Back in October 2015 a hop-head friend who understands my passion for beer, brought a local product and allowed me to have a can. The name, Big Cranky; the Brewery, Stony Creek. Unfortunately, where we were had not the proper glassware, so the full bouquet of the experience was not at its peek. That being said, at the time I gave it an average rating, and described it as having a plumb-mango nose (weird), with a distinguished malty flavor. It tasted viscous and at the time I felt like I could taste the ABV.
In June 2016, I was able to attend a beer seminar at Table and Vine in West Springfield, MA., and was reunited with this beer. I was able to try this, as well as most of the other available flavors, and was quite surprised at the difference in flavor profile. In fact, the whole experience meeting the representative from Stony Creek was superb. Kathern, who is absolutely ecstatic about beer, described the history of Stony Creek, a little bit about the brewers, the beer and the artwork behind the beers. Recently, Chris and I were able to take a visit to the brewery and meet two of the owners, tour the brewery and sample some great brews. So let’s get started on this majestic, locally owned and manufactured brew haven. When you are done reading, you will find that Stony Creek is more than just a brewery, it’s a destination!
“Aggressively laid back.” That seems like an oxymoron to anyone reading that expression. Stony Creek’s motto, nay philosophy, is just that. From their massive ever expanding brewery, to their tap room (complete with local wine on tap) to their docks and scenic river front. Whether it’s the history, the locals, the food trucks, games or beer this is the place to visit. But how did it it all get started?
We had the privilege of hanging out with Jamal Robinson, who showed us an inside look at the brewery and he gave us the story of how he got into brewing and the back story to the facility. First, we will take you through our first impressions, then move through the staff and stories.
We mentioned Kathern previously, she is one of the three Massachusetts representatives and is one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic rep I have ever met. I introduced myself after the original tasting and she got me in touch with Andy Schwartz and Jamal via email. From there, Chris and I made arrangements to visit Stony Creek. We decided that our wives could benefit so we took them on a double date and first took them to Ikea, which means we could spend equal or greater time at the brewery. After our cinnamon buns, we headed about 17 minutes away to Stony Creek.
Chris was not expecting the sheer size of the building, which can be seen across the parking lot, which apparently is always packed to the brim. They literally had to expand the parking lot multiple times because so many people and/or functions are going on. Don’t let that scare you though, because once inside, it may be slightly crowded but there’s enough breathing room and space you may wonder if the number of cars outside is accurate.
Walking in, you will pass the local food trucks, with delicious high quality food. To enter we were greeted by a bouncer who checked our ID’s before walking down the boardwalk, past the corn hole games and bocce ball court. When first entering, to the left is the gift shop and entrance to the brewery. Tours are $5.00. Directly in front are the stairs to the second floor which is reserved for private functions (did you know you can get married there)? Then, if you bear right that leads to the taproom. If you want to look the windows to the left you can get a peek into the brewery, where the magic happens.
We first ordered our flights and met the bartender Matt. He is highly knowledgeable and quite accommodating. A great face to the brewery. We sat outside on the deck, while the wives grabbed some grub from the food cart. The fried rice ball with BBQ sauce, and pulled chicken was awesome! Now just to get an idea of the lay out, the bar room has chairs and benches and tables and there had to be an easy 150 people inside, and room to walk. The deck has tables all throughout, and then there’s the lower level (beach). Complete with Adirondack chairs, tables, docks to sit on and room for lawn games. We finished our meals just before the torrential downpoor.
During our meal, Jamal paid us a visit, and set it up so we could start touring once we were finished eating. Impeccable timing too because a storm passed through right as we finished, that was some heavy rain! We met up with Jamal inside near the brewery entrance, but before we started we had to fill up at the watering hole. Chris and I both had Stony Joe, in fact I think that has to be our favorite of all the Stony Creek beers. Truly, it blows your mind. So, with eager expectations, full stomachs, and topped off glasses, it was onward to the brewery
First, we went to the top level of the brewery and took a look at the primary fermentation vats (manufactures in the USA). We learned about the intake, and cycling for the brews. At this point we asked Jamal what got him into the world of beer. He relayed to us that Anheuser Busch (no affiliation) played a big roll. In a sense, working with them helped mold Jamal into the craft beer guru that he is today. In short, while only 18, he worked at a distributing company for AB. At one point, before the Craft Beer Revolution gained momentum, AB would try to promote different brews that stepped away from the mass produced lagers we are familiar with.
Unfortunately, there were no “of age” reps who would take the job to promote these newer, lesser known beers. At this point a job opportunity was presented. How would this 18 year old be able to sell and promote beer when he wasn’t even able to partake of the product? After much debate, he was hired, but had to be educated without sampling.
Jamal related how he was introduced to Bare Knuckle Stout, by Anheuser Busch. He was taught how to experience the ambiance, or the bouquet of the beer. Noting the aromas, “Wow, this does smell chocolatey,” Jamal told us, he started to build an appreciation for the potential of beer varieties. From then on, his love and excitement grew, and that’s basically how Jamal got his start in his career in beer. So, that’s one for Anheuser Busch.
After some discussion, we were taken down to ground floor. The Stony Creek facility is built on the property of an old factory, in fact, many of the pieces of wood used in the tap room were from the old factory. Since the brewery was built in a flood zone, it’s raised slightly to avoid damage. It’s also built to be expandable, with enough room for plenty of gallons of seemingly endless beer.
I think my favorite part of the tour was just being able to hang out with Jamal and just nerd out on beer, varieties, and the business and ethics behind some of the commercialism. He shared stories of some west coast beer he was able to try, that we are unable to get here on the east coast, as did we.
Actually, I think another highlight was being able to sample a new brew before it’s even ready. I didn’t ask if we could publish information on it, but rest assured, it will have its own bird design and be made with corn. We also got to sample some ingredients to be added to an experimental brew. Can’t wait til those are released!!
After we were finished, we were able to top off the evening with a delicious concoction. Some of us might be familiar with a Black and Tan, or Black and Blue. This drink is made in like manner. First, you fill up the glass half way with Stony Joe, next, you pour over that with Black Water Pilsner. Break the pour with a spoon, in this case an ice scoop, and you have the aesthetically pleasing, and flavor filled drink that I like to call a “Black Stone.” The drink itself is not The Barley Men’s creation, but I hope the name sticks. After the tour was over, took some pictures outside and finished up our brews and began trek home.
All we have to say, besides a massive “thank you,” is welcome to Massachusetts Stony Creek! Needless to say, they now distribute in Massachusetts.
BUT WAIT, there’s more! Yes, as our dear readers have come to know, we love to add that personal touch. We had the chance to touch base with the Brewmaster himself, Andy Schwartz, and he was able to answer a few more questions about the brewery.
TBM: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Andy, we know as a brewery destination as busy and expanding as you are, time is precious. One thing we would like to know, especially with the motto, Aggressively laid back, what is your philosophy on brewing/beer? And where do you draw your inspiration?
Andy: I tend to follow K.I.S.S principal. Keep It Simple Stupid. My goal is to make super clean, well balanced beers, that regardless of beer style, people are surprised by how much they like it. My beers are an amalgam of my 10 years brewing in Southern California (clean, aggressive, bold) and my 11 years split between Colorado and New Hampshire/CT, which lend balance and drinkability. At Stony Creek, we call this Aggressively Laid Back Beer.
TBM: Love that motto, and wow that’s a well rounded beer background. California and Colorado seem to be leaders in the craft beer community. And New Hampshire, while not having as big of a brewery scene as its Maine or Massachusetts and even Vermont neighbors, hold their own on quality. With all that experience, what was that spark that made you want to start brewing?
Andy: I started in the early 90’s and was inspired by the brands of that era, legacy brands like Sierra and Redhook, and newer brands like Left Hand and Boulder Beer. I had family in Boulder at the time, and just decided to go to brewing school (to get the basics down. I took the Short Course at Siebel), then move to Boulder and find a brewing job (started as a keg washer and bottling line worker at Boulder Beer). From there, treated it kind of like a cook/chef would. Start at the bottom and work your way up, getting some lucky breaks and learning real world lessons from people much smarter than me, and never giving up or losing the passion.
TBM: That’s admirable. An adult who can’t take constructive criticism, is a child who never got any. We appreciate your insight and sharing your experience. Kind of like a diamond, you can’t get that precious stone, without a lot of pressure and properly planned cuts. Those are some brew giants too, what a great foundation to a great beer company like Stony Creek.
Of course, there are so many breweries popping up, and many people taking up the hobby of homebrewing, do you have you have any words of advice for aspiring brewers?
Andy: Brewing is the best job in the world, but understand a few crucial things; 1. Your likely not going to get rich any time soon, being a staff brewer. It takes years to make a decent living. 2. If you choose it as a career, you’re likely going to have to move a few times. 3. Much of the work is dirty, hard physical work. 4. It’s the best [expletive] job in the world!
TBM: Well said! Good to know it will/may take some time. I seem to recall a phrase form a show I used to watch, “follow your dreams, you can reach your goals; I am living proof.” Nothing like a little blood, sweat, tears and time to get something you are really proud of. Speaking of something you are proud of, I know you have a variety of beers, and some in the works, if you had to choose a style of beer what would be your favorite?
Andy: Really does depend on the day and the situation. But it would lean toward clean, hoppy and lower in ABV. A good solid West Coast American Pale Ale (ie Sierra Pale), or an awesome clean hoppy Pils., or a killer session IPA.
TBM: A good session is always great to cut the edge off of a hard work day, or any day for that matter. Drink to enjoy is one of our motto’s here. Now, here’s the big question, with all the breweries popping up, what do you think makes your brewery unique to New England, let alone CT (especially with all the local crafts)?
Andy: Several Things here: 1. We have an unbelievable water front tap room to truly experience the brand first hand, we call it The Creek. 2. We make Aggressively Laid Back Beer; bold flavorful beer that finishes ridiculously clean and consistent. 3. We have a really experience team in both Sales and Brewing that know what they are doing and work really well together.
TBM: We can speak from experience, you have a great location. And so far, everyone we have met has been exceptionally awesome, not to mention your beers (which are a new favorite). Recently I helped a friend move, and I boight him some Big Cranky. He was very impressed. Throughout our article we mentioned a few other brews of yours too. Which one of your beers would you recommend as an introduction to Stony Creek, for someone who has not had the experience?
Andy: Either Dock Time, our Amber Lager. Gold Medal Winner at this year’s World Beer Cup. Clean Malty and super drinkable. Huge flavor for the geeks, but super crushable for the session drinker. Awesome Mexican Style Vienna Lager. Or, Big Cranky, our Double IPA. Ours is super balanced and clean. Big and hoppy 9.5% and 95 IBU, but you’ll swear its much lower. Juicy and fresh and super clean and cranky.
TBM: Something for everyone’s palate. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try the amber when we visited because it was fresh out, that tells ya something. Can’t wait to visit again to try it. Well this has a been great insight, and again thank you for your time with us, but just one last question, any funny stories (which may have led to a new creation)? Every beer tells a tale.
Andy: Hanging with Jamal’s (our Sales Director) Jamaican Grandmother, Grammy Clara. Trying her Jamaican Chahklit tea, hearing stories of Jamal drinking this homemade drink in her Jamaican kitchen where she would pick the cacao pods, pick the cinnamon leaf and mix it into a chocolatey, spicy concoction blended with some rum. Then having her try the beer we brewed as a tribute to her; our Baltic Porter Chahklit, made with cacao nibs, cinnamon leaf and aged in Caribbean rum barrels, and seeing her reaction to a beer version of her Jamaican tradition.
TBM: Okay, that’s not funny, that’s just sentimental and nice. Definitely brings a smile to my face. Grammy Clara must be a proud grandma.
Well we cannot thank you enough Andy, Jamal and Kathern. Kathern for the introduction and being the best darn sales rep I have met. Jamal, thank you for taking the time from your function to stop in to meet us and give us one of the best brew tours of our lives. Andy, thank you for answering our questions and showing us a bit more of the personality behind the brews and the brewery.
Planning a function? Want to party? Or do you just want an aggressively laid back time with a cold brew by a waterfront? Please take a trip to a great brewery, try some great beer and enjoy a relaxation session at Stony Creek. You can take our word for it, you will not be disappointed! We sure weren’t! ~ The Barley Men
I love the history of beer and how its made, the whole beer experience. My philosophy is, finding your beer is like finding your soul-mate, you may have a long search, and learn some lessons, but there is a beer that’s just right for you.