Free Markets, Free People

Saturday Photoblogging [Updated]

Today was a good day.  I got to go to a place of wonder, and beauty, and exceptional craftsmanship.  A place that Bruce will weep for not being able to visit.

The outside of the magical fairyland I visited today.

The outside of the magical fairyland I visited today.

There’s no hint of what this building is from the outside.  The building itself has a modern, updated look reminiscent of a 19th-century factory building.  But there’s no name on the outside.  No signage.  Only if you look in the service parking lot, and see the name painted on the sides of the delivery truck, would you have any idea that this is, in fact, the Stone Brewery.  Stone is a microbrewery here in Escondido that makes a number of fine lagers, stouts, and, of course, their flagship product, Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Actually, Stone considers Stone Pale Ale and Stone IPA to be their flagship products, but it’s Arrogant Bastard that’s their best-known product.

The tour was organized through an online photography group that Chris belongs to, and we were lucky to get into it, because it’s a tour that fills up fast.  Not only is it free, but there’s a special treat at the end.  About which, more in due course.

The entrance to the main production floor

The entrance to the main production floor

The first think you notice is how spotless the production floor is.  Everything is cleaned and shined, including the two-story stainless steel brewing tanks.  They must go through a fortune in Windex.

Oak Casks.  Some of the last remnants of a dying art.

Oak Casks. Some of the last remnants of a dying art.

“Barrels,” you think.  “so what?  Seen ’em my whole life.”  Well take a last look, then.  Because you probably wont see many of them in the future.  Cooperage is a dying art now, and Stone is having a devil of a time trying to find suppliers of oak casks for their casked ale.  Think about the skill and craft that has to go into making watertight containers for storing liquids for months, when your only materials are wooden planks and iron hoops.

The number of people who know how to complete that task has declined precipitously.  The replacements for the oak cask are made of aluminum or plastic.  Functional.  Efficient.  But utterly unable to infuse an ale with the woody taste of oak.

Soulless, in other words.

Three simple ingredients, one great result.

Three simple ingredients, one great result.

Stone doesn’t use much to make their beers.  Just barley grains, some dried hop pellets, and water.  Somehow, they magically make the water deliciously flavored and frothy.

Vats of magic

Vats of magic.

Each of these two-story brewing vats contain thousands of gallons of beer in the making.  You can smell the yeasty, hoppy essence of ale all through the production area.

Aluminum tap kegs, ready for shipment.

Aluminum tap kegs, ready for shipment.

In addition to their fine bottled product, Stone ales are also available on tap.

I wish I had one of these.  Filled with this.

I wish I had one of these. Filled with this.

This is a refrigerator.  It may not look like it, but it is.  The king of walk-in refrigerators.  Filled to the ceiling with cans, bottles, ponies, and kegs of beer, ale, and stout.  It’s the best refrigerator I’ve ever seen.  By the way, that’s Chris, over on the right, sneaking into my shot with her camera and tripod.

Stout and Ale

Stout and Ale

The Irish vs. The English.  Who wins?  I don’t know.  I only know I enjoy the competition.  It may take many, many more years–and beers–of competition to tell.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

Exciting parting gifts

You can’t go to a brewery and leave empty-handed, so I picked up four bottles of Stone Imperial Russian Stout.  It comes in big 1 pint, 6 ounce bottles (at five bucks apiece, natch).  It’s also 10.8% alcohol by volume.  You gotta give it to those Russians, boy.  They never miss a chance to put extra alcohol in…well…anything.

Mine!  All Mine!

Mine! All Mine!

These are cases of of a very fine product called Dale’s Pale Ale.  My repeated insistence to the tour guide that these were, in fact, mine, because “they have my name on them” was met with polite laughter, and barely concealed disdain.  (Chris took this photo.)

The best part of the tour.

The best part of the tour.

At the end of the tour, we all got to go to the brewery’s draft bar for free samples of the various Stone products.  Chris shot this picture of me as I was working my way from left to right across the line of taps.  I believe I’m enjoying a delicious Smoked Porter in this particular shot.  At least, I think that’s what it was, but, frankly,  my memories of this portion of the tour became increasingly indistinct as time passed.

Wish you coulda been there, Bruce.

UPDATE: As I write this, I’m drinking one of the bottles of Stone Imperial Russian Stout I bought at the brewery.  It is fantastic!

The different ales I drank at the brewery, in their intolerably small sampling glasses were good.  But I’m a stout man.  I enjoy and ale; wouldn’t turn one down.  But I’ve been a Guinness man for years.

This, however, is better than Guinness.  I feel a frisson of fear for being blasphemous by writing that…but it’s true.  It’s thicker, and more robust than Guinness, yet it lacks a degree or two of the bitter hoppiness.  It’s there, but more subdued.  The Stone product is smoother, richer, and less bitter.  Epic Win for Stone on the Imperial Russian Ale.

I also have a bottle of the Bitter Chocolate and Oatmeal Stout.  I’m now really looking forward to trying it to compare and contrast.

UPDATE 2: Having finished a bottle of the Russian Stout, I’m now having a bottle of the Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.

Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.  I'm drinking this right now.

Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. I'm drinking this right now. (Cell Phone Pic)

This is a degree less bitter than the Russian, but, if anything, equally–or perhaps more–thick and robust.  Very smooth, and another win for Stone.

If only it wasn’t $5 a bottle, it might become a regular tipple.

25 Responses to Saturday Photoblogging [Updated]

  • Oh man that looks good (the only saving grace is I had two Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ales – that would be English -this evening).

    I wish I could have been there too.  I’m horribly jealous and, should I ever get to your neck of the woods, expect a personally guided tour of this brewery.  Uh, I’ll buy.

  • BTW, I have one can left of my 6-pack of “Dale’s Pale Ale” in the fridge.  Hmmm … not for long.

  • Those Tetleys in the cans are fun. They have a nitrogen widget in them so when you open them the go “whooosh” (note this is different from other widgets used in the UK.) Its like a mini depth charge went off. 

  • I live 2 minutes from that Brewery.  Cheers.  =)

  • Ahh, Stone…  Did you get a chance to visit the Bistro & Gardens?  Some good food there, and a whole host of nice beers to try.

    Unfortunately, I live up in Orange County, so I can’t make it down to Stone as often as I’d like.  Thankfully, though, my work takes me down there to San Diego quite a bit, and it’s often a choice between Stone (if we’re headed back on the 15/78) or to Pizza Port (if we’re headed through Carlsbad on the 5) on the way back.  Both are excellent 🙂

    Oh, and Bruce…  While the Brick Store in Decatur has a pretty decent beer selection, you’d be amazed at the wonderful flavors you’d find once you’re outside of the beer desert of Georgia.

    • Yeah, we did, actually.  The gardens are nice, but we gave the restaurant a pass.  From what I could see, it was overpriced Nouvelle Cuisine at the restaurant.

      As far as the beer selection goes, I was already getting free samples, so we chose a less…parsimonious restaurant.

      • The food in the restaurant is…  Interesting.

        Several of the things I’ve had there I don’t care for at all.  Several I love.  I guess that pretty well fits with Stone’s philosophy though, where they’re going to make what they think tastes good, and you can take it or leave it…

        I love the Garlic Cheddar Ruination IPA soup, though…

    • Brad – you still making your own or now that your in beer heaven, just consuming?

      • Of course I’m still making my own…  As good as the beer is out here, there are still things I like about some of my own recipes that I just can’t get anywhere else.  Plus, when our economy collapses and Americans resort to cannibalism, I know that nobody will eat the beer-maker 🙂

  • See, I don’t like Guinness due to it’s bitterness…

    But I love Pale Ales.  GOD do I love them…

    • Well, this is a less bitter stout than Guinness.  But, even for beer drinkers, stout can be an acquired taste.

      All I can say is that this is a smoother, richer, and less bitter stout than Guinness.  But, if you don’t like stout on principle, I don’t think you’ll like the Stone Russian.

      • It isn’t principle, just taste…  I’ll see if I can find a bottle at the local Friar Tuck’s and give it a try.  The Pale Ales of Stone’s…  How do they compare to, say, Boulevard’s Pale Ale?

      • I want to be careful about how I phrase this…I consider Guinness to be rather mildly flavored.  I enjoy Guinness, but it’s not the first thing I’ll reach for, unless I’m looking for something that isn’t filling.  I haven’t had the Stone stouts, but I have no doubt I’d prefer them.

        If you’re looking for another good Imperial stout, Old Rasputin should be widely distributed in CA.

        By the way, Stone Russian is not less bitter than draft Guinness; in fact it’s probably twice as bitter.   But since Imperial stouts have a lot more unfermented sugars than dry stouts, they’re also sweeter.  The sweetness balances the bitterness.  There are also probably differences in the types and amounts of roasted grains used, as well as differences in yeast, that can affect the flavor.

        Yes, I am a complete beer geek.

        • At some point, I had a glass half-filled with Guinness, half with Hard Cider, and I liked that quite nicely…

  • Dale, you should seriously look into homebrewing.  A couple hundred bucks will set you up with everything you need to get your feet wet, and within a year of practice you should be making killer brews for about 15-20 bucks a case.  I made a spiced holiday porter this year that you could have drank with a spoon.  It doesn’t take that long to do, either – I brewed two batches the other day in about 5 hours, including clean-up.  Figure about a half hour to transfer to secondary or even tertiary fermenters, and about 45 minutes to bottle 4 cases (I work in 8 to 10 gallon batches, but over the years I have acquired some more advanced equipment) and you have a hobby which is not only entertaining but damned tasty.

    • On the same note, Dale, living in San Diego you’re close to QUAFF, one of the largest and best homebrew clubs in the nation.  Being part of a club would help you scale the learning curve of homebrewing very quickly.

  • Stone Brewery’s Ruination IPA is simply the best beer made by man on Planet Earth.  It’s also $22 for a 4/pack here in Michigan.

    Once I have my all-grain brewing equipment, Ruination cloning will be my purpose in life. 

  • Let me second the recommendation of Rasputin imperial stout brewed by North Coast  Brewing. Personally, they are my favorite brewery – try the Red Seal Ale!

  • I’ve got a bottle of Sawyer Triple in the fridge for the game today. Nothing like a trip to Stone – before they moved they would give out tasters to anyone on Friday and Saturday when they were open to the public.  Now they make you take the tour… I remember many a Sat. stopping in to fill my growler and have a taster.

    I’m primarily an Arrogant Bastard or Ruination guy… but for health reasons have been trying to stick to the Levitation.

    I can’t believe you didn’t get a growler – refills on the growler are the way to afford a regular glass (or 3 or 4) of Stone.

  • This reminds me, I need to get to the store and get some Pale Ale for the game…

  • From the East here. 

    I would have to say that I favor the brewery’s in the Mid-Atlantic.  My “everyday” Pale Ale would have to be Dogfish Head Shelter Pale or Stoudt’s American Pale Ale (Stoudt’s makes a good Pilsner too).

    I also suggest New England Brewery’s Sea Hag IPA (If you can get it).   I like it, though my expectations may be lowered because it is only sold in cans.

    My local bar also has a few Lagunitas.  I do like to have them once in a while.