One goal of the Queen City Brewery is to bring unusual specialty beer styles back to life. For nearly 20 years, our brewing team (Phil Kaszuba, Rich “Monk” Evans, Paul Held, and Paul Hale) has done just that with our annual Steinbier.
Steinbier (translation–stone beer) is a unique historic ale that was developed in the alpine regions of Germany long ago when brewing vessels were made of wood rather than metal. Since the brew could not be heated directly and boiled over a fire, rocks were heated in a fire and then lowered into the liquid, heating it to a boil. This use of rocks in the brewing process imparts a unique blend of subtle smokiness and caramelized malt flavor that are characteristic of Steinbier.
Tradition calls for the fire to be made of Beech wood and the type of rock used is called Graywacke (GRAY–whack). Graywacke is “layered” metamorphic sandstone that is dark gray in color and indigenous to Vermont. It withstands the intense heat and rapid cooling encountered during the brewing process without shattering.
In our process, the Graywacke is heated for hours over a Beech wood fire while the wort is prepared using conventional methods. The hot rocks are lowered into the wort and a violent (hissing, bubbling, frothing, steaming) reaction takes place. At this time, high temperature caramelization and some burning of the sugars occurs. Also, smokiness absorbed by the rocks transfers to the wort. The rocks are removed when they are still very hot (they now have a sweet, caramelized coating on them) and are placed in a sterile container for use later in the process.
After fermentation, the rocks are placed back in the beer and left there temporarily until the caramelized coating and any residual smokiness are dissolved and absorbed into the beer further contributing to the flavor profile.
This labor intensive process gives our Steinbier a unique flavor profile unachievable by any other method. Queen City Brewery will be one of only a handful of commercial operations in the world making this historic beer.