Wednesday 23 July 2014

Stone Tap Room, San Diego (not Berlin)

My annual trip to San Diego had a new target this year, the new Stone Brewing Tap Room on 795 J Street, within spitting distance of Petco Park, and just beyond spitting distance of our hotel. Given that trips out to Escondido have never been on the cards (apart from last year's ill-fated visit), it was great to learn of this new venue close to the heart of San Diego, supporting the Liberty Station venue just to the north of San Diego city proper.

The Tap Room is set off the street, in a recently restored, attractive 1927 Simon Levi Company building, shared with a restaurant on the other side of the foyer. As with all Stone bars and restaurants, there's a slightly industrial feel, which I like. It's classy and understated, seemingly in contrast with their almost Messianic marketing, and the same goes for their two other locations I've visited. With just a few tables, a bar and a wall with merchandise, it's an intimate kind of surrounding, and had a chilled atmosphere.

Our small group arrived shortly after 8pm, with a bit of a hunger and thirst from working at a conference in the SDCC. First a beer! There's quite a choice, many of which are available in bottle form in Europe, so straight into the fray.

At a mere 4.5% ABV, Stone's Go To IPA is almost an oddity compared to the rest of their range. Intended to be a "session IPA" that delivers the hop levels we all know and love from Stone, but at a strength you can have two of. Well, not that strength has ever stopped me having two if I liked it!
Big, clean grapefruit and lemon aroma, backed up with freshly mown grass and herbs. Lovely fruity backbone, with notes of old-fashioned pear drop candy and sorbet kicks. It finishes with an assertive grapefruit sorbet finish, somehow gentle by stone standards, but nicely rounding it off. Certainly a beer one could have more than two of!

Stone Go To IPA
The menu here is thankfully short, looking a tad healthier than what we'd been eating to date in San Diego. Although having said that, the spicy Thai curry chicken flatbread that I ordered , which to my mind was a pizza, was quite large and definitely filled me up, as well as giving me a good sweat. Went well with the Go To too.

While pondering on what to drink next, the right side of the board was a real draw, featuring seasonals and one-off brews that's I'd have been stupid not to try.

The Stone Spotlight Series (auto-corrected on my phone to Schöne Spotlight Series) is a nice idea, allowing the creative juices to flow amongst Stone staff. The first winner and release from this internal competition is Spröcketbier (that's definitely a metal umlaut there), a Black Rye Kölsch-style beer using carafa malt to get the colour and more hops than a true Kölsch has any right to.

At 5.4% and 40 IBUs, it's by no means a monster, and indeed, the auto-correct had it right. Sehr schön. Roasted malt and light coffee aroma, backed with a sweetness suggesting dried fruits, prunes, and a touch of grass. I'm beginning to think Stone should be doing more of these sub-6%, "low" IBU beers, as Spröcket was a revelation of easy drinkability. Creamy, with dark caramel, a light roasty/toasty bite, meshed with a grassiness and a touch of spice that lightens it. It leans towards a porter, really, so I would not have been able to tell if it had been lagered, but whatever it is, it's a fine tasty beer, and another one I'd happily have had several of.

Stone Spröcketbier
Having recently brewed my own Saison for the first time, I had to try Stone's take. The Stone Saison comes in at 6.3%. It's got a light, sweet vinousness nose, reminiscent of a sweet dessert wine, like a Gewürztraminer. With a sweetish lemon and lime overtone, on top of a biscuit and fruity base redolent of lychee, and just a nip of grapefruit. An earthy, yeasty trace runs through all of this, delivering a satisfying, hearty beer. Another like from me.

Stone Saison
The main problem with this place on a week day, is that it closes at 10pm, which put a bit of pressure on the drinking pleasure. So with limited time, and not neing sure if we'd get back again, what with our overly full confernece schedule, it had to be the W00tStout 2.0. Our own Ian Bergin had mentioned this in a tween the week before I left for San Diego, and having looked at the Stone website, it said it would be available soon. That soon was now!

W00tStout 2.0 comes in at 13%. Bound to be a heavy hitter. First thought:  Woah! It exudes masses of dark fruits, molasses and vanilla. "Oily as f***", I wrote. As it goes down, it's like melted dark chocolate, with oak and vanilla. Long roasted bitterness, but predominantly heavy caramel, cut with an alcohol warmth. Really quite wonderful.

W00tStout 2.0
A couple of days after returning to Germany, they finally announced their Berlin location. I'm not sure what to make of it (especially the crowd-sourcing), but the selfish side of me is hopeful for beers like this fresh on my doorstep (or as close as be damned).