It’s old news by now, but Figueroa Mountain’s award-winning brewmaster, A.J. Stoll, has departed for Ireland. Of course, Fig Mountain still goes on — and has no intention of taking a step back.
There’s no denying that Stoll was a great brewer. His collection of medals and well-crafted beers speak for themselves. And while the 30-year-old Stoll was a relatively young face in the brewing scene, Fig Mountain’s new lead guy, Mike Hastings, is a longtime brewing veteran.
Hastings began his career at Humboldt Brewing Company in 1989, and has spent the past 25 years brewing beer in California and Pennsylvania. He first arrived at Figueroa Mountain as the head brewer in December of 2011 — making this month the mark of his third year with the Buellton-based brewery.
“I was brought in to take A.J.’s spot to let him be more creative, go out in the public and do that sort of stuff,” Hastings said. “I was hired to do the day-to-day running of the show, making sure the product was consistent and that sort of stuff.”
As the head brewer, Hastings’ job included running the brewhouse and making sure the brewery’s stocks of hops and grain matched what was necessary for production. Stoll, meanwhile, was free to develop new beers, work on Anniversary Ale projects and do the kind of public relations and quality control jobs that come with the territory at a growing brewery like Fig Mountain.
And while those kind of tasks will fall to Hastings as the new director of brewing operations, the job of creating new beers will be delegated out to the entire brewing team. The brewery held its first “Brewers Roundtable” on Dec. 4*, as the team discussed what Fig should focus on for 2015.
“More heads are better than one. A.J. was an incredible recipe creator and a good leader, that’s for sure, but we might have been a little narrow-minded in terms of flavors we were looking for,” Hastings said. “Whereas if you bring in a broad range of palates, you might get something you never expected. A.J. and I had a little bit palate styles but he and I always came in the middle and said that’s a beautiful, beautiful beer. But nothing’s going to change at Fig, nothing’s going to drift. If anything, they’ll get a little better.”
It should be noted that Hastings’ previous quote was not a criticism of the former brewmaster, just that he believes a collaborative process might lead to more widely appealing beers.
And if you’re worried that Hastings will come in and change up your favorite beers at Fig, rest assured he says that won’t happen. After all, he was often the guy overseeing the production of much of those core beers up in Buellton.
“Those things are kind of set,” Hastings said. “You have to look at our success and what’s going on. Why mess with something that’s good? Hoppy Poppy is really successful, but we might look at modifying our Pale Ale a little bit. Pale Ales are a little blasé right now, so we might be looking to modify that or maybe make a session ale or something along those lines.”
If you’re looking for a beer that has more of Hastings’ stamp on it already, check out the 4th Anniversary beer. It’s a Belgian Quad-style beer brewed with fig extract (get it: quad for four years, figs for, well, Fig Mountain). The beer began with Stoll, but was finished and blended from barrels by Hastings and team.
“This beer had an excellent start,” Hastings said. “It was a great, great beer. The whole idea of our fourth anniversary and all the years of the hard work to bring it up to a high level, why not do a Belgian Quad?”
Hastings said that he’s already excited about beginning work on the 5th Anniversary beer, and suggested that he had some ideas already that he wasn’t ready to discuss. That beer will likely be the first real insight into what Hastings has to offer as the new head man in charge, while Fig fans in the meantime will be happy to know that not much will be changing for their favorite brewery.
* In a recent conversation with Fig’s CEO, Jaime Dietenhofer, he mentioned the hiring of several new brewers. Some of them will move into head brewing positions at the brewery’s satellite breweries and tasting rooms in Westlake Village and Arroyo Grande, both scheduled to open soon, as well as a brewer to take over the barrel-aging and mad-science aspects of the Liquamentum project which began under Stoll.