"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Stone

This is a continuation of the post titled Beer Not in Colorado: Ballast Point.  You’d be a fool not to read that post first.
Demons, dictators, and solar explosions: the plot (in its entirety) of Michael Bay’s next movie?  Nay, I speak of the respective mascots of three of SoCal’s more eminent breweries:  Stone Brewing Co., Iron Fist Brewing Co., and Green Flash Brewing Co.
Stone is (and I definitely intend the pun) a monolith in the craft brewing world.  In my mind, the giants of craft beer are equally distributed across the nation.  The East has Dogfish Head, the middle part of the nation has New Belgium, and Stone from Escondido, rounds out the West coast.  Other people might include Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Brooklyn Brewery, and Boston Beer (AKA Sam Adams) in that fray as well but, no matter how you rank them, there is no denying that Stone is way up there in the hierarchy.  And I’ve never really liked them.
There is a relatively short list of categories that breweries across America might fit into in regards to public image.  Some, like New Belgium and Dogfish Head, present themselves as whimsical hippies that embrace personal expression, experimentation, and togetherness.  Others, like Boston Beer, emphasize traditional brewing methods and really try to class up their advertisements with business-casual attire and professionally staged photo shoots.  Stone is something else entirely.  With beers named Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and with mottos like “You’re not worthy” and “Fizzy yellow Beer is for wussies,” Stone presents itself as a bunch of unabashed pricks.
Furthermore, with their gargoyle mascot and their merchandise that comes in several shades of black, Stone could be personified by that greasy, military-jacketed kid who sits in the back of Algebra class as he fingers his incalculable facial piercings and writes “Slayer” over and over again on the back of his notebook.  Stone is the metal-head Goth of the craft beer world.  Stone doesn’t care what you think of it.  Stone thinks you’re a poser.  You just don’t get Stone’s pain.  Stone is going to turn his music up loud and draw Satanic imagery on his arm to piss off his parents.  That’s right, Stone is hardcore. 
Wait a minute.  What’s this place with a pretty, pretty tunnel of pink wisteria flowers leading to the door? 

 Much the same way I imagine that Marilyn Manson brews a cup of Earl Grey tea and snuggles up with a robe and a good book when he’s not “on,” so, too, is Stone’s demonic reputation tarnished when you visit it at home.  With an acres-large beer garden complete with koi ponds, bamboo, waterfalls, and private grottos, Stone is a Zen garden, not a death metal factory.  You wouldn’t come here to bang your head, you’d come here to do yoga. 
The first beer I ordered—OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV)—I had in the restaurant area of the brewery.  With floor-to-ceiling windows on one side showcasing the beer garden and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other side showcasing Stone’s massive brewing operation, the inside of Stone is equally impressive as the outside. 

OAKED Bastard, an American strong ale, is the oak-aged version of Stone’s flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale.  It is an impenetrable amber in color as if the glass were not clear but a deep shade of slightly frosted red.  For a brewery that revels in the fact that they make strong beers for strong constitutions, the aroma is surprisingly subdued with only a hint of hops.  The hops, however, strike the palate quickly after the first swallow.  Originally, I couldn’t detect any oaken flavors or scents but, as the beer warmed, they became a slightly more apparent.  Still, I might as well have been un-oaked Arrogant Bastard for the minute difference the oak made. 

OAKED Arrogant Bastard
Stone has this to say about OAKED Arrogant Bastard: “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.”  Okay, dude, I get it; you’re totally badass.  You make the best beer in the world and if anybody fails to realize this profound truth then it is their own damn fault.  Truth is, though, Stone is right; I really didn’t like it all that much.  No, it’s not because it’s too “aggressive” or that I lack “sophistication,” it’s just not that great.  It leaves a leathery taste in the mouth and it’s too malty for my taste.  It’s not bad but it’s not great and I just can’t imagine picking Bastard over another beer in any given situation.  I also can’t imagine why Stone made this beer their flagship when Stone IPA and Ruination IPA—both superior beers—are in their lineup.  I guess when you have a funny name like “Arrogant Bastard” people will buy it regardless of how it tastes.  “Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better,” says Stone to the fans of macro-breweries like Budweiser and Miller.  Take a look at yourselves, Stone, for you are teetering on the edge of hypocrisy.  Your ad campaign (though, admittedly, probably not in the millions) reeks of insecurity.  Just because you tell us your beer tastes good and just because your beers exude confidence doesn’t make it true.  Focus on the beer and not how you advertise it. 

In spite of the evil ads, the brewery grounds are decidedly Eden-esque and expansive.  It had rained earlier and much of the garden was flooded yet even with so much roped off it was still vast.  We headed to a secluded corner surrounded on all sides by vines and flower and plopped down next to a gigantic stone slab that served as a table.  Meditative music played, the sweet smell of flowers wafted, I had another glass of beer, and the world was at peace.  This time I had Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (8.7% ABV), a deep, dark brown beer with an off-white head.  Nicole tasted the roasted malts and hops on the tongue while I felt it at the back of the mouth.  It may have been my surroundings but I could have sworn that Self-Righteous had a distinct flowery smell.  Maybe it's because Self-Righteous is a better beer or perhaps my surroundings had me in a state of inner-peace but I'm more forgiving in my assessment of this beer than I am of OAKED Arrogant Bastard.           
Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Not a bad place to have a beer
Stone leaves me with conflicted feelings.  I hate their ad campaign, I love their brewery, and their beers range from so-so to great.  Like the discrepancy between their hellish mascot and their heavenly garden, my opinion of Stone is a ball of contradiction.  I’m going to cop-out and not say whether or not Stone is brewery worthy of your time.  Make your own opinion because mine is too convoluted. 

We finished up our drinks, admired the garden one last time, and headed to Iron Fist and Green Flash.
Check back soon.  More to come.

A couple of months before we left on our spring break adventure, we sat on a chairlift and made our way to the top of Storm Peak. As we hid our faces from the cold wind, we chatted with a guy that was visiting from San Diego. We picked his brain about the breweries in San Diego that we should visit. He told us that we had to visit Stone; he said it had a great atmosphere. In my mind, I was expecting the atmosphere of other breweries that we have been to. I envisioned a large bar, lots of tables, some hop inspired art, merchandise lining the walls, mash tuns, fermentation tanks, and lots of beer.
We drove up Stone, it looked like an office building. I had to check the signs in the parking lot telling people that the parking spaces were for Stone customers only. As we walked up to the entrance we were greeted a gray-black stone pathway that was lined with large gray-black boulders and covered with a canopy of fragrant, flowered vines. The doors were large wooden doors that made me feel like I was entering a castle. Once inside, we were surrounded by bamboo shoots, waterfalls that trickled down boulders, and large expanses of glass windows that showcased the outdoor bar and gardens. It really felt like they were bringing nature inside. Of course, they had a large bar complete with a metal contraption that held the tap pulls of everything that was currently on tap. We also had a nice view of the brewing equipment and the tours flowing through.
I opted for the Stone Cola in place of a beer. They had their own root beer and a couple of other sodas. The cola was “spicy” as the waitress had described. But it wasn’t a hot spice, but more like the spice that you feel when you eat ginger. The cola had an interesting flavor that I can’t really describe. Even though we had eaten a huge breakfast at the Hash House, I was ready for a snack. I chose the large soft pretzel and Chris ordered the beer cheese soup, one of his favorites that I will someday learn to make. I was expecting a traditional large pretzel, the kind you would find served with some spicy mustard at a German beer fest. But instead, I was greeted with three sweet twists of fried deliciousness that must be related to the doughnut. It was wonderful. As I write this, the after dinner munchies are kicking in and I wish I had some of those pretzels right now. Chris enjoyed his beer cheese soup that was made with sharp cheddar and Ruination IPA Both gave it a powerful flavor. But, it still doesn’t rival the beer cheese soup from Austin’s American Grill in Fort Collins that uses Colorado’s own Fat Tire beer.
Before leaving Stone, we ventured into the outdoor bar, patio, and garden. Walking around the outdoor area gave me ideas for the backyard that I want to have someday. As we sat underneath the flowering vines, I felt so peaceful and relaxed. The massive stone tables which seemed so simple were dug up when they built the brewery (or so says some guy that was ruining my Zen moment with talk about zombies and other odd conversation). I could have spent all day in the gardens, but it was starting to get crowded and I was getting dirty looks from some frat boys as I tried to take pictures of the area that served as a table, fire pit, waterfall, and koi pond. They were obviously just there for the beer and couldn’t appreciate the natural beauty that surrounded them.

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