Tuesday, 27 May 2014

California day three (part two)

We don't linger long in Monkey Paw. Just long enough to down four samplers and a cheese steak.

For the first time I'm heading out of the city. Our final destination is the main Stone brewery in Escondido. We have to drive virtually past the front door of another brewery, Societe. It seems silly not to drop in.

The location isn't the most exotic: a light industrial estate in a northern San Diego suburb. It's tucked away around the back, in a dull but functional single-storey building.

This is very much a brewery with a sampling room attached, rather than a pub brewery. Its kit is the largest I've seen so far and occupies most of the building, with just a slice at the front reserved for drinkers.

The number of samplers on a set has been different at every place so far today: 5 at Coronado, 4 at Monkey Paw, 2 here. Isn't there any industry standard for this sort of thing? Two hardly seems a set. So I get another when I've finished the first.

Like most of the places I've been in San Diego, the majority of the punters are young. Averaging about half my age, I'd guess. Does that make me the equivalent of two customers? Given the amount of beer I drink, it probably does.

The Imperial Stout is really good. As is the Dry Stout. Grant tells me the latter has won a medal. Or was it a few?

One corner is walled off and through a window I can see rack upon rack of oak barrels, all new judging by the honey tone of the staves. There are quite a lot of them.

"They're being patient." Grant tells me. "None of their barrel-aged beers have been released yet. Just a few teaser samples."

Samplers sampled, we're soon back on the road north to Escondido. There's no sign of the fire from the freeway. As we near Stone, there's still none.

We arrive without seeing a single burnt blade of grass. There are a few odd things about the brewery. Most notably there being no sign of any kind on its exterior. Not even the name.

Everything looks so normal, it's hard to believe that the fire came so close. The only hint is a slight smell of smoke. They must have been cleaning like crazy because I know it was full of smoke and ash yesterday.

Mitch is still in an all-day sales meeting (lucky him) and another member of the brewing staff shows us around. It's ginormous compared to the other breweries I've seen. The two 120-barrel brewhouses working in parallel churn out more than 200,000 US barrels a year. The building is crammed full of towering conical fermenters standing shoulder to shoulder. A bit like that terracotta army, but with less elbow room.

Halfway through Mitch turns up and finishes the tour. I'm impressed by the number of firkins lying around. They must do a reasonable amount of cask beer. Come to think of it, I did spot half a dozen firkins perched on the bar on the way in.

Packaging is in another building of about the same size. I'm intrigued by the automatic keg washer. Finally a piece of brewing equipment I've had professional contact with.

"It looks a lot less work than the one I used at Holes."

A highly skilled job, keg-washing used to be. Well, highly knackering. Especially lugging those 100 litre kegs around after they had been filled.

There's something weirdly fascinating about the machine that drops bottles into a case, folds the top shut then arranges the cases on a pallet.

"That's one of the machines we have the most trouble with." Mitch remarks.

The book signing is in the garden, where there are still traces of ash. It's pretty quiet. The fire yesterday has deterred drinkers. It's much quieter than a normal Friday.

I get to meet Steve Wagner, one of the owners, who seems a really nice bloke. We have a nice chat, while I shift a few books to the staff. Me and the bloke who runs the lab have an interesting* about beer analyses. He analysed lots of IPAs as part if the research for Mitch's IPA book.

"I'd been looking for regional variations in American IPAs. There are none." Mitch tells me.

At 6 pm Mitch drives me back down to San Diego where we're doing a radio show on 94/9, a rock station. It turns out me and Mitch have similar tastes in music, in particular a liking for sixties garage punk.

The show is great fun, with a pair of really funny guys presenting it. The off-air bits are even funnier than those broadcast. Though not all suitable for broadcasting, I'll admit. And we get to drink beer as part of the show. What's not to like?

Mitch drops me back at my hotel about 21:00. It's been another full and enjoyable day. Just one full day left, but two more events.

* For me and him, but probably no-one else.

Societe Brewing Company
8262 Clairemont Mesa Blvd,
San Diego, CA 92111.
Tel: +31 858 598-5409

Stone Brewing Co.
1999 Citracado Pkwy,
Escondido, CA 92029.
Tel: +1 760-471-4999

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