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