I remember my time working at Stone Brewing HQ like it was yesterday. Many great memories were had there, care of lots of good friends and innovative co-workers. Looking back, there’s a particular moment that stands out for me. On a visit to the break room for a cold beverage (water — contrary to popular belief, there was no keg for mid-day brewskis), I opened the refrigerator and saw jars labeled “GK’s nut butter.” As the sophomoric twelve-year-old that runs my brain giggled, I turned to see “GK” (AKA, Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone and my boss at the time) sitting at a table.
I asked if they were merely his property or if he had made them. To my surprise, it was the latter. As someone who enjoys cooking, I always get a little charge when I discover someone’s affinity for culinary pursuits. He invited me to try some and, as I did, I examined hand-written lists of ingredients that went far beyond peanuts, salt, sugar, and oil. There were more flavorful and exotic nuts, plus hemp and chia seeds, and different spices. The make-up of the condiments was as remarkable as the flavor. I was instantly impressed and made a point to scoop up some of Greg’s home-made offerings whenever he brought them in.
Though I no longer work for Stone, Koch’s nut butters are still within reach, thanks to Nutista, an entrepreneurial venture he entered into last year with co-founders Tristen Cross and John Huber. That Carlsbad-based business now has multiple all-natural nut butters on store shelves, including some that are infused with ingredients selected to mimic the flavor of certain Stone beers.
“I like the process of making stuff. I don’t tend to cook a lot, but when I do stuff in the kitchen, it tends to be project-based, like making chocolate or making hot sauces with chili peppers from my garden,” says Koch, who started making nut butters a decade ago after being inspired by a YouTube video. “I started experimenting, mad-scientist style, and after doing it for a while, found that I really loved the results. I could customize the blends any way I wanted, like adding a tiny bit of sea salt or leaving out sweeteners because I don’t like it that way. And I could use really great quality nuts, which bring a lot of sweetness themselves.”
Customization is at the core of Nutista’s butters, none of which could be mistaken as basic. There is no “plain” or “standard” variety. The closest to that, “The Nut Job” contains cashews, sprouted almonds, peanuts, raw pecans, and sea salt. Its lack of sugar and preservatives are shared attributes of all Nutista products, including those emulating craft beers.
“For the Stone collaborations, I was wondering what a cross between a beer recipe and a nut butter recipe would look like,” says Koch. “We couldn’t add liquid, because that’s not good for a nut butter, but we could add a lot of the ingredients found in the beers, including malt and brewer’s yeast. For the [nut butter based on Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Farking Wheaton] w00tstout, we used coffee and chocolate, while tangerine peel and dried pineapple went into the one based on Stone Tangerine Express IPA.”
Raw pecans, bourbon-soaked malt, dry-malt extract, malted rye, roasted barley, coconut, and sea salt round out the w00tstout variety, while blanched almonds, dry-roasted peanuts, golden light dry malt, and sea salt complete the latter. It’s not garden-variety by any stretch, and an enjoyable creative outlet for someone who has maintained laser-focus on growing Stone to its status as the eighth-largest craft brewery in the country over the past 22 years. It’s that entrenchment that nearly kept Koch from pursuing a nut-butter venture.
“I actually formulated a business plan over several years, jotting down notes of what I might want this to be, but I was too focused on Stone and everything we were doing, and realized it wouldn’t be possible,” says Koch. “A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend and the subject of nut butters came up. I told him about my plans and he looked at me and said, ‘That sounds awesome. Can I help you start that?’ Just like anything, it takes a good partner; great people who share the passion and the interest.”
On that note, Nutista’s founders all agreed to follow a DIY ethos, opening their own facility, purchasing their own equipment, sourcing all of the nuts and other ingredients, then grinding, blending, and packaging everything. They work together on every recipe and share the belief each nut butter should be wholesome, healthful, and all-natural.
When asked how he likes to utilize his nut butters, Koch takes a very basic approach, likening it to “guilt-free cookie dough.” “I keep them in my refrigerator then just grab a spoon and go in at different parts of the day for a snack.”
Of course there are PB&J sandwiches, but the Nutista team has developed some recipes that utilize their nut butters as ingredients. They’ve shared two of those with West Coaster, and say the best places to find their wares, locally, are Stone Company Store locations, Jimbo’s Natural Foods Grocer, and Nutista’s website (nutista.com).
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Thai Chicken Pizza with IPA Nut Butter Sauce
Yield: 1 pizza
PB Sauce (recipe follows)
1½ tsp olive oil
5 ounces chicken breast, sliced into 1-inch strips
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 ready-made pizza crust
1½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup carrots, shredded
2 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh Thai basil leaves
crushed peanuts, for garnish
crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place in the skillet and sauté until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the crust on a pizza pan, sheet pan or pizza stone. Top with desired amount of sauce, followed by 1 cup of cheese. Spread the chicken, bell pepper and carrots atop the pizza, then top with the remaining cheese and scallions. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. To serve, top with basil, peanuts and red pepper flakes, then slice into 4 to 6 equal-sized pieces.
IPA Nut Butter Sauce
Yield: About ½ cup
¼ cup water
¼ cup Nutista Tangerine Express IPA nut butter
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp ginger powder
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Whisk all of the ingredients together until fully incorporated and a smooth consistency has been reached.
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Bacon Brussels Sprouts with Maple Nut Butter Sauce
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, rinsed and halved
¼ cup peanut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Nutista The Mountie nut butter
4 tsp champagne vinegar
2 tsp honey
5 strips cooked bacon, chopped
3 Tbsp dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the Brussels sprouts with peanut oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the Brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. Return to oven and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the nut butter, vinegar and honey until fully incorporated and creamy. Use a few splashes of water to thin the mixture to a salad-dressing consistency. Pour half of the mixture over the Brussels sprouts and bake until browned and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure they do not burn. Remove from the oven and transfer the Brussels sprouts to a large bowl. Add the bacon, cranberries and remaining sauce, toss to incorporate, and serve warm or cold.