When I think about the significance of the use of hops in beer, not only for preserving beer but for taste, aroma and character, Stone Brewing always comes to the top of my beer chain. I started drinking Stone when it was a fairly new name on the market. My first was Stone Pale Ale, and when they released their Arrogant Bastard Ale, I was really hooked.
Founded in 1996, Stone is celebrating their 15th anniversary with a special release, so it only made sense that a trip to Escondido California would be in order, and that day came last week on a trip to San Diego. Thankfully, my GPS didn’t fail me and took me right to the door, which was fortunate, as it looks like a normal office building from the outside.
Once you get out of the vehicle though, you know you are there. The aroma is undeniable, and ever so inviting. I was lucky enough, last year, to meet Greg Koch, founder and hop maniac at Stone, and his enthusiasm for the craft is clearly evident in every brew and his brewery. As you go through the doors, everything changes. You’re immediately met, a little to your left, by the tasting room and the brewery is straight ahead. To the right, The Hostess Room houses a huge stone. From there you can see the Stone World Bistro and Gardens. To say it’s beautiful is an understatement, sporting another very large stone with a waterfall tricking down it’s side in the main dining area.
I got my ticket for the brewery tour then headed straight for the bar. The bar boasts at least 32 taps and the bartender was on the top of his game with suggestions on what to have before the tour. At his suggestion, I ordered a Stone Smoked Porter. Even though this American-style porter had not much of a smoky aroma, it was there in the mouth in the form of many hints of chocolate, coffee and molasses. Then, almost immediately, the taste does a 180 and you have a wonderful mouth feel of caramel, vanilla and some dark fruitiness like raisin. As it warms these flavors intensify as well as the bitterness you get from drinking a cup of strong black coffee. The drinkability of this style is nicer than some smoked beers I’ve had, and the 5.9% ABV only makes this a porter to appreciate. I finished the porter, with much appreciation, and headed over to the tasting room for the noon tour.
Our guide for the hour long tour was Ken Wright. Many of you who have watched any of the Stone videos on YouTube will recognize Ken. His knowledge of beer and the brewery along with his witty sense of humor made this one of the most enjoyable brewery guided tours I have been on. One thing to note: of all the tours I have taken, this one had the cleanest brewing areas. From the floor to the shiny tanks where you couldn’t even see evidence of fingerprints, I was impressed with their overall cleanliness. This fastidious presentation only makes one believe that what’s inside those tanks is just as clean and crisp.
Once we finished the tour, it was on to the tasting room where we were given a 5 oz. tasters glass and 5 beers to taste. I had the Stone IPA, Pale Ale, Arrogant Bastard, Sublimely Self-Righteous and Oaked Arrogant Bastard. All very worthy and necessary to complete a great Stone tour.
Time for lunch so I headed back to the bar and after looking over the incredibly difficult to choose from menu, I ordered an Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale. I decided that I wasn’t going to try to consciously pair my beer and food this time, just go with what sounded good for lunch, so I went with the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of slaw. The sandwich was fantastic! Topped with pickles and string onions, the BBQ sauce was very spicy, everything was piled high on a sweet onion bun. Now, Arrogant Bastard stands alone as a tasty ale, but the addition of the oak barrel aging really mellows this ale out.
My next beer was a collaboration ale between Stone, Troegs and two home brewers, Jason Fields and Kevin Sheppard, called Cherry Chocolate Stout. This is a perfect beer to have with dessert or just have AS dessert. You can taste every ingredient described in the title; the cherries come forward first not only in the nose but in the mouth, the chocolate follows as a dry Baker’s chocolate and really gives body to this very stout stout! Enjoyable and interesting, I could have had a few of these. With lunch devoured and beers drunk, I needed a good walk so I decided to take a stroll around the gardens.
I have seen the video of the Bistro and Gardens being built and I have to say that unless you can be here and see it for yourself, no production or photography can do these grounds justice. As you walk around, the stage is so beautifully set by the beautiful landscaping and design, tables and chairs, lounge chairs, a stone carved bench and the trickling fountains that feed into the relaxing ponds. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to see what is widely considered one of the finest craft beer breweries in the nation. What Stone is doing here is not only giving people quality beer but, on premises, they offer a presentation of environment, beer and food that I can’t recommend more. This is a point of destination.
Don’t wait to be near or passing through, make a visit a major part of your plans. Cheers to the staff at Stone Brewing, it more than met my expectations. This is a quality place with a quality product. Every time I open a Stone beer, I will know the care that went into creating it. Trust me, when a craft brewery says they take painstaking steps to bring you a quality product, you can believe it in the case of Stone Brewing Company.
Ed. We held off publishing this long enough to bring you a glimpse of the (not yet revealed at the time of Dave’s visit) magnum celebrating Stone’s 15th Anniversary!
Can’t wait to taste it!