Friday, April 27, 2012

Adios San Diego!

This weekend marks the kickoff of the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego. This is the second time in only 5 years that the conference has chosen the self titled "America's Finest City" for the premier gathering of all of craft brewers large and small. I am sure many could argue that it is because its "America's Finest (Craft Beer) City". With just one more day left in San Diego, before it was time to head north and back to the mountains, I thought what better time to check back in with some classics: Stone Brewing Co. and San Diego Brewing Co.

Up up and away... running out of room for more tanks at Stone,
America's 11th largest craft brewery in 2011
I first visited Stone's Escondido location 6 years ago while attending my friend Jason's wedding in La Jolla. It was my last stop in San Diego County before getting dropped off at the airport. It was to be my second to last stop this time! "This is becoming a tradition", said Jay as we walked up to the doors.

Last time we had planned ahead and were able to meet up with Mitch Steele, the head of brewing operations at Stone. He is genuinely regarded as one of the friendliest, most welcoming people in an industry filled with good-natured people, and he definitely lived up to that reputation. Last visit included a tour around the brewery and trading of beer goodies in the lab cooler, followed by a few pints in Stone's World Bistro and Gardens. This time Mitch was out of town (but kindly returned my call with his condolences) and I was out of beer to trade anyway so we ended up taking the regular tour followed by the obligatory pints at the pub.

Our knowledgeable guide (who I unfortunately forgot to write down his name) showed us around Southern California's largest brewery. Lots had changed in six years as Stone has been growing at or ahead of the craft brew pace. The 120 barrel brewhouse was the same but there was a lot more of everything else; fermenters, cold storage and packaging equipment. I also learned they use a hop back instead of dry hopping to get extra hop aroma in their beers. It was nice to see all the expansion that had taken place and the tasting room folks were very friendly. We tried all kinds of Stone offerings. Stone is available in 36 states and it's not hard to get many of their beers.  I had no objection to trying them again, always better when fresh at the brewery, along with some more limited releases.

In addition to their own large selection Stone features many other
beer selections from various breweries

Stone Pale Ale - 5.4% A hoppy Pale and my favorite year round beer from them
Smoked Porter - 5.9% Very dark and smoky and also a favorite of mine
IPA - 6.9% very hoppy IPA... they are not ashamed of using a lot of hops here
Arrogant Bastard - 7.2% A bit bigger, a bit darker, and a bit hoppier, and a rounder flavor than the IPA and a classic favorite in beer circles, the name doesn't hurt either
Oaked Bastard - 7.7% Just a hint of oak cuts through all the other flavors, nice balancing act
Levitation Ale - 4.4% I love this flavorful session beer, I can drink it all night. 
Brown? Red? You decide!
Self Righteous Black IPA - 8.7% Very hoppy with a little of the roasty flavor coming through
15th Anniversary Black IPA 10.8% ...just a bit bigger, why not, its your birthday!
TBA - Bear Republic/Firestone Walker/Stone Collaboration brew
Cali-Belgique IPA - Fruity from the yeast, hoppy as Stone likes it

Keep and eye out for their Point Loma brewhouse opening soon, which will feature a 10 barrel brewhouse.  I would not be surprised to see a lot more innovations coming out of Stone once its up and going.
Tucked into a strip mall, my last San Diego County stop
Determined to cross one more brewery off my list I made a quick stop into San Diego Brewing Company on my drive out of town. It was close to where one of my New York friends, Victoria was staying at her brother's, so a nice place to meet for a pint, or sample paddle in this case. The brewery was struggling to keep up with the demand from two restaurants that had been busy and unfortunately just a couple of their 40 taps featured their own beers but I heard they are in the middle of an off site expansion that will allow them to keep up with demand and get more creative with their own brews. I tried what they had on tap though and look forward to stopping in on my next trip to see how the new brewery shapes up.

Nicole guided us through the beers available at San Diego Brewing Co.

El Hefe - Hefeweizen - 4.5%, light golden wheat beer
Grantville Gold - 4.5% Another light beer for those not ready for bigger flavors
San Diego Amber - 4.5%  
80 Shilling Scotch Ale - 5.5% and my favorite
Choco Latte Porter on Nitro - 7% hint of chocolate, med body, sweet boozy porter
Callahan's (sister restaurant) Blueberry Wheat - Light and spritzy, a touch sweet and quite fruity

Driving north was sad and exciting. Goodbyes to a great brew scene, friends and sunny beaches to see some family, more breweries, the sunny mountains and more friends... ok that does not sound that bad, here we go!

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