Stony Creek Brewing Beers.v.1
***This page is ONLY about Stony Creek.v.1 – the three bottled efforts: 203 IPA, 860 IPA and 203 Lager, which the owners admit didn’t work. The brick and mortar Stony Creek v.2 has opened in Branford, so if you’re interested in those beers, go here.***
I’m an idiot.
Please, never lose sight of that fact. But – and I’m fairly confident in this but – but I’m an idiot with at least a shred of integrity. And that “but” is why I’m bothering to write this page. Because really, there is no need for me to do this. If you are familiar with the Stony Creek contract label, you know that the three Connecticut beers just aren’t that good. They are pedestrian beers (two IPA’s and a lager) at best. But, strangely, they are ancillary to this page. For this page is as much about my own mistakes and inept assumptions as it is about the beer.
Fortunately for you, I will condense the story (which dates back to 2012) to get us all past it and looking forward to the “new” Stony Creek Brewery in Branford. (Also, I forget/lost a bunch of the details to distill everything that happened.)
Stony Creek appeared on the Connecticut beer scene out of the blue. And they didn’t just appear, they blanketed the state. For a tiny operation to be able to do this with our state’s impossible distribution situation, this certainly raised some red flags. People, including me, thought, “These guys must have some massive backing to have that kind of distribution out of the gate.” Now, two years on, that sounds kind of silly to me. Especially since Two Roads did the same and frankly, Black Hog did it with tap lines.
At the same time Stony Creek appered, AB InBev bought Goose Island and its flagship beer, the 312 Urban Wheat. 312 is Chicago’s area code. Stony Creek was using 203 and 860 – Connecticut’s two area codes to brand their two beers. Hackles were raised, dots were connected, answers were demanded!
Obviously, Stony Creek was an AB InBev creation, with a wholly fictionalized homey Branford backstory – “just some guys and a gal with a dream!” Internet sleuths (again, I was a full and willing participant) dug deep to find that Stony Creek registered a whole slew of area codes from Massachusetts to New York and Rhode Island. 13 of them in fact.
And guess what else happened during that same exact time? Yup, AB InBev trademarked their own slew of area codes! “The company filed for trademarks for the area codes of 14 cities: 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte) and 713 (Houston).”
Then, as any reasonable idiot would do, I became absolutely convinced that AB InBev went a further step and created other little “breweries” to cover even more ground, in a slightly more secretive way. And Stony Creek was born! Or should I say, got a born-on date, to use their parlance.
So, I went the next logical step and made my feelings about this shady situation public. These were the days when craft beer was still nascent in Connecticut. Pure as the driven snow. How dare these Belgian-Brazilian-Missourian interlopers crash our little Connecticut craft party?! I was vocal.
And yes, I was stupid.
This is what’s coming to Branford in 2015
Oh, I had other “evidence.” The website was a professional looking but mish-mash of industry buzzwords – and was the first in the state to have an age check. Would a small local brand care about the age check nonsense? Their Twitter handle followed zero people – which again was unique among in-state breweries. They did their best to hide their contract brewing status for some weird reason. They were (and are) owned by very wealthy corporate-lifers: Manuel Rodriguez who ran Clear Channel radio stations for years and Monica Crowley, who owned a bunch of supermarkets or something. The immediate massive distribution imprint. The area codes! Oh, and the beer? The beer was very typical of something AB InBev would produce. Why were they lying to us, the Internet Geniuses?
I wasn’t alone in my suspicions. Several others joined the chorus, calling out Stony Creek. Their Twitter feed came to life one day, politely tweeting at me, “Stephen, come on out and visit. I’ll buy you a beer. Ask your questions. There’s no conspiracy. SCB is just some folks following a dream.” “Stephen?” Who on Twitter uses proper names?! Ab InBev, that’s who!
We demanded answers. Hell, one day when I was in the Stony Creek section of Branford, I even took a picture of the house where Stony Creek was officially headquartered. Because, and hoo-boy this was going to be HEE-larious! Because when I wrote up my page about the “brewery,” it sure would be funny to have a picture of a house on the Sound instead of an actually brewery. AMIRIGHT?!
Then reality started punching me in the face.
Michael Walsh, a Courant and blog beer writer did what I was too chicken to do and had a chat with Mr. Rodriguez. The resulting blog piece was fair – and fairly probing. Reading it now, I just shake my head. At myself. Because, if you haven’t gleaned this by now, I’m a stupid idiot.
Everything in that article is true. The whole bit about the planned brewery site, the wish to build a brick and mortar brewery, the “We are not associated [with InBev], we are completely independent. We are 100 percent privately owned and operated.” All of it.
And I still partly disbelieved it. But this article did certainly soften my stance. (Many others didn’t change their position though, and the confusion and craft-purity high horses continued to ride.) I spoke with a friend who knows the ins and outs of Hooker’s contracts who told me that Stony Creek was exactly what they said they were, and that was good enough for me. (I was even laughed at when I mentioned the conspiracy theories.)
And yes, this picture is a representation of me.
I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Stony Creek to apologize. I went so far as to publically call myself the idiot I had proven myself to be. When they announced their official plans to break ground and build what looks to be a beautiful brewery on the Sound in Branford, I did another round of apologies on Twitter. This stuff is actually pretty important to me.
Stony Creek has hired on Andy Schwartz, who has brewed at Widmer Brothers and Redhook. The fine folks at OmNomCT, like Michael Walsh before them, actually did what real writers do and got some great news from the source. Says Schwartz, “We want people to know that we fixed things up, that the beers are better.”
Oh, and the final closure to this whole sordid affair? They’ve also brought in a guy from Blue Point to be their sales director… and the irony is not lost upon me. Because yes, Blue Point was actually really totally for realsies bought by Ab InBev and Jamal didn’t figure in to their plans. So here he is… at an actually really totally for realsies locally owned and operated beautiful and relatively huge new Connecticut brewery.
I definitely learned more than one lesson through this episode and hopefully won’t make any of the same mistakes again. I applaud whomever ran their Twitter feed in 2012 for keeping it professional and calm in the face of the jeering masses. Of course Stony Creek has had a monumental “I told you so” moment, but they’ve kept that to themselves. My hat is off to the whole team in Branford.
Cheers… and I’m sorry. Actually really totally for realsies sorry.
And I’m sorry that I’m now going to quickly review Stony Creek.v.1’s three beers. Because, as I’ve mentioned, they were not delicious. Another choice bit from the OmNom article linked above pretty much justifies everything you’re about to read – and will make us all realize that Stony Creek.v.2 will be something worth checking out.
“[The new blood was] very adamant about a few things when they signed up to work at Stony Creek. The first condition was that they needed to reformulate the brews that they have. Their thinking was that they didn’t think those beers were the best indication of what the new brewery would be like, so they got to work and created better versions of all of them. In addition, they got rid of the area code names and went with simpler names. In addition to the new names is a new focus, new designs, new packaging, and new branding, all put together by a designer in New Haven.”
Love it. I am fully on board the Stony Creek.v.2 train… but for now, let’s reminisce about what once was…
1 12 ounce bottle, $?, 6.15% ABV
Purchased at Crazy Bruce’s, West Hartford
Stony Creek.v.1’s (SC.v.1) strategy was to pretend that the 203 IPA was markedly different from the 860 one. The idea was, insanely, that the southern Connecticut palate was different from the rest of the state’s when it came to IPAs. This was, in my opinion, a major misstep. It just seemed so silly to me, especially when the 203 appeared up here in the middle of the 860. Like, “oh my god, will I be able to handle the 203? I better be careful.” Of course, this becomes funnier now in late 2014 since 959 and 475 have been added. I don’t want to check to see if they trademarked those numbers… I so don’t want it to be true. (I’m sure it’s not.)
All of SC.v.1’s beer were contract brewed at Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield – 860 represent! Now, Hooker brews a bunch of stuff on contract, and opinions waver on the quality of those beers. I try to approach each and every one independently and frankly I don’t care about the contract status of a beer. Usually.
I’ve heard a rumor that SC.v.1 was beholden to Hooker’s available hop and malt bills, but I find that a bit hard to believe. Although, admittedly, I don’t really know how all that contracting stuff works. Good beer is good, bad beer is not. It’s that simple. When I look at this picture, man, it does look good, doesn’t it? I honestly think I had some “vivid colors” filter on the camera, because this beer did not have that beautiful orange glow some of those super hoppy hop bombs from NEBCO and Beer’d have. Not even close. (And my Rothko print on the wall doesn’t usually glow.)
Stony Creek.v.1 Says:
This (203) India Pale Ale is a light amber color, coolly hopped aroma, a hint of citrus and a zestful finish. Our flagship IPA is totally handmade and so local that, if you close your eyes, you can almost taste the sea of our shoreline community. First bottled July 19, 2012
See? This was the crap that bugged me about SC.v.1. No, not the poor grammar, as that is rampant on brewery sites. It was the stuff like “totally handmade” and the bit about their shoreline community. This beer was brewed behind a Home Depot along a dead end cratered street in freaking Bloomfield. When people near there mention “tasting the sea” they mean “tasting the C” and they are talking about crack cocaine.
Anyway, this IPA is lacking in pretty much everything. It’s boring and bland and has absolutely no hop aroma or bite to it at all. It’s just an ale, dressed up in the IPA name to sell a few more to unsuspecting Fairfield County 203 mopes. This beer didn’t need to exist.
One night I was at my local store, Maximum Beverage in West Hartford – 860 represent! – and some guy from SC.v.1 was there with samples. He was really playing up the whole local thing and as my notes from that night say, “we’re a Connecticut beer push push push.” I guess jerks like me questioning their bona fides had gotten to them. Can I say I’m sorry again?
Cause I am.
He went on to some guys about how they had plans for a brewery down at the shore and I snickered in my head. He asked the tasters, “what’s hot” and answered himself with “wheat ales and summers.” Again, I snickered. Because I’m a jerk as well as an idiot. When pressed, he said that the difference between the 860 and the 203 IPAs was merely that the 860 was brewed “a little longer for a darker color. Same hops and malts* used, same ABV.” I found the whole thing absurd. (I still do, by the way.) They are the same below average beer!
*Not true, if you read the 860 IPA bit below.
My notes continued, “I picked up a sixer of Sea Hag and made sure he saw it.”
Sigh. I hate me sometimes.
Overall Rating: D+
Rating vs. Similar style: D-
I bought a whole six-pack of this, ?$, 6.15% ABV
Purchased at Liquor Depot, New Britain
Ooh, it’s darker! For the 860! I do appreciate the Travelers Tower on the label at least, that’s pretty cool. There is really no need to review this beer at all, for it is the same exact beer as the one above.
Okay, the malt bill for this one was:
Domestic 2 Row base malt, Crisp, Crystal 45, Weyermann, Melanoidin
Really? This beer had that malt bill and the 203 only had the first two? Just for a slightly darker color? Even though the rep at the store said that the darker color came from a “longer brewing time?”
You know what? Who cares. This beer is disappeared by early 2015 and it just doesn’t matter. And if you aren’t clear yet, this beer was pretty lame as well.
Stony Creek.v.1 Says:
The (860) IPA has a deeper amber color with a slightly softer first note than the (203) IPA. Its thirst quenching citrus flavor and aroma are balanced with light crystal specialty malts. (860) IPA is an easy drinking sessionable IPA, to be enjoyed with steaks, chops, hearty seafood and of course with friends. First bottled July 24, 2012.
Is 6+% considered “sesionable” these days? To me, I’m looking for stuff under 5, but I suppose it’s not important either. (I know, none of this is important, but I can’t help myself.)
See the glass in my picture here? From the Nitelite in Seattle. Long story short, I went there with my now-wife and her sister who lives there and her sister’s friends. Her sister was dating some guy, who had this friend we’ll call Bob.
I spent the night talking with Bob, who was MIT educated and well-rounded and well-read. We talked about David Foster Wallace and David Lynch and Hemingway and all the sort of stuff you talk about when you’re 29 and drinking in downtown Seattle. I liked him.
Flash-forward 10 years and now my sister-in-law is married to Bob, not the old boyfriend guy, and everyone is happy. Except the old boyfriend guy I assume, since my sister-in-law is almost as cool and funny and pretty as my wife.
This beer was wholly forgettable.
Overall Rating: D+
Rating vs. Similar style: D-
One 12 oz bottle, $1.99++, 4.7% ABV
Purchased at Connecticut Beverage Mart, Newington
Right. Because when your IPA’s aren’t boring enough, why not come out with a lager to really put us all to sleep? Makes sense.
About as much sense as me writing this 3000-word treatise on crappy beers that the brewery knows is crappy to the point where they are hitting the reset button and scrapping the entire line of Area Code beers.
I could stop now – hell, you want to stop now – but then the classic picture of Damian here wouldn’t fit right and would look stupid and then you’d say, “Steve, you’re stupid” and then I’d say, “Yeah, I know. I already established that 2,800 words ago.”
And then –
Stony Creek.v.1 says:
This traditional amber brew is a blend of German Malts including Pilsener, Vienna, and Caramunich. and a touch of chocolate malt for color. The hops are, Columbus for bittering, German Spalter Select for flavor and American Cascade for aroma. The taste is sweet and biscuity with a strong malt backbone. The beer finishes crisp with a slight grassy note coming from the Spalter Select hops. It’s wonderful.
No, SC.v.1. It’s not “wonderful.” It’s just a boring musty and dusty plain ol’ lager.
Is this long enough now to fit the picture? Probably, so I’ll end it.
Everything I’m hearing about SC.v.2 sounds good. The facility looks great and they are planning some really interesting things for the future.
So please, let’s all forget about SC.v.1 and move onwards and upwards together.
Overall Rating: D+
Rating vs. Similar style: D-