Stone Brewing is not a meek, humble beermaker. Their labels prominently feature leering gargoyles, often holding flagons or casks of beer, and their marketing slogans draw a clear line in the sand when it comes to malt beverages.
"It's not too expensive, you're just too cheap"
"Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies" (I bought a pint glass with this on it)
Stone Brewing Co. doesn't seek to brew beers for the masses; instead, they cater to the discerning consumer whose elevated palate doesn't mind a little bitterness and who enjoys robust, in-your-face flavor. Of course, you need balance too, so Stone beers tend to have, on average, a little higher ABV.
Based in Escondido, CA, Stone is SoCal's largest brewery and is one of the 10 largest craft brewers in the US. It is very highly rated on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, the latter of which displays an overall score of 100 for Stone. Not bad, though I wouldn't be surprised if marketing and mystique factored into the tally just a little bit.
Because, let's be honest, beer isn't just about quality. Take Corona for instance: by capitalizing on the concept of sandy beaches and getting away from it all, they have tricked people into believing that their beer is more than just another generic macro with more exotic name. Stone, however, is far more than lime wedges and flip-flops. They talk a big game, to be sure, but they more than back it up with their products.
With names like Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard, and Sublimely Self-Righteous, Stone isn't afraid to set the beer bar quite high, not caring that that may cause problems for less-experiences drinkers like the younger me. Wanting to expand my horizons, I came upon Double Bastard in the walk-in beer cave at a Big Red Liquors while on vacation.
I mean, how can you pass on a brew with the following printed on the bottle:
This is one lacerative muther of an ale. It is unequivocally certain that your feeble palate is grossly inadequate and thus undeserving of this liquid glory...and those around you would have little desire to listen to your resultant whimpering. Instead, you slackjawed gaping gobemouche, slink away to that pedestrian product that lures agog the great unwashed with the shiny happy imagery of its silly broadcast propaganda. You know, the one that offers no challenge, yet works very, very hard to imbue the foolhardy with the absurd notion that they are exercising ‘independent’ thought, or attempts to convey the perception it is in some way ‘authentic’ or ‘original.’ It’s that one that makes you feel safe and delectates you into basking in the warm, fuzzy, and befuddled glow of your own nescience. Why so many allow themselves to be led by the nose lacks plausible explanation. Perhaps you have been so lulled by the siren song of ignorance that you don’t even notice your white-knuckle grip on it. You feel bold and unique, but alas are nothing but sheep, willingly being herded to and fro. If you think you are being piqued in this text, it is nothing when compared to the insults we are all asked to swallow streaming forth from our televisions and computers. Truth be told, you are being coddled into believing you are special or unique by ethically challenged “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” marketers who layer (upon layer) imagined attributes specifically engineered to lead you by the nose. Should you decide to abdicate your ability to make decisions for yourself, then you are perhaps deserving of the pabulum they serve. Double Bastard Ale calls out the garrulous caitiffs who perpetrate the aforementioned atrocities and demands retribution for their outrageously conniving, intentionally misleading, blatantly masturbatory and fallacious ad campaigns. We demand the unmitigated, transparent truth. We demand forthright honesty. We want justice! Call ‘em out and line ‘em up against the wall... NOW.
How awesome is that? But how dare they call me out! Yet, after only a few sips, it became wholly evident that I was indeed unworthy. It wasn't until a couple years later than my taste had developed to the point that I was able to fully experience and appreciate the transcendent greatness of DB.
If you are ever in the San Diego area, a trip to 1999 Citracado Parkway in Escondido is a must, even if you're not a beer drinker. That's because Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens is just a phenomenal place to relax and enjoy a fantastic meal. As you arrive in the parking lot, a rich scent not unlike rising dough greets you and beckons you down a shaded path surrounded by, of course, stones.
After passing through heavy wood doors outfitted with wrought-iron handles, you enter the main restaurant, which is filled with chatter from guests and the burbling of water features. I chose an outdoor seat on patio, where the overhead heat lamps removed the chill from the deepening evening.
My server was Cali to the core, and we exchanged several "dudes" and "bros" over the course of the meal. I went with the Hemp-Seed Pretzels as an appetizer and, even though they arrived very late, both the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA stone-ground mustard and the jalapeno cheese were more than enough to excuse the tardiness. Truth be told, I was too caught up with chilling in the SoCal gloaming to care about ticket times.
My entree was the Spicy Almond-Crusted Tilapia, which did not disappoint. The stir-fried green beans were decent, but the toasted barley-quinoa tabouleh was excellent. And the lime-infused crushed almonds in which the fish was pan-roasted? Er. Mer. Gerd! It all really hit the spot after my high-carb starter.
I suppose I should get back to the beers now, eh? Wanting to try something I wasn't able to find at home, and to coordinate with my meal, I began with a Cali-Belgique IPA. I have to say that I wasn't really a fan. The hoppy nose was wonderful, but the esters and phenols from the Belgian yeast competed with the hop flavors on my palate. The beer itself was clean and crisp, and I can see how some would enjoy it, but I was ready to move on.
Next, I opted for aforementioned Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA and my faith was restored. Dark, bitter (90 IBUs), and boozy (8.7%) but with a distinctly floral/citrus aroma from the Amarillo hops, this was a beer I could get used to. I have tried a few black IPAs in my day, even brewed one of my own, but SSR sets the standard in this increasingly-popular style. Unfortunately, it was served in just a 10oz portion, so it was gone far too soon.
Now, I had told myself that I'd only try beers brewed on-site (when in Stone, drink as the Stone-ans, right?), but my server insisted that I go with Russian River's Pliny the Elder. He told me that Pliny was California gold and that passing on the opportunity to prospect for it would be a crime against cerevisaphiles everywhere.
Brewed in a limited supply, Pliny, packed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe, is hop-head's dream. The beer bears the color of a freshly-minted penny and has an impeccable balance of malt and alcohol to complement the hops. The fresh pine, citrus, and floral aroma gives way to equally complex notes of flavor and bitterness that linger nicely.
Overall, my trip to Stone was a phenomenal experience and it was only with reluctance that I paid my tab and left. But while you can't get the food outside of the bistro, you can certainly find many of Stone's beers all across the country. Now go grab some...that is, if you feel you're deserving of the liquid glory.
Stone Pale Ale, Arrogant Bastard, Ruination IPA, Stone Smoked Porter
The beers listed immediately above are available year-round and in most liquor stores. Sublimely Self-Righteous is also available nationwide, but likely in a smaller selection of stores. Cali-Belgique is a bit more rare, but is avaiable. Hell, just use Stone's beer finder. As for Pliny, good luck; RR only distributes to 3 states (OR, CO, and PA) outside of Cali. It might just be worth the trip though.
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Filed under: Craft Beer