A little while ago on Twitter, I teased that there were big changes coming to the Santa Barbara beer and brewing scene. If you don’t follow me on twitter — it looked like this.
Well, the first of that big news is that Figueroa Mountain’s award-winning brewmaster, A.J. Stoll, is departing Buellton and the Central Coast to take his first step toward becoming an international brewing consultant — something that he has described as his dream job.
The basic rundown is that he isn’t technically leaving Fig Mountain, but his role is certainly changing. Head brewer Mike Hastings will take over as the director of Brewing Operations for Fig in A.J.’s absence.
The other big takeaway is that Fig Mountain is also going international and expanding to Germany. While he’s away, A.J. will help scout out a location to help the brewery contract brew and eventually build their own pub and beer garden area.
This is a dynamic story, and certain elements may need to be corrected as updates come out, but I caught up with A.J. for a Q and A to learn about all the new developments.
Q: So, I’ve heard the rumor that you’re leaving us here and heading to Ireland. Tell me a little bit about what it is you’ll be doing and where you’re headed.
A: I always encouraged my staff to elevate themselves and take on new responsibilities and positions, and so that’s basically the same thing I’m doing. My goal is to be an international brewery consultant. That’s just what I’d like to do — trouble shoot breweries, plan breweries write recipes and that sort of thing. That’s what I’d like to do. So in the short term I’m going to be going to this start-up in Ireland, and in the long-term I’m going to be is I’ll be all over the shelf.
Mike Hastings is moving up to director of brewing operations and he’ll runt he show for Fig in terms of the day-to-day logistical stuff. Everything else pretty much remains the same. I’m basically taking a lot of times away. They’re going to keep me on as a consultant. I’m not leaving or abandoning them or anything like that. There’s no real break, I’m just doing other things as well.
Q: So you’re not leaving Fig? You and Fig are still together even if your relationship is changing here?
A: In a nutshell. It’s kind of like (Figueroa Mountain CEO) Jaime (Dietenhofer) says, everyone is a business. I’m just going one step further and creating myself as a business. For me it’s all about continuing to grow and working with different people, places and equipment. Working with Fig has been a huge opportunity and experience, and I’m looking forward to taking that one step further with new places and people.
Q: Did Fig make an offer or anything like that to keep you and try to sell you on not leaving or going to Ireland?
A: There’s a lot of shoulda-woulda-coulda, but it’s not really about that. It’s not about the money or anything like that. I’ve never had any and wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway. It’s more about my personal growth and continued education — that sort of thing for me.
Q: Well, tell me about this brewery in Ireland? What’s it called, who are you partnering with and what can we expect from that? (Note: Because not all the information is public yet, A.J. requested that I not mention the name of the brewery yet, although he said it is a real deal, there is already a site selected and the new brewing equipment will be arriving near Christmas).
A: It’s a new start-up in Ireland. The partners are based in Chicago and Ireland which is pretty normal it sounds like because I guess Chicago and Ireland are basically the same country at this point. They see what I see where the U.S. is saturated or getting saturated, but Europe is untouched. Craft beer is 9.5% market share or something like that, but in Ireland it/s .5% and it’s going to go vertical. It’s going to double or triple every year.
There’s a brewery out there that we’re modeled after that’s been established for several years and it just sold to MillerCoors for $17 million. So I think that’s a plan for the partners and I is to blow this thing up and make top-quality beer and sell. Or maybe it’s a cash-cow and we love it and keep it forever. I don’t know. I’m committed to them for a time, assuming all things go well. Fuck, I don’t know, the whole thing could tank.
(Note: I looked into this and couldn’t find which brewery was sold for $17 million, but I’ll take A.J.’s word on it all.)
Q: I remember from social media that you were in Ireland a couple months ago. Was that trip to start to lay the groundwork for all of this?
A: No, it was actually the opposite. I went over there to get the hell out of Dodge and go on vacation. I met these guys and talked about it. Beers were consumed and whatnot and it kind of went from there. There’s no dark side about it. There’s no underhanded dealings. Basically when I made my decision I went to Fig and said, ‘this is what I want to do, this is where my heart is at — let’s figure it out.’
Q: So it was on that trip that you met those guys? You met those guys on a vacation randomly?
Q: Can you talk about this Fig in Germany thing going on?
A: Basically the plan is to have a brewery contract for us and start distribution over there. The Americana thing is kind of big around there, which I think is hilarious because Germany invented beer as far as I’m concerned. What are we going to teach them? But basically we’re going to look for a contract brewery over there and then work on building a facility over there. Nothing huge, like a pub and beer garden situation like in Santa Barbara — that sort of thing.
Q: So when are you heading out? When are you leaving us?
A: I’m going to fly out next month, the middle of next month — the 12th. I’ll fly back for Christmas to launch the brewery in Arroyo Grande or to plan the launch of the Arroyo Grande and Westlake facilities. The brewery designs are basically done and we even have brewers for those locations already, basically I’ll just be giving it the (stamp) of approval. Then I don’t know. The same thing with Germany. We were talking about going the next month or the following, but now we’re talking about Germany maybe. Not sure when I’m going over there.
Well, that’s it. We’ll miss ya here on the Central Coast, A.J. Feel free to send as much beer home as you need to!