Is it possible to capture the world in a single glass of beer?
Turns out that one of the members of the multi-national cricket club just happens to be an importer of exotic hop varieties from the Southern Hemisphere, hops that Stone’s Napa head brewer Steve Gonzalez was eager to get his hands on.
So it seemed natural to do a collaborative beer in honor of the cricket club, which Stone partially sponsors.
“Stone came on as our beer sponsor this year and I proposed the idea to Steve, who loves all things Cricket and English,” said club member Rob Bolch, founder of John Fearless, the company that imports the hops.
The unorthodox brew they came up with is a tribute to the geographic range of the seven-year-old cricket club, which has members from across the world. In this case, an English-style ale, using British malts, but made with hops from New Zealand and South Africa, and yeast from Australia, where Bolch used to be in the beer business.
“It was kind of cool; we brought in all those elements from a lot of represented countries,” said Gonzalez on a recent Napa morning as he began brewing the new beer.
The result, which should be ready later in June, will be known as the “Wicket Keeper” in honor of a pivotal position on a cricket team, somewhat analogous to a baseball catcher.
In cricket, “wickets” function like a base in baseball, with players scoring runs by running between them. Instead of being a plate on the ground, however, wickets are constructed from three wooden stakes stuck in the ground, with wood pieces known as bales balanced on top. One major way to get a batter out and prevent him from scoring runs is to use the ball to knock the bales off the wicket.
“Hence the wicket keeper is the guy who’s hovering over the wickets and guarding them, and kind of a central person in the game of cricket,” Bolch explains.
And as with the baseball position of catcher, being a wicket keeper is not for the faint of heart.
“It’s the dirty job, in the same way that catchers take a beating,” said club wicket keeper Jamie Johnson. “It’s tough on your hands and you get bruised, so it’s nice to be acknowledged” by having the beer being called Wicket Keeper.
The beer will be available at Stone’s downtown pub, in the old Borreo Building, and will probably be sold in some of Stone’s other locations, Gonzalez said. But much of it will go to the club, which plans to offer it at the annual World Series of Cricket at the Napa Valley Expo on July 20, in which players from the U.S. and Australia will take on players from the rest of the world.
The Wicket Keeper will be an unusual offering from Stone, which has made its reputation on hoppy, high-alcohol beers. Gonzalez said he designed it to be similar to malt-forward British ales, with a modest 5 percent alcohol by volume to make it an easy-drinking beer for a long day of cricket.
“It’s going to be primarily dominated by some really tropical hop character followed by a nice biscuity and caramel malt,” he said. “So it’s going to be maltier than most of the beers we produce.”
This is the first time Stone has done a high-concept collaboration with a sports team like this, Gonzalez said, but it is hardly the first time he’s played with unusual ingredients or crafted something for an occasion. Several years ago, he said, he made a specialty beer for the producers of the TV show “The Vikings” to present at the famous annual Comic-Con gathering.
The small size of the brewing setup in Napa – producing just 10 barrels, or a little more than 300 gallons, at a time – makes it ideal for experimental beers like the Wicket Keeper. Gonzalez also heads the 10-barrel “pilot brewery” at Stone’s headquarters in San Diego. Between the two small breweries, he does scores of experimental or small batch brews every year.
“It ends up being kind of a lot of pressure to come up with new ideas all the time ... I find that coming up here (to Napa), with that creative carte blanche I have here, really helps me,” he said. “I’ll come up here and I’ll brew for a week and suddenly I’ll have 12 new ideas.”
Sometimes the beers Gonzalez brews take on a larger life. The Napa-created Jovian Orbit, a wheat-based IPA, for example, will be served at Stone’s annual meeting with their national distributors this year to see if it should become a regular part of the company’s lineup.
Others, possibly such as the Wicket Keeper, wind up being one-time or occasional brews.
Either way, each batch is an opportunity to learn new techniques, play with new ingredients, or indulge in some wild ideas, like adding coffee to light lagers or brewing with fresh garden ingredients.
“This place is my muse,” Gonzalez said, gesturing to the Napa brewing equipment. “I have definitely learned some things up here that I never would have trialed before. I didn’t anticipate that coming up here.”Editor’s note: This item has been modified to correct the lineup of teams in the World Series of Cricket.