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If Mitch Steele were a beer, it would be called “Enjoy By June 30, 2016.”
That’s his last day as brewmaster at Stone, the Escondido brewery whose rapid growth has been fueled in part by his date-stamped double IPAs, the “Enjoy By” series.
“I leave with a lot of great memories,” Steele said in a video posted on social media Tuesday afternoon. “Gosh, there’s so many things that I’ve been able to be part of that just really are going be with me forever.”
The 54-year-old father of two was traveling and could not be reached for comment. On the video, he’s recorded saying he’s leaving to pursue a “bucket list” venture.
“These guys approached me, they are industry vets, they’ve got 20, 30 years, and they wanted me to be a partner with them in starting this new operation,” he said. “If I didn’t give this a shot I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”
Steele joined Stone in 2006, taking over the brewing and packaging operations during an era of high ambition and expansion. A 1984 UC Davis graduate, he was hired in part because of organizational skills honed as fermentation and brewing operations manager for three Anheuser-Busch breweries.
A Temecula resident, Steele introduced numerous Stone beers, notably Sublimely Self-Righteous, a black IPA, and “Enjoy By” double IPAs. Author of the 2012 book, “IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of the India Pale Ale,” Steele was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of hops, the flowering plant that gives beer much of its aroma and flavor.
His departure was not unexpected, said Ian Wendlandt, the former chief of staff to Stone CEO Greg Koch.
“Mitch did the work for 10 years, a long time,” Wendlandt said. “The job position, brewmaster, comes with great responsibilities thus serious pressures.”
Moreover, Stone has become a larger and more complex company since Steele joined, halfway through teh brewery’s current 20-year history. “Obviously Stone is no longer a start-up,” Wendlandt said. “It’s very different than it used to be even a few years ago. It’s on to the next phase.”
During Steele’s decade at Stone, the company has opened a brewery and bistro in San Diego’s Liberty Station; begun construction on breweries and restaurants in Richmond, Va., and Berlin; established a chain of tap rooms, from the Gaslamp Quarter to Pasadena; and introduced dozens of new beers.
In 2006, Stone produced 48,000 barrels of beer. Last year, its 325,645 barrels made Stone the nation’s 10th largest craft brewery.
Steele’s departure will be a loss for the entire local brewing community, said Tom Nickel, owner and brewer at Julian’s Nickel Beer and O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa.
“When I heard that Stone was hiring Mitch, I thought it was an amazing thing, not just for them but for San Diego beer in general,” Nickel said. “He’s such a likeable, approachable guy who knows so much.”