may be) choose to keep our head buried in the sand. Or we can mix the metaphores and pull those very same heads out of our you-know-wheres and * stop buying corn based everything * stop being led by politicians who are being led by industrial interests and instead start leading them * raise our voices to our bretheren to alert them to the truth of the matter * support our local farmers who grow the real crops that we need (the ones chock full of nutrients rather than those devoid of them) * insist that our schools provide our children with the basic sustinence that they NEED * pull our heads out of the sand (did I say that already, well it deserves repeating) * reduce * reuse * recycle...EVERYTHING. It's really not that hard when you're breathing fresh air instead of sand.

We don't have to be perfect. We just have to do better.

And considering where we collectively are, it's not that hard.

This is not about the price of craft beer. That's a symptom. This is about our health, welfare, security and liberty.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stone Nominated for the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Orchids & Onions Awards

What an honor. Our new facility has been nominated for the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Orchids & Onions Awards.

Go vote your heart. And spread the word!

Also, I got an email from the Managing Editor of Architectural Stone & Landscape Design magazine today, and they're interested in profiling our new facility. How cool is that!

Cheers,

Greg

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Missed Another Day Already

I actually spent a couple days needling at the "Ethics of Eating Meat" post (thus its somewhat disjointed pacing) and missed a Sunday post. I'm writing this post on Monday eve, but discovered that I can practice a little "revisionist history" and adjust the date of the post to appear as if it actually was written and posted on Sunday.

Being able to engage in revisionist history puts me on par with some politicians, dictators and warlords.

Sweet.

History books, here I come!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Ethics of Eating Meat

This is going to be a difficult subject to encapsulate in a blog. A book is more what's required, but there's no need for a book from me as there are a some very good ones out there already. So, for the blog side, I'll just jump right in.

I don't think we should eat meat. I am struggling with this admittedly. Even though I have eaten very little meat over the last 20 years, I do still eat some.

20 or so years ago, I stopped eating red meat principally due to environmental and health reasons. I learned that beef production was responsible for some of the worst environmental atrocities in the food chain. Evidence was clear and compelling. I felt I had little choice. Same with health. Red meat clearly was not necessary to have in the diet, and it's negative effects were clear and compelling. While many feel this is highly arguable (usually they work for the beef industry, or just really, really like convenient beef and want to defend their personal practices), the environmental aspect was enough for me. So I quit eating red meat. Actually, to be clear, I adopted a 99% personal policy. That is to say, I reduced red meat to less than 1% of my diet. As such, if I was at a restaurant and I ordered a salad and it arrived with bacon bits on it that I hadn't realized it was coming with, I would eat it, enjoy it, but not order it again.

During this time, I continued to eat chicken. And seafood. Without regard to its source (how it was raised). I now realize that this was flawed thinking on my part. Eschewing ethically raised beef over factory raised chicken does not hold philosophical water to me now that I have delved deeper into the subject matter.

And why did I "delve deeper"? Because I felt that I had the moral responsibility to do so. When we determined a few years ago that we were going to open a restaurant as part of our new brewery facility, I decided that it was my responsibility to learn about food.

No, not learn how to cook. That's important of course, but I wasn't going to be the chef. I mean learn about the food itself. I figured that if people were going to come over to our place to eat, we should feed them good stuff. Not bad stuff. This may not seem like a huge epiphany, and I'll agree that it wasn't. It seemed quite basic to me in fact. And if I was going to learn about food, that meant really learn. I have tried to approach it from what I call the "What if you knew" perspective. That is, for just one example, what if you learned everything possible about beer. Then what kind of beer would you make? At Stone, you can find that answer, as that answer is Stone. It's not about being a know-it-all. That's too high of a bar in this hugely rich and varied world. Instead, the bar we should aim for is to know all that it's possible for us to know, and to strive to constantly know more.

So, for another example, what if I learned about beef. Then what decisions would I make? I don't mean the particular cuts of beef. I mean learning about beef production. How is it done? What are the physical, environmental, health, social, ethical and moral questions? What are their answers? What if studied up on the subject? What if I knew, as best as possible...then what decisions would I make?

Let's look at it another way. Seatbelts and airbags in cars. First cars came without seatbelts. Then it was learned that seatbelts improved safety. Then they became mandatory. Then airbags were invented. And it became known that they also provided dramatic improvements to safety, and airbags also became mandatory. Yes, it made a car more expensive, but the overall cost/benefit equation was clear. The immediacy of the deployment of hundreds of dollars worth of airbag in saving thousands of dollars of medical costs (or funeral costs) is one that lawmakers could not turn away from.

The connection between the costs of food, and the social, environmental and medical costs are as undeniably clear. However they are significantly less immediate.

-----

A pause for a moment here. I think it might be important to make a statement. I am not going to be citing a lot of references and backing up every statement I make in this blog with annotations. Why not? Because I am not attempting to convince you, dear reader, of anything. The data is out there. It is easily accessible. It is clear and compelling. I am writing this to share with you where I am coming from, and from where, due to the association, our restaurant is coming from.

It has been my experience that those who wish to learn are easy to convince. And those that prefer to do the bury your head in the sand ostrich-style, well, most of the time you can pull and pull and pull, and if you talk them into pulling their head out of the sand at all, what they really want to do is put it back in. Soon.

It's all about the comfort zone. Humans gravitate towards comfort zones, even though it often tends to be the most dangerous place to be. It feels great, and comfy, but it's when we're in our comfort zones that we do dumb things like crossing the street without looking both ways (metaphorically speaking).

-----

So, back to the topic at hand. Meat. And the "What if I knew about beef," specifically.

Some of the questions and answers are easy. Do I want to eat beef that has been raised under miserable factory conditions in which working conditions are atrocious, the animals know nothing but misery, and they're pumped full of hormones and antibiotics so that they will grow as fast as possible while be kept barely alive? Errrr, call me elitist, but that answer is 'no.'

One might counter that "That's just the picture that the people that radicals are trying to get you to buy into. It's not really the way that it is done." Hmmm. OK. Have you been to a factory operation? I would encourage you to go. Or at least try to go. Chances are they won't let you in. I don't think they give tours. (I imagine this sounds slightly radical. Interesting of course that the desire to see where your food comes from could possibly be considered 'radical' in any way.)

What about me? Have I been to see where the beef we serve at the restaurant has come from? Yes. I have. Last February I traveled out to Brawley to 'commune with the cows,' and shot a video blog of the trip. It was certainly better than most operations, yet I still felt challenged to accept the close quarters, lack of ability to truly roam, and the fact that corn was the bulk of their diet. Positives are that the beef we get from them doesn't travel far comparatively (a couple hours), and is hormone and antibiotic free.

So, to wrap up this longer-than-intended blog entry, the conclusion that I've come to is that 'commodity' beef is just not acceptable for serving in our restaurant. "All-Natural" is acceptable, but still presents some challenges.

True "Free Range / Grass Fed" is what our goal is. Our beef supplier, Hamilton Meats, has found us an option, and I tried it just last week. In short, it tasted incredible. Comments that I have heard from some beef producers that grass fed is too tough and gamey did not prove to be true in this case. We'll be bringing it in soon!

That being said, I probably will eat it only rarely, if at all (maybe once or twice a year at best guess). No matter how good it tastes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Visit To Tierra Miguel Foundation's Organic Farm

Chef and I took a field trip today. Literally.

We headed out to Pauma Valley, which is about 40 minutes NE of the brewery, to the Tierra Miguel Foundation Farm. We already buy produce from there, and we went out to discuss a deeper, and more direct relationship.

To begin that, we wanted to meet them, and get a direct feel (and taste) for their operation.

Mil, one of the founders, explained the name of their farm:

video

During the tour, we sampled daikon radishes, okra flowers and red okra, heirloom tomatoes, and some amazingly delicious watermelon (Chef immediately ordered up a dozen large ones and will feature them this weekend):

video

All in all a really great visit. Chef Jeff and I enjoyed learning about their commitment and techniques.

We even got to take a gander at some serious "seed porn":

video

The full vBlog of the visit can be viewed here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Missed A Day Already

Since Monday night. No. Time. To. Breath. Must. Keep. Running.

OK, so I'm being dramatic. But not by much. Crazy how often people tell me that I have the 'dream job.' The reality is that my job certainly has the image of a dream job, and by all rights it actually is, but not quite in the way they are imagining. I think their version has less meetings in it. And less emails. And more beer. During the day even.

My ideal version might also have a couple less meetings, and would definitely have less emails. Not less beer though (although I rarely have beer during the day as that's only fun as a rarity, but not as a regular thing).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beer v. Wine episode of The Local Brew posted

In late September I participated in a dinner that was entitled, rather straightforwardly, the "Beer vs. Wine Dinner."

OK, I was the instigator. I'm the one to blame.

Nonetheless, it caught the imagination of our friends at the show The Local Brew and they decided to come along and see if they could capture the essence of what it was all about on film.

They did. Big time. And had a lot of fun doing it.

They just posted the first half of the show. Personally, I think it's hilarious...but then I find it easy to laugh at myself. Sometimes.

You can decide for yourself if you want to laugh at me (or 'with' me if you want to be really polite) by taking a look for yourself here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Books on Food. Ethics. Perspective. And Food.

Yes I put the word 'food' in the title twice. The use of the periods like that I'm not so sure about, but I like the look of it so I'll leave it.

I just got a 'beermail' (BeerAdvocate.com's messaging system for members) from an East Coast (Maine) brewer friend telling me that he had finished reading the book that I had suggested...

> on Mon Nov 12, 2007 02:44 UTC, xxxx wrote:
> i (finally) finished omnivore's dilemma. good read. i am
> buying more organic now and we bought a lot of produce
> this summer from a local (the end of my street), organic
> farmer. it cost me a small fortune ($4 for a pint of sun
> gold cherry tomatoes) but was totally worth it.
>
> i have passed my copy on to a friend's husband who has
> "dropped out" and started his own farm, if only to grow as
> much of his won food as possible (he's all about 'peak
> oil').
>
> thanks again.

To which I replied:

Word to that! Spread the word and share the book as much as possible (I'm sure you're going to do so beyond your farm-starting friend...it's a hard book to keep to oneself). If you're interested in going down the rabbit hole further, there's three different directions I could suggest...

Same author, different yet similar subject matter: The Botany of Desire. Personally, the title made me think about dozing off, but that's the only part of the book that had that effect. I found the rest utterly fascinating.

Same subject, but WAY deeper: The Way We Eat - Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer. The author's a philosopher and ethicist. I find his words compelling. A very good, if not riveting read. I've been reading my copy for the last four months bit by bit. It was loaned to me by David Bronner (of Dr. Bronner's fame). I'm going to thank him with a case of beer when I return the book. In my mind, it should be required reading in school.

Same subject, but from the perspective of a family actually growing most of their own food and living entirely within their "foodshed." More touchy-feely than the other books, and a bit on the charming and heartwarming side (almost too much for me, but just within my tolerance and I have to confess that I enjoy picking it up and reading a chapter from time to time): Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Even though it's a little on the cute and homey side for me, Kingsolver can turn a great phrase and she makes her words flow with great descriptions.

Cheers! Greg

It's cool that he enjoyed the Omnivore's Dilemma. It's one of the most interesting books I've read. Ever. It was the first book I selected for the Book & A Beer Club, which Logan Jenkins wrote about in an insightful column for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Post A Day for 30 days

I've been randomly thinking of what to write in this blog for a couple of weeks. I've been thinking about writing a blog for even longer. Thoughts and ideas fly by in the morning. In the car. While talking over a beer with friends and coworkers. As I'm reading book or an article that spurs further thought threads that carry my mind on the breeze like a trail of web from a spider as it leaps off a high point in search of new territory.

But the blank page stares. It mumbles. It lays fallow. It's subtly daunting in its emptiness. If I'm going to write a blog, it needs to be good. Witty. (Ha!) Insightful. (Depends.) Opinionated. (Perhaps.)

But mostly, it won't write itself. Not at first anyway. With my vBlogs, almost nothing is staged. It's principally captured at-the-moment. The camera just has to be within reach.

With the written word, you can pause, think (or not), rewrite.

And the blank page stares.

What am I going to write about? It's not that there's not enough. It's that there's too much. Much to much. So, I'd simply best get started.

But where?

So it hit me.

I hated to write in high school. I paid a friend to write some of my papers for me (irony was that her mom was a teacher and thus ended up grading her daughter's work...but with my name on it). Bad on me for that, yes of course. But I HATED to write. The blank page always taunted me.

It taunted me not so much in its emptiness, but in its sheer volume. It contained not nothing. It contained everything. And when you're faced with everything staring at you, finding a place to start can be difficult.

In Freshman English in my first semester in college I had an instructor that cured it for me. With an assignment. It didn't feel like a cure at the time -- in fact when the assignment was first delivered it felt nothing other than oppressive -- but the light came on over the coming days and weeks.

The assignment was to write a journal. Not necessarily a personal journal of thoughts and ideas, but simply a full sized notebook in which we were required to write a page a day. Of anything. Anything at all. The only rule was that we had to fill a page. Every day.

And so I learned to address the BLANK PAGE every day that semester. I was amazed that it only took this writing-hating guy a matter of a few weeks to reduce the all-caps BLANK PAGE to lowercase 'blank page' and eventually to simply 'the day's starting point.'

To my Freshman English instructor that first semester: I don't recall your name, but you did a great thing for me. It was appreciated. You forced me to break my bad attitude about the blank page. Thank you.

Yet over the years, it has returned. Admittedly, bad attitudes about a lot of things come naturally to me. But this one does not serve my purpose. And thus it must be vanquished once more.

And so it is with that in mind that this rusty writer in me has decided to address the beginning of a blog. I will write a post every day. The intent is to do it no matter what. Unlike the first semester in college assignment I had, I am not requiring myself to fill a minimum of a 'whole page' but merely to make a post of any length.

Every day.

Regardless of whether I feel like saying anything or not.

And therein lays the caution: Also regardless of whether it will be worth reading or not.

Cheers,

Greg

Monday, October 22, 2007

San Diego Wildfires 2007


The "Greg's vBlog" shot on the Monday of the San Diego wildfires checks out the condition of the brewery and gardens on this hellish and surrealistic day. Santa Ana winds were reported to hit 70mph in some areas, and they toppled several trees including the largest pine in the gardens. The brewery is fine and appears to be in the clear as far as the fires go fortunately. Our thoughts and best go out to all...be safe!