Stone Sour Fest – Escondido, California USA

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Jul 25th, 2008
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Fate smiled upon me.

Last Sunday I had the good fortune to find myself on the road between Los Angeles and San Diego. I was in LA for a friend’s wedding, and turning the trip into a long weekend with a couple of days in San Diego sounded like a good idea.

I hadn’t planned on including any beer excursions on this trip. Oh, yes, of course, I had done my homework and had contingency plans for beer … I ALWAYS have a contingency plan that involves beer … but honestly, that plan was just a contingency.

The wedding was in Manhattan Beach, just a couple of miles south of LAX airport, and one of my contingency plans found me at the Manhattan Beach Brewing Company on Friday afternoon. Alas, to say that the beer was uninspiring would be an understatement. At least the porter was drinkable enough to merit a pint after the sampler. But it’s kind of sad to say that the soft pretzel was the best offering on the bar menu.

After that less than stellar experience, I figured that I’d spare my wife from any more brewpub visits on the trip. But as I was driving down I-5, with my wife asleep in the passenger seat, I thought about Stone Ruination IPA. I don’t get to drink it very often, but I figured I could at least pick some up at a package store in the San Diego area, and enjoy it later on the beach.

By the time we got to Oceanside, the thirst was driving me crazy. I was about to tell my wife about the purple gargoyles, but she would see them soon enough…

I knew that the Stone World Bistro was about a 15 to 20 mile detour inland, and I had seen so many great reviews of this out-of-the-way establishment … how could I let this opportunity pass me by?

The GPS was already programmed with its new destination coordinates by the time my wife woke up from her nap, and she acquiesced to yet another brewpub lunch stop.

The GPS was a little bit off in finding the exact location of the brewery, but the smell of the hops, and an extremely strong beer magnet steered us into the brewery on auto-pilot.

There was a 45 minute wait for a table, which seemed like a good opportunity to sample a beer or two at the bar.

Then I noticed the green wristbands. Something was going on at the outside bar.
The Second Annual Stone Sour Fest.

30+ lambics and mostly Belgian style sour beers on draft … and another 30+ in bottles?

At this point, I figure that my wife is going to think that it was not just a spur of the moment decision that led me to the Stone World Bistro that afternoon. In fact, she’s probably figuring that I somehow convinced my friend to have his wedding that weekend. (Not true … if it were, I would have made sure that he and some other friends were with us at Stone.)

As I’m already quite familiar with the Belgian lambics, I mostly stuck to trying American craft beer offerings. Valley Brewing had a strong sour, their Grand Cru, that was pretty awesome. Another standout was an American lambic that was a collaboration between Lost Abbey and the brewmasters from Avery and Dogfish Head (among others) which was very nice, I believe they called it the Isabelle Proximus.

I also tried a few that weren’t so great. So I have to admit, I couldn’t stay away from the Rodenbach Grand Cru, which was the most satisfying sour beer of the afternoon. Zotezuur was also very nice.

I found it quite interesting that Stone would host this event, when they didn’t have a single beer included in the festival. I couldn’t leave without sampling at least one Stone beer fresh on tap … so I had the Cali-Belgique IPA, which is a style that I’d really like to see in Belgium. The mix of flavors is fantastic, just think of a richer (maltier than Westmalle) tripel with a heavy hop infusion. 21st Amendment in San Francisco does an occasional Double Tripel IPA as a seasonal, but Stone’s is hoppier, and was awesome with lunch. While I love Belgian beer, one thing that is missing is a truly hoppy Belgian beer.

I wish I had been better prepared with luggage that could handle taking some back to the east coast. But alas, beer doesn’t travel well in a garment bag. So for take away, I settled on a six of Ruination and 2 big bottles of the Stone 12th Anniversary Ale … a bitter chocolate oatmeal stout.
Stone Ruination Ale is always a treat. But I really enjoyed the anniversary beer … while it had some hops, it used bitter chocolate as its primary bittering agent, and it was a pretty bitter stout.

Now comes the challenging part … working out the logistics to get a contingent from the World Drinking Tour to Escondido, California.

Actually, the bigger challenge would be getting them to leave.

The Cali-Belgique IPA that I enjoyed with lunch reminded me very much of the Westvleteren Blond. It’s a constant debate that several of us have … which is better, the Westvleteren Blond or the Westvleteren 12? When given the opportunity, I usually opt for a 60% to 40% split of rounds favoring the 12 over the blond. Stone’s Cali-Belgique IPA was like a stronger version of the Westvleteren Blond … no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

As I sipped the Cali-Belgique IPA, looking out over Stone World Bistro’s garden area, I couldn’t help but think of similarities between this beer mecca and the In de Vrede Cafe in Westvleteren. I could imagine Keef wanting to pitch a tent and simply live in the garden area. I wonder if they’d let him fish in the koi pond? If so, I suspect he’ll pass on his fishing club’s trip to France next year …

There’s no doubt, Stone is world class. And while the Stone Sour Fest was great … I look forward to a future visit where I can enjoy an afternoon and evening sticking only to the Stone brews.