Tuesday, 3 December 2013

San Diego 2013: The best laid plans...

Note: this post is from the notebook archive, as it should have been written and posted last July! :)

I've been a fairly regular visitor to San Diego for the past 11 years, having attended a large, annual conference there probably 8 or 9 times in that period. Busy conferences, being as they are, has always meant that the group I was with stayed relatively local to the San Diego Convention Center, and the hotels, which essentially means the Gaslamp District. Not that I should complain, as despite Gaslamp seeming like a tourist hellhole, there's always plenty of places to find decent beer anywhere in San Diego, and a few breweries withing spitting distance. But it was always with a pang of guilt that I never made it a bit further north, to the likes of the Escondido or Miramar areas, which on the map, seem like veritable hubs of brewing activity, even ignoring some of the most talked-about breweries on the west coast.

So it was, earlier this year, that my friend and colleague, Rüdiger, and I began to plan this years trip. Instead of the usual flight to LAX or Houston, followed by a flight directly into San Diego, we planned to rent a car at LAX and drive down to Escondido, to stay there overnight, visit The Brewery most associated with that location, and continue our drive to San Diego the next day.  We'd checked everything online. Should we reserve a table or not? Their booking system suggested it was busy, but not at the times we hoped we'd be there by, so we decided to take a chance.

Thursday, the 4th of July, we arrived at LAX, wrecked after a 9000 kilometer flight. Well, I was, but Rüdiger possesses that rare skill of being able to sleep in a giant cigar tube. Pleasant drive down to Escondido. Checked into Holiday Inn, got some supplies, then off to get cash and take the bus. FIrst problem. I had a few dollars in cash already. Rüdiger had none. The ATM refused both our cards, whether our regular bank cards of credit cards. Shit! No cash! Just enough to get the bus and back, so no problem, we can pay for everything else with credit card.

We got the right bus and, not long after, were standing outside the HQ of the Stone Brewing Company. Finally, after all these years! But it seemed awfully quiet. We snaked our way around to the main entrance, guided by an employee who was having problems getting his swipe card to let him in a side entrance. Nice place. Stone walls guiding us to a leafy entrance, an entrance hall, off of which was the closed store, and then into the main room, with glass walls showing the heart of the brewery on one side, and the other being open to the Stone Gardens. The hostess welcomed us and told us that the Bistro was closed today and that the bar would close at 8pm, with last orders at 7:30. It was 7:15. You might think, dear reader, that we'd made a stupid mistake, visiting such a place on the US national holiday, but nowhere on the website, or their booking system, had it given any such warning. "SHIT!" was my first reaction, followed swiftly by "how many beers should I order in 15 minutes?". Of course, we had to to take the situation as it was, though desperately disappointed. We planted ourselves at the bar, where a handful of punters, or possibly staff, were finishing off beers, and trawled the menu. Despite being a few minutes away from closing down for an early evening, the bar tender was friendly, offering gentle guidance when posed a few questions. We both went for the Smoked Porter.

The main room, complete with gargoyle.
Part of the brewery.
I quite liked the Stone Smoked Porter. Rüdiger did not. A decent level of smoke, with a pronounced bitterness made it interesting for me, but for Rüdiger, it clashed. Perhaps not finely balanced in that regard, but the fullness, the underlying caramel and dark chocolate bite, was hitting the spot for me. Although in fairness, after the journey we'd had, a hell of a lot of beers would have been like the nectar of the Gods!

Stone Smoked Porter.
On to a next round before last orders! Being torn between Cali-Belgique and a RuinTen, the bartender sensibly told us that we could get the Cali anywhere, and the RuinTen on tap was the thing to go for. I duly did so. A big beer in a smaller glass, Stone RuinTen IPA wears its heart on its sleeve. Pineapple chunks (the old sweets/candy from my childhood), pine resin, heavy duty Seville orange marmalade. That's it, as far as I'm concerned, and it worked.

Stone RuinTen IPA.
 And that was it! All our planning to be able to order two beers at the Stone Bistro. But there was always tomorrow. The bartender told us about the brewery tours, and recommended we should get there early, as on a holiday weekend, t could book up quickly. We took it on board, and set off to find something to eat, with about $4 in my pocket. I won't bore you with the details, but it involved one bus ride, a sit at a fastfood restaurant with a view of some pretty crap fireworks, followed by a loooong walk through tramp-infested streets, till we crashed at the hotel.

Next morning, awake bright an early, despite all efforts to sleep longer, we had a large breakfast and drove to Stone again, determined to salvage something from the previous day's disaster. We got there shortly before 10am, and already the tours were full till 1pm. We thought we'd do a little shopping in their store, but due to some power issues, it was not open, resulting in a line of growler-owners seeking refills being let in one at a time. We had a drive ahead of us, so were not inclined to just sit and skull back pints of beer, so we had to settle for a walk though the gardens, before bidding good riddance to the Stone experience. Maybe next time...

The Stone Store. You shall not pass!
Part of Stone Gardens
Bye bye!
Our next appointment, at an outlet mall, was considerably more successful, what with the holiday sales on. I'm not a keen shopper, but that was just great. So, all there was left to do was point the car towards San Diego, where we'd have to start work the next day at 8am. But there was still a list of potential breweries on the way. We had to at least pick one...

1 comment:

Bailey said...

Deleted scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles?

Sounds extremely annoying, but top marks for that bartender.