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
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