ALBUQUERQUE—Oftentimes, beer is considered as a source for connectivity. It is more than just a drink, especially to those who dedicate their life to the craft.
Dr. Asa Stone is an Advanced Cicerone beer scholar who specializes in the dynamics of social and cultural factors that attribute to the way we drink our beers.
“To appreciate beer beyond just what is in the glass, really appreciating the history, culture and tradition and honoring our own culture and know that how we experience beer is idiosyncratic.”, Dr. Stone laments on how each individual gets their own experience while drinking the beer, even if it is by drinking the same beer.
I pondered to the question; Is New Mexico known for beer? Because they are known for their chili and wine, but what about the beer? “In New Mexico we eat a lot of chili”, she tells me, referring to the chili capital of the world. “But for non-New Mexicans chili can be quite spicy”, referring back to her own Japanese culture where they don’t eat as intensive spicy foods like in other parts of the world. She was comparing the different tastes of foods that each person experience to that same experience that individuals carry while drinking a beer.
“Finding a pairing is all about how you would taste the food and what works for you” , Dr. Stone says inside of a greenhouse, the setting of our joyous interview. The sun was setting and the Sandia’s pinkish glow reflected through the greenhouse windows giving every flower their mountainous colors. New Mexico is a truly wonderous state and aside from all its outdoor adventures (trust me there are many) it is a pretty good beer destination for all you weary beer wonderers. (I ended up trying a local brewery—Ex NoVo’s—IPA Haze and it is fair to say New Mexico has some quality beer)
Asa Stone is originally from Japan where she was born and raised before moving to Vermont for undergrad, before transferring to Washington State University where she met her beer-making partner/husband, Mark Stone. The Stones are both faculty members in the University of New Mexico, which is what prompted them to move to Albuquerque. Asa came to New Mexico with the intent of becoming an educator in psychology, but then New Mexico became a destination for the beer industry, Asa tells me while she drinks a glass herself. “I had the opportunity to grow myself from a psychology educator to a beer educator,” she continues explaining about how she got involved in the beer scene here in New Mexico. She has been teaching and researching for about three years focusing on social and cultural aspects of beer. She also teaches at the local community college here; psychology, sustainability, and beer and brewing (which is called: Beer and Society)
Dr. Stone’s work in psychology helps complement her work with beer and brewing. “Beer sommelier, or a cicerone, would really understand how beer is made, how to serve beer, and not only that, we would be able to find a marriage between food and beer. Because beer has such a diversity in flavors it is not difficult to find a pairing that works. If you think even about how malt is made, it could be dried, stewed, roasted, it kind of goes throw the same process that food goes through, “ she says. The pairing works to different individuals who have different experiences. Like Dr. Stone said earlier in the interview, the experience to each individual is idiosyncratic meaning that it is unique to their own tastes. Her background in psychology offers Asa an opportunity to dive deeper to how humans compare food with beer and to experiment which pairings work best with what. As I approached the Stones household I was instantly greeted by a lovely, energetic, cattle dog named, Illy. Immediately, as you walk past the
lustrous turquoise and white walls with light beaming all around, you notice their backyard’s set up. A fire pit, in the corner of the yard, some shrubs and grass in the middle, and on the left side of the yard in front of the infamous greenhouse, where we held our interview, you see a three barrel rig, used to brew beer. The process of making beer is quite simple, there are mainly four ingredients required to excise such a task: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. One barely is solely for the water and one is solely for the yeast. The key is to let the yeast ferment slowly, so that it can mix well with the other ingredients. These four ingredients are the cornerstones to the process of beer making, but what is fascinating about these ingredients are the variations in which they can be used to brew. Asa says, “what’s beautiful about beer is that we start with those four humble ingredients, but each ingredient has so many varieties, and so which one you pick would eventually result in completely different beer samples.” That is why there is so much different flavors and hops and types of beer, it is because of the variation of the ingredients, but the common variable is yeast. A beer can take anywhere from weeks to ferment leading to months to years, depending on how slow the molecules form and which type of beer it is you are brewing.
Shortly after we had arrived to their beer-making household, Asa and her husband, along with their Chilean friend, Christian, had just finished brewing a stout in which they put New Mexico’s most beloved ingredient: Green Chili. The process was probably going to take weeks or a couple of months before anyone can have the privilege to try it, but everyone seems very eager to taste such a unique flavor.
As the pinkish New Mexican sky shied away making room for the night sky, we had a nice fire pit going, as the dogs roamed freely in the backyard. I was drinking a home-brewed sour stout, one that they have prepared months before. It was flavorful and the aroma smelled really nice giving off a feeling of comfort.
Dr. Stone is also a part of a diversity, equity, and inclusion group as well as another group known as The Pink Boot Society. Their mission is to assist, inspire, and encourage women in the professional alcoholic beverage industry to advance their careers through education. The group allows a space for women of different backgrounds to come together and share their passions for beer. Everyone has a different experience when it comes to the drink and Asa Stone certainly has her own unique journey that has led to her love for beer. Because of cicerones like Dr. Stone, the beer industry can become something more than just crafting a brew, but it can become a cornerstone for inclusivity, where people can come together and cherish their favorite drink; a beautiful experience to have.
Beer has always had a rich history with connecting different social groups and creating a tight-friendly community. It is important to distinguish that the traditions Asa Stone bestows upon us aren’t new, rather, it continues a heritage that can make the brewing ancestors smile with ease because they know the true powers of brews; connectivity.