If you’ve been to a block party at Stones Throw Brewery, not only did you get a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors, you got to enjoy local beer made by co-owner/brewer Tony Luciano, and you may have noticed the drummer in the band that was playing was your mailman.
That’s community in it’s truest form, isn’t it?
Stones Throw, located in Fairhaven, has become a community staple (just a stone’s throw away from the outdoor adventure that Bellingham and the Chuckanuts have to offer). If you haven’t been, Stones Throw has one of the most picturesque outdoor seating areas in Bellingham, and a warm and inviting taproom. You can often find Luciano around the brewery during business hours, though he’s a nocturnal brewer, and will quickly realize he has a certain level of charisma about him that is translated into both the space and the beer.
For almost two years, Stones Throw has been producing a stylistic mix of high quality beers– including three flagship beers and the rest of their taps being filled by a mix of experimental brews, seasonal favorites and requests from taproom regulars.
Luciano prioritizes sourcing his ingredients locally and sustainably, and Stones Throw is the perfect-sized brewery to make that a reality. This year, he will reach about 520 barrels, still meaning he’s a small brewery. In other words, Stones Throw is large enough to meet the demands of an entire neighborhood like Fairhaven, but small enough to experiment and introduce Bellingham beer drinkers to new styles and ingredients.
Stones Throw has done exceptionally well at sourcing locally so far. For instance, they did their own hop harvest and used the result for a fresh hop brew earlier this fall, debuting it at one of their block parties. Their newest local ingredient endeavor was the SMASH 004, their single malt and single hop beer, made with Simcoe oil and paired with the Violetta pilsner malt from Skagit Valley Malting, located conveniently just 25 minutes down Chuckanut Drive.
If you know anything about Skagit Valley Malting (SVM), it’s probably that they’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to localizing, whether it’s through close relationships with their farmers or their willingness to accommodate a brewer’s needs at a brewing facility of any size.
“It all started when he said ‘no delivery fee,’” Luciano joked. In all seriousness though, Adam Foy, SVM’s Business and development manager, will bring you a bag of malt on his way home, just a small part of their community oriented mindset.
This ability to be flexible for a wide variety of brewers come from a shared quality with Stones Throw. SVM is large enough to meet the needs of several breweries in the Pacific Northwest, they are small and specialized enough to be able to customize and redefine which kinds of malts are available, or even possible.
As for Violetta, Stones Throw bought the entire supply of the pilsner malt. SVM originally planned to have it in their permanent lineup, but after some testing and experimentation, they decided to move forward with a few different German malt variations they had in store from other local crops.
“Violetta initially showed good promise, yielding well and showing good disease resistance for farmers and had great flavors and attributes that were different from our other varieties.” Will De Remer, head maltster at SVM said.
SVM has been striving to include a German variety in their permanent lineup, and had about three fields worth of grain to work with. Through different kinds of testing, SVM realized that Violetta wasn’t the one to keep onboard for their permanent lineup, but it was still valuable for a small and experimental brewery like Stones Throw.
“That was the reason for Violetta even being there, was using those European grains and trying to emulate that experience, but then there’s this added benefit that they grow even better and more robust in Skagit Valley,” Foy said. “Now we have all this technology to malt them at a higher level and keep raising the bar with better growing conditions and the ability to grab grains from all over the world.”
Stones Throw’s relationship with Violetta just started. We can expect to see a variety of Violetta based beers in the coming months.
“It was a nice balance. If you compare a pilsner malt and a pale malt, I think Violetta was almost a bit of a hybrid.” Luciano said. “It was a little more biscuity.”
It wasn’t just the flavor profile of Violetta that Luciano liked, there was a profound level of efficiency for his brewing process that came with using SVM products across the board.
“With all of the Skagit Valley malt, one of the things I like is the way it mills. When you mill it, the husks flake off of it. It’s like peeling an orange and getting the whole peel.” Luciano said, comparing the milling process to a familiar and satisfying feeling.
The level of customization that SVM has to offer is in part, due to the state of the art technology they have under their belts. Their enormous rotating steel drums that allow all five basic steps of the malting process to happen in the same vessel are an impressive sight to see in and of themselves. Whether you’re impressed because this technology is never-before-seen or because of the sheer level of efficiency, SVM is unlike any other malting company in the world.
“It’s more uniform and consistent, you get a higher sugar yield. It’s good malt.” Luciano said of Violetta and other SVM malts he’s brewed with. “From an experience point of view, there are more intact grains and bigger berries that don’t just turn into powder.”
This quality allows Luciano to avoid using rice hulls in his brew, a tool used to even out the mash and produce a uniform and consistent sugar yield. Bigger berries and more intact grains also mean less clean-up on the brewer’s end. Efficient, clean, sustainable and customizable are qualities that Luciano is looking for, that SVM provides.
“You’ll talk to a lot of guys and they’ll talk about the high quality of European malts,” Luciano said. “And I’m like, ‘let’s get that here.’”
Both being community-minded businesses, Stones Throw and SVM are the perfect partners beyond the superior product they make by combining forces.
“It’s a way more intimate relationship through the grain,” Luciano said of his relationship with SVM. “I think it’s going to be symbiotic.”
While Stones Throw is a smaller scale brewery, SVM works with larger companies like Fremont Brewing in Seattle and Matchless Brewing in Tumwater. Size isn’t necessarily the most important factor though, based on the level of customization SVM is capable of and their ability to meet any brewer’s needs.
“We are so committed to every brewery of every size. From Vancouver BC to Portland, everyone is treated with the same level of hustle and opportunity for finding deals and trying new things.” Foy said.
Because of Stones Throw’s size and Luciano’s willingness to experiment with different malt varieties, SVM benefits greatly from seeing their malt used in unique beers like the SMASH 004 and the Inspector Skagit Berliner Weisse, and Luciano benefits from using high quality grain that makes his brews more sustainable and efficient.
In other words, a relationship between SVM and a brewery of Stones Throw’s size is
mutually beneficial and will be for batches to come. What’s next for Stones Throw and SVM’s partnership?
“We’re a brewery that is gonna play around with this stuff all the time.” Luciano said. “Some of the smoked malts you guys [SVM] have been playing around with, I haven’t had a chance to experiment with that yet.”
Looking forward, Stones Throw is working on a plan to best showcase the beers made with Skagit Valley malts, specifically Violetta. Whether that means having tasting events for each beer made with the pilsner malt or brewing very classic and complimentary German beers, Luciano is thinking of going a variety of directions.
“There’s all these different subgroups of beer drinkers in Bellingham, and I think that using the Violetta, we can build within those groups in term of education on what people are drinking.” Luciano said of how he wants to take advantage of this high quality grain that has a limited supply, while simultaneously offering educational moments for the typical Bellingham beer drinker.
Between Luciano’s missions like teaching beer drinkers the ins and outs of his brews, or Foy mastering the lost art of going out of your way just for the sake of being neighborly, the unique relationship between the two businesses at both ends of Chuckanut Drive have sustainable, efficient, and community-oriented outcomes.