Interview: beer pro A.J. Stoll (Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.)

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Brewery Sign California

Figueroa Mountain Brewing is named for a nearby peak east of Los Olivos.

Last week, Brew and You covered some beer spots to visit in the Central Coast. One of which is Figueroa Mountain Brewing. I spoke with brewmaster A.J. Stoll before the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest to learn more about Stoll’s brewing past and what Figueroa Mountain will be brewing in Buellton and their new location in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

How did you learn the brewing process?

Since Stoll started homebrewing in college he got his start from homebrewing manuals “and a bunch of other books I read. A lot of book learning. And I started learning how to brew commercially from a guy in a brewpub in Seabright a long time ago.”

Did you go to a brewing school?

Never did, I went to college for chemistry and then when I graduated I decided that I loved beer more, basically, been a homebrewer in school, loved doing that.  Finally I made the decision to change careers and pursue brewing. I started working for a brewery in Santa Cruz, that was 8 years ago, and here we are.

How long have you been at Figueroa Mountain?

I have been at Figueroa Mountain for two years, pretty much since the beginning.

What beers get the most attention at the tap room in Buellton?

We don’t really have a flagship per se.  Our production is pretty well distributed. But I think our top seller is Hoppy Poppy IPA at least where we are in Santa Barbara County. I think it is the most recognizable.  Danish Red Lager and Davey Brown ale are pretty close second and thirds.

Of all the great brewers here at the Firestone Walker Invitational, who were you looking forward to?

Well, I said hi to Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River.  I used to live a block from his brewery and he has always been a big role model of mine.  If there is such a thing in the beer world.

I talked to the guys from Green Flash and Bill from Alesmith, they brought barrel aged Speedway Stout which is an awesome beer. That and bourbon barrel aged Old Rasputin, I think, are the best bourbon barrel aged stouts of all time in my opinion.  Brian [Hunt] from Moonlight Brewing Co. is here and they do a beer called Death and Taxes.  That I think is one of the best beers out there. I don’t know what it is, maybe a hoppy brown thing. I think he calls it an alt-bier.

But that is how a lot of brewers, like myself, think about it. You don’t wake up in the middle of the night going I want to brew an American style strong pale ale. No, you just wake up with an idea for a beer. Then people ask you what it is and you go ummm, it’s a German style hefeweizen with peaches, I dunno.

How does a beer idea start? Is it like a song where the lyrics or melody come first?

For me it is an idea first. Like an artistic concept first in your head.  Almost like a sandwich you want to make for lunch.  Then follow that with a lot of math and science. There is a lot of algebra and calculation. In Term of gravity and color points and IBUs and how the hop works. The balance. Lot of calculation.  Very scientific.  It all starts with an ethereal idea of something that you want to make.

Obviously, a pilsner is a very traditional but then on the pilot system which is 10 gallons in Buellton and 7 in Santa Barbara you can, it’s like well.  OK we just brewed a beer called honey nut Beerios.  Included oats and honey malt and lots of wheat and base malt then box of Honey Nut Cheerios in the mash just because someone, an assistant brewer thought it would be a good idea. Now I want to do an Oreo beer use a lot of chocolate malt, lactose sugar and toss Oreos into the mash.

What other seasonal beers do you have for the summer?

Ones that I can talk about.  Big Cone black ale (a black IPA).  A blonde/kolsch.  Magpie Baltic porter is coming in the fall. And from the new Santa Barbara system will be a German hefeweizen, a New Zealand pale ale and a helles lager.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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