Founded in 1996 in San Marcos, CA, Stone Brewing is one of the heavy hitters in the San Diego craft beer scene–for that matter, it’s a heavy hitter nationally, where it ranks as the ninth largest craft brewer.
There has been a lot of change at Stone recently. In September 2015, co-founder and CEO Greg Koch stepped down to assume the executive chairman role, denying that the move presaged a sale. In June 2016, legendary brew master Mitch Steele left the company to start his own brewery; in early October, “Dr.” Bill Sysak left his role as Stone’s “beer ambassador” to start up Wild Barrel Brewing Co. in San Marcos (here’s an article about that). Recently Stone announced that it is building an upscale hotel in Escondido, and a new brewery in Virginia opened earlier this year. In October, Stone laid off 60 people (5% of its workforce) due to slower than expected growth in national markets. (Here’s an article about that, too.)
Despite all that change, Stone continues to produce excellent–and consistent–beer. Beer Advocate‘s readers were not far wrong to consider Stone the “All Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” in 2014. Headquartered in Escondido, CA, with several locations throughout San Diego county including the Escondido and Liberty Station World Bistros plus tasting rooms/company stores in Oceanside, at PetCo Park, at the San Diego International Airport, on J Street and on Kettner. (They also have locations in Pasadena, CA, in Richmond, VA, and in Berlin, Germany.)
The Stone World Bistro and Gardens in the Liberty Station area of San Diego is a lovely spot. It is huge, with a comfortable restaurant and hip bar area–not to mention two bocce ball courts! The outdoor area where we sat is welcoming and relaxing, with its own bar, a large koi pond, abundant heaters for cooler nights and an altogether charming atmosphere. The only possible complaint is that it is directly on the flight path of planes departing San Diego International Airport (less than 2000 feet away; fortunately, departures are not that frequent at most times of day). Parking is a scattered about, but if you are prepared to walk for a few minutes you’ll be fine. Walking around Liberty Station is no burden anyway since it is a beautiful setting and there are lots of cool little businesses to check out. Dinner at Stone followed by a movie at The Lot is an excellent date night combo.
For our date night dinner we each had a different Meatless Monday special. Both were good. In my case, the curried vegetables were tasty (served with the basmati rice on top instead of underneath–“twist” on the traditional presentation, I suppose, though I didn’t see the point of that). There could have been a bit more curry sauce but the veggies were fresh, abundant and cooked well. Sarah had the eggplant involtini and thought the red sauce was perfect. A side of crusty bread completed the meal nicely, though I was surprised they charged extra for it since many places offer bread for free.
We each had a flight of four 4-oz samplers of Stone beer. I stuck to beers produced at the Liberty Station location; she didn’t restrict herself. Mostly we enjoyed them, though as it turns out there are other Stone beers we like better than the ones we tried on this occasion. My favorites on this occasion were the Buoy 1 SD pale ale and the Lifeblood brown ale; Sarah liked the Battle of Wits witbier. Since there are several other Stone locations for me to get to on my brewery quest I’m sure I’ll have a chance to rate those other beers soon.
Two meals and two flights came to $54, a little pricey but worth it for the quality and atmosphere. As a bonus for you, dear reader, you’ll get eight beer ratings out of this review instead of the usual four or five.
Bill’s Flight (all brewed at Liberty Station)
Buoy 1 SD (Pale Ale, 5.0% ABV). This is a lot like an IPA, with a nice funk. It is a bit heavy. In case you are wondering, Buoy 1 SD marks the entrance to the San Diego Harbor, and Liberty Station is a former naval training base. 3.25/5
Burton Snatch (8.2% ABV). A Burton ale, my first. I liked it. An amber-colored strong ale. Once upon a time, Burton was a favorite of Peter the Great of Russia. 3.25/5
Lifeblood (7.1% ABV). A brown ale. Well executed, as you would expect from Stone. Good but not rising to the level of “great.” 3.5/5
Lupulin Loop HBC 571 (7.7% ABV). Either this was not a good follower for what I had already tried, or it wasn’t up to usual Stone standards. It’s the first Stone brew I haven’t liked. 2.5/5
Liberty Belché (Belgian Blonde Ale/Golden, 5.5% ABV). Nothing special, but not objectionable. 3.25/5
Battle of Wits (Witbier, 5.1% ABV). This beer was produced as a collaboration between Stone Liberty Station and Monkey Paw Brewing. It is fruity, citrusy and crisp. 3.5/5
Vanilla Porter (5.9% ABV.) This was too sweet, the vanilla tasted artificial and the flavors were muddy. Didn’t finish it. 2.5/5
Xocoveza (8.1% ABV). This is a Mexican chocolate coffee stout. (XOCOlate cerVEZA, get it?) The cinnamon stands out nicely and overall it is sweet but not cloying. It reminded us of a Mexican Mocha coffee we had at Fig Tree Café in Pacific Beach at brunch not long ago. Xocoveza is good, but because of all the cinnamon and sweetness it is hard to imagine having more than one. 3.25/5
Visit Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Liberty Station for good beer and good food in a beautiful setting. Just watch out for those planes.
2816 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego, CA 92106
Don’t Just Take My Word for It (Links to Related Beer Writing)
San Diego Magazine’s Brewery Guide entry for Stone Liberty Station.
San Diego Brew Review’s entry on Stone Liberty Station.
If you are looking for trends, watch the dates on the user reviews from Beer Advocate; this location earns a BA score of 96 or “world class.”