A business should practice what they preach. This is true for any type of business, but most important for a brewery. Why a brewery? Because a brewery is the most important type of business of all. Because they make beer.
One a recent trip out to San Diego to visit significant-other-family, I had the opportunity to visit one brewery. The fact that I only go to visit one brewery is a shame. It is also a shame that my selections of Carlsbad Pizza-Port and Lost Abbey were overruled, for the simple matter that “no one had ever heard of these places” despite them being within a 30 minute drive.
So our selection was Stone. Now, a lot of the Aleheads like to pick on Stone. Why? Because picking on Stone is frighteningly easy. And Aleheads are lazy. It would take a lot of knowledge about the brewing industry and the personalities involved to make an insightful criticism of most mild-mannered breweries. Stone on the other had asks, pleads, and begs for it on the very containers which hold their brew.
On Black Friday, we went out to Stone World Bistro and Gardens. It was a beautiful day, and the streets were full of middle-upper class Californians driving SUVs that have never left a paved road. The smog was subtle. And as one could imagine, Stone was overrun with people. At 11:45 pm there was an hour’s wait for seating for lunch. People were standing in line for the 2:00pm tour like it was a rock concert. With all the commotion, would we see any of Stone’s trademark douchebaggery? Would we be treated like scum, unworthy of sampling the pinnacle of brewing that is Stone?
The Stone Brewery is kind of in the middle of nowhere, which sounds impossible in southern CA, but it’s true. It seems like it’s in a business park that fell apart when the real estate market crashed. The only thing else on the street is a twenty story new hospital made of only stainless and glass that it looks like no one ever got around to finishing. Also good to know: there is no sign for the brewery! But there is some equipment out back that gives the place away.
Upon entering, the hostess took our names, and we went back to the outside bar in the gardens. Stone has spent a lot of time and money landscaping the area with native and exotic plants and several water features, along with a lot of nice shady places to have a seat and grab a beer. The habitat was home to a whopping three species of birds.
The tap and bottle lists were pretty good, although there wasn’t anything limited or experimental from Stone. All of the standards and seasonals were there, as well as about 20 guest taps from breweries in the west. On the bottle list, various vintages of some ageable Stone selections like Old Guardian and Imperial Russian Stout, as well as some other goodies from around the globe. Bottle prices were very reasonable, with no markup over a bottleshop.
I had three beers while I was there, A Sublimely Self-righteous Ale, an Oaked Arrogant Bastard, and a Route 78 Scotch Ale (in collaboration w/ Pizza Port Carlsbad and Green Flash). The Miss added a Lost Abbey Red Barn to the sampling list. Above all the the marketing and gimmicks, what really stood out to me at the brewery was the temperature of the beer. It was perfect. Not cold, not warm, just a great cellar temperature to maximize flavor and aroma. Not huge on many people’s list, but a real nice touch. Well done.
As with any brewpub aspiring to the cachet an establishment like Stone has reached, the luxor of the menu matched or possibly exceeded that of the bar list. It was the usual list of organic, seasonal, and artisanal ingredients, all described in loving detail. What was truly surprising was the depth, variety, and quality they were able to deliver. The menu ranged from chicken Tikka Masala, five wild mushroom penne, and duck tacos, each a delight, and each worth the Arrogant Bastard price we paid*. We ate outside, which which was nice, until the table next to us wanted the heat on. That is right, the patio is covered with one industrial outdoor heater per table, which was very important because it was only 65 degrees and sunny. Seriously people? Wear layers!
*Just kidding. Someone else was picking up the tab.
There was only one true offense that the purveyors of Stone were able to mete out. There is not a single gargoyle in the place. Not even a grotesque was in evidence—just a large bas-relief logo etched into one wall and some artfully strewn boulders. What I had imagined, namely a gothic palace with buttresses flying everywhere and a perfusion downspout disguised as a snarling monstrosities (maybe with a few that even spewed forth beer instead of rainwater), was, in actuality a gleaming, polished zen garden of a brewpub, where the wildness of nature harmonized with the hard clean lines of modern industry. All for the best, I suppose. Southern California doesn’t get much rain.
In the end, all of the staff were courteous, if not downright helpful. The waitress was that right amount or perky— confident and attentive, but not annoying. Stone gets top marks for the excellent tap and bottle selection, but misses a couple points on the complete lack of any brewery-only beers. The atmosphere also gets top marks, but misses a couple points on the lack of real gargoyles. If you ever find yourself in the Whale’s Vagina, don’t miss it.