In January, The Graduate opened its doors for the Stone Beer Festival, an afternoon-long tasting of 19 beers from Stone Brewing Co. of San Diego County. Beers were three for $5 and ran the gamut from ales to porters to IPA and even included a few barley wines.
It is rumored that Stone founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, met at UC Davis. In 1996 they started Stone Brewing Co., brewing just 400 barrels that year (1 barrel=31 gallons). Last year they lost count at well over 100,000 barrels.
The brewery brews seven year-round beers, including Stone Pale IPA, Stone IPA, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Levitation Ale, Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Arrogant Bastard Ale, and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale. Then there are five annual “special release” beers, including Old Guardian Barley Wine, which comes out in February; Stone Imperial Russian Stout, released in March/April; an Anniversary Ale, released in August at the brewery’s anniversary; and Stone Vertical Epic Ale and Double Bastard Ale, which both come out in the fall around October/November.
Dave Hopwood, the Northern California Sales Representative for Stone Brewery, was on hand at The Graduate for the festival to talk and, of course, drink. “We make beers we like. We don’t care how much we sell,” Dave said plainly. “We go where people want us.”
And that seems to be a lot of places these days. Dave thinks the beer is in about 34 states in the U.S., and the brewery is considering opening a location in Europe because of the demand.
For right now, however, Stone Brewery Co. is content with their 55,000-square-foot facility in Escondido, which also includes a restaurant, the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. The restaurant is the largest purchaser of local, small-farm, organic produce in San Diego County. The 8,500-square-foot facility has a one-acre beer garden and seating capacity for 385. The beer list boasts 32 craft brews, none of which founders Koch and Wagner claim are “industrial adjunct beers (aka fizzy yellow beers).”
The brewery’s following appears to continue to be built on little more than word-of-mouth and social media. More than 12,000 people follow their Twitter tweets and upwards of 5,000 are members on the “Stone Brewery Appreciation Society” Facebook group. A rigorous schedule of beer events at the brewery and the restaurant, and beer festivals around the country also assists efforts.
Stone is very committed to the same high quality in its beers as in the food it serves in the restaurant. Just four ingredients are included in the list of its beers: water, barley, yeast and hops. If a specialty beer has any flavoring, “it’s always natural,” Dave says, “with no preservatives.”
The philosophy of natural, fresh beer with little to no paid marketing seems to be working. In 2009 Beer Advocate Magazine named Stone Brewing Co. number one in their list of the “All-Time Top Breweries on Planet Earth.” The magazine also recognized five of their brews on the top-25 list of “All-Time Top Beers on Planet Earth”: Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Stone Ruination IPA, Stone IPA, Double Bastard Ale and Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Fortunately for beer lovers, The Graduate keeps two of Stone Brewing Co. beers on tap at all times: Arrogant Bastard Ale and the Stone IPA. When asked about which delightful cheesy, fried Graduate dishes worked well with each of these beers, Dave said, “The Arrogant Bastard is like a big zin, so a nice big burger would do.” The Stone IPA, which is Stone’s best-selling beer, is a straight-forward, bitter, spicy beer. “I like to compliment the spice of the Stone IPA with the spiciness of chicken wings.”
Locally in Davis, you can pick up a variety of Stone beers at the Davis Food Co-op , Nugget Markets, and Valley Wine Company. For more information about Stone Brewing Co. and their beers, go to www.stonebrew.com.