The hubby and I have been dreaming about making a pilgrimage to the beer Mecca known as Stone Brewery for some time now. We first had a taste of Stone over the holidays three or four years ago while visiting family in New York, but it wasn’t until April 2010 when Stone began distributing in Chicago that we really fell in love. There was a huge release event in Chicago at the three locations of Smallbar. Each Smallbar had different vintages of exclusive Stone beers on tap and a trolley that would transfer you from one location to the other. We made it to two locations (Wicker Park and Fullerton) but after a few too many 2008 raspberry-infused-bourbon-barrel-aged-imperial whatevers, we had to wave the white flag and take a cab home.
Fast forward to June 7, 2011. The hubby and I drove from Orange down to Escondido. We arrived at 11am, just as the facility was opening, and walked under a canopy of vines and flowers to make it to the entrance.
The building itself is beautiful and, from the outside, you would never think it housed one of the best breweries in the U.S. Once inside, you have the option to enter the company store or the bistro. I left the hubby in the lobby taking pictures while I entered the store to inquire about the 12pm brewery tour.
Tickets freshly in hand, I approached the store’s tap line to see about having a tasting prior to the tour (hey, we had 45 minutes to kill and I was not going to waste any time). The kind, tattooed gentleman behind the bar informed me that I would need to go into the bistro to taste, but gave me the heads up of what would be tasted on the tour so I could opt for others. There wasn’t anything super exclusive but they did have two versions of their imperial stout available: the regular Imperial Russian Stout and one brewed with anise and fermented using Belgian yeast. Please note, the hubby was still taking pictures. Boys and their cameras…
I started with the regular version of the Stone Imperial Russian Stout and it was delicious. You get a roastiness on the nose with an oily, coffee-like mouthfeel. The finish was highly carbonated which lended a certain spiciness. You definitely felt the 10.8% ABV and I was feeling pretty good. Not bad for 11:15am on a Tuesday.
The Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout was interesting but I didn’t particularly care for it. I downright hate licorice and I am not a big fan of the flavor that Belgian yeast provides. The hubby, on the other hand, loved it and thought that it would age very nicely, mellowing out the somewhat harsh flavors and alcohol. I would be interested to taste it again in a year or two to see the effect age would play.
After our little tasting, it was finally time for the tour. I have been on numerous brewery tours and there isn’t really much that is different brewery to brewery. They’ll pretty much use the same ingredients (water, malt, hops, and yeast) and if you’ve seen one fermentor, you’ve seen them all. But this tour was phenomenal. Our tour guide was funny and clearly loved beer. And what a great deal! You can’t beat free, and you got four two-ounce samples at the conclusion of the tour. Granted, they were tastings of their main beers (Pale Ale, IPA, Arrogant Bastard, and the Porter, although you had the option to switch out any of those for the Levitation).
Right as we were finishing our last sample, my friend who was meeting us there came and we headed into the bistro for lunch.
Lunch was good and I enjoyed it with one of my favorite Stone beers: Oaked Arrogant Bastard. Our table was overlooking the rock garden and after lunch, we took a stroll out around the premises. There is a lagoon with turtles sunning themselves and waterfalls and all sorts of beautiful, amazing things. There are even picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy a beer alfresco.
All in all, a magical experience that far surpassed expectations. But there was more beery fun to be had in California! Stay tuned!