If size matters — and in beer, it does — Stone Brewing is a San Diego heavyweight.
One of over 150 breweries citywide, Stone has the largest craft brewery in Southern California, and ranks among the 10 top-selling breweries nationwide. Stone has multiple locations across San Diego as well as in two other beer hotspots (Richmond, Va., and Berlin, Germany), and an outpost smack in the middle of Napa Valley wine country. There’s even a Stone Shanghai in the future.
Staunchly committed to “growing up without selling out” since launching in 1996, Stone has cultivated a fan base primarily of hardcore hopheads, thanks to its signature West Coast-style IPA. But with a wide variety of seasonal and special releases that range from ice cream-inspired collaborations to a decade-spanning vertical, Stone appeals to palates of all kinds (except those who seek fizzy yellow beer).
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Anyone planning a craft beer pilgrimage would be remiss to skip Stone’s original location in Escondido, 30 miles north of downtown San Diego. There, the company has crafted more than a taproom. Stone’s World Bistro & Gardens is a colossal testament to San Diego beer and is a destination in itself. From a sprawling outdoor oasis, to the formidable steel-and-granite restaurant with three dozen draft lines and extensive bottle list, this is an impressive operation. (The beers don’t disappoint, either.)
Why It’s Famous
Originally started in San Marcos, Stone custom-built its current Escondido headquarters in 2006 (1999 Citracado Parkway). Just off Highway 78, a.k.a. San Diego’s “Hops Highway,” Stone’s facility has been the cornerstone of the burgeoning North County scene ever since.
Those familiar with the brewery are sure to recognize the scruffy, bearded face of Greg Koch, but he’s only one half of the founding team. Koch, along with Steve Wagner, created Stone over 20 years ago, long before San Diego became the beer mecca it is today.
Its flagship beer, Stone Pale Ale, was discontinued in 2015, but rabid fans requested (and received) the recipe in order to brew it at home. Many more hop-forward beers have taken its place, but favorites like the “Enjoy By” series encourage drinking fresh rather than cellaring.
Stone’s anti-establishment attitude led it to launch Arrogant Brewing (questioning every drinker’s worthiness to imbibe), release a politically charged “ImPeach IPA,” and even take on the big boys of corporate beer in a trademark lawsuit. Aggressively independent and aggressively hopped: That’s the Stone way.
What to Order
Considering Stone’s far-reaching distribution, especially for the beers it brews year-round, start your visit with one of the brewery’s seasonals or special releases, like the Pilot/Experimental series.
In town for Comic-Con? Any wOOtstout you can get is worth trying. Get a flight of whatever’s available to try concurrent years back-to-back. Stone also recently partnered with local favorites Societe Brewing Company to create “The Skedaddler” IPA, an aromatically resinous/tropical-tasting amalgamation of friendship.
Don’t skip the food menu, either. The Impossible Burger could fool even the staunchest carnivore, and the mac & cheese with pancetta is as good as it sounds.
What to Skip
Some of the brewery’s one-offs can get a little esoteric for the casual beer drinker, like the “Give Me Stout or Give Me Death” collaboration with Ardent Craft Ales of Richmond, Va., and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. The “aggressively hopped imperial stout, jam-packed with Virginia raspberries and blackberries” gets a little bogged down with so many ingredients, but be sure to give the other Virginia-brewed beers a try.
Given NOFX frontman Fat Mike’s controversial comments, you can also safely skip the “Punk in Drublic” lager. It’s a shame — because it’s tasty — but not worth supporting. (Stone agrees; it pulled its sponsorship of the multi-city music and beer festival.) Try one of the guest lagers instead.
When to Go
It’s always summertime in San Diego, so come anytime! Every November, San Diego goes even more beer-crazy than usual for San Diego Beer Week. With events galore all over the county, it’s a great time to experience the best of #SDbeer.
Every Thursday means live music as well, and tours of the brewing facility are available daily (but often fill up fast).
Where to Stay
Escondido doesn’t have the lodging options of more central San Diego areas, but the Lakehouse San Marcos is a frequent partner of the facility and close enough to ride-share. There are also plenty of hotel chains nearby, and we’re still holding out hope for the Stone hotel to become reality.
Those crestfallen at Stone’s landlocked location can head due west toward Carlsbad for beachside accommodations and, of course, plenty of craft beer.