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San Marcos

October, 1999

By Bobby Bush

It has been four long years since my last visit to southern Southern California. The brewery terrain had changed quite a bit in San Diego, to the positive, as my research revealed. With three days of business meetings to work into my beer schedule, I had to plan carefully. To avoid a change of plane in route and to facilitate a later trip (ah-oh, double booking!), I departed Charlotte for Los Angeles.

Rental car beneath these flabby thighs, I pointed her south, hurrying to avoid the afternoon traffic hour which starts about 2:00 p.m. and runs until at least 8:00. Believe it or not, I had 20 brewpubs in my sights for this trip. Hey, I may not get back again for a while. Whadda ya expect?

I hadn’t even pulled my stool away from the bar at San Marcos Brewery & Grill before I inquired of the bartender, “You have the Arrogant Bastard Ale, don’t you?” He politely corrected my error. That particular beer was the invention of another San Marcos brewery, a micro named Stone Brewing Company, just a few miles east. Definitely disappointed that my introduction to the makers of the Bastard would be delayed at best, I set to the matter at hand.

Lunch and beer were right smack in front of me. San Marcos, open since 1994 in this suburban community 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, had a line-up of six beers to try. The tricycle Premium was golden, thin and tasty at 5% abv, a bit high for your typical beginner’s brew. Oktoberfest, an out-of-style ale, also packed heat at 7%. This malty beer, which departed with a sting, was served only in 12 ounce portions. Just out, Amber was malty sweet, very drinkable. On cask, ESB’s medium body was extremely smooth, leaving a welcome hoppy finish, while Oatmeal Stout, which was more brown than black in color, was also medium bodied with a distinctive mocha taste. All were served at perfect drinking temperature.

As I gazed around the room, it struck me that this was a typical California brewpub. Big, airy with overhead fans whirling above, no smoking (state law), an outdoor patio and a shopping center setting, in any other state San Marcos would be considered fantastic. Here, the competition is tougher.

With directions in hand and good intentions in mind, I lit out for the other side of town. My trusty vehicle circled the industrial complex twice before locating the intended prey. The sign on the blackened window proclaimed tour availability only on Fridays and Saturdays. This being Tuesday, I eased the door open, heart pounding with great trepidation. One foot inside, I began to plead my case. The Celebrator Beer News business card must have helped for I was quickly introduced to Stone Brewing head brewer Steve Wagner. While we walked through the brewery, which was founded in 1996, Steve talked about his 30 barrel brewhouse and his beer. Cases of bottled beer and kegs waiting for re-fill were stacked neatly in one corner. Six fermenters, ranging in size from 30 barrels to 120, were in another.

As I found out later while tasting beer from the 22 ounce bottles given to me when I left (a bribe to leave?), Stone Pale Ale is medium bodied and neatly balanced, a “California interpretation of the classic British pale ale style.” Dry hopped for two weeks and pushing 7% abv, Stone India Pale Ale is hoppy to all six senses. A limited edition 3rd Anniversary IPA, with three times the normal hops bill, is almost repugnantly hoppy, but a bold marketing move nonetheless. Stone Smoked Porter, with coffee and chocolate tones, is dark, rich and complex from peat-smoked malt. Their best seller, Arrogant Bastard is an aggressive, overtly hopped but somewhat balanced American Brown Ale (in my opinion) that demands optimum attention. The brew crew was busy bottling commemorative three-plus liter jeroboam grolsch-topped bottles, a year end, limited collectors issue. Steve was planning a keg-only barleywine for his winter seasonal.

On the strength of Arrogant Bastard’s image (“You’re Not Worthy” adorns each bottle) and their tombstone/gargoyle point-of-purchase displays, Stone Brewing Company’s popularity has almost been overwhelming. Over 3000 people attended their 3rd Anniversary parking lot party. There’s plenty of blue sky for Stone Brewing in the forecast.

Stop in at www.stonebrew.com for a virtual tour. Thanks for the beer, guys.

We'll pause next at Pizza Port.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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