Tastings School - Set in stone

Tastings School

From basics to more advanced topics, the Beer School has all the info to expand your knowledge and enjoyment of your beers, ales and lagers.

Categories

Set in stone

Ben McFarland attends a beer dinner organised by Stone Brewing, a San Diego microbrewery making some big beers

Ten years ago, the Stone Brewing Company burst onto the West Coast brewing scene and defiantly thrust a hot poker into the behind of conventional brewing.

While hundreds of craft brewers were hitting the wall in the middle of the 1990s, victims of a small beer business running before it could walk, Stone managed to buck the trend with beers that were colossal in character and even bigger in attitude.

A menacing gargoyle adorned its bottles, “warding off modern day evil spirits such as chemical preservatives, additives and adjuncts,” and the names of the beers were as defiantly disobedient as the liquid itself.

Arrogant Bastard, a 7.2% beast of a beer with an IBU (international bitterness unit) rating so high it’s unclassified, epitomises Stone’s in-yer-face ethos and does exactly what it says on the tin: “This is an aggressive beer,” announces the back label proudly.

“You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory – maybe something with a multi-billion dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think that multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you are mouthing your words as you read this.” Antagonising drinkers at a time when they’re questioning the future of craft brewing may have seemed a rather risky idea but, unlike many of its peers, Stone beers walked the walk as successfully as it talked the talk.

Stone’s beers were, as the Californian style dictates, exceptionally hoppy. But Stone, of course, took the coastal character and “turned it up to 11.” Its beers are high octane liquids that give your tastebuds a slap.

They pucker your eyeballs from a hundred yards and leave your senses whimpering in the corner. But, unlike many of its neighboring peers, Stone’s beers are as balanced as they are big and that is how Stone has thrived while others have dived.

The enfant terrible of American craft beer, Stone Brewing Company embraced adulthood last year in the shape of a new $14m brewery. High up on the hills of Southern California and just a 30 minute drive from downtown San Diego, the new brewery is a marked departure from its first home, a modest warehouse on a nearby non-descript industrial park.

The new site is home to more than a dozen towering fermentation tanks, offices for around 200 employees and, as of December, a jaw-dropping bar, bistro and gardens. The décor epitomises the Stone identity yet thankfully steers clear of becoming a shrine to gothic, heavy metal geeks.

If Jean Paul Gaultier and Fred Flintstone ever got together to design a brewery and restaurant then, well, it’d probably look a bit like this. The industrial chic of the restaurant and bar is softened by the presence of bamboo, plants and waterfalls.

Diners and drinkers are gifted a view of the gleaming brewery, visible through a huge 40ft window, on one side and a sight of the magnificent gardens on the other.

Tables carved from stone, a bar with three dozen draught taps, waterfalls, trees and even flaming fire torches combine to make a suitably striking impression.

So, too, does the food. Stone’s attitude to food is as opinionated as the beer. Don’t expect bangers and mash, fish and chips, cutesy crab cakes and other lacklustre brewpub food here.

Nor should it be assumed that just because the dishes are produced with natural, locallysourced ingredients that it’s all pansy pulses and ethical eating. Sure, freshness and sustainability are placed at the forefront of the food offering but so too is the leftfield boldness with which Stone made its brewing name.

High octane highlights include: Stone Pale Ale and garlic stir-fried brussels sprouts; barbecue duck tacos made with Stone Smoked Porter sauce; Stone IPA mash-potatoes and garlic cheddar and Stone Ruination IPA soup.

“If this soup could talk,” states the provocative menu, “it would say: Not sure? Then have the sweet potato soup. Otherwise don’t blame me if I’m too strong for you. I am what I am and you have been warned.” Greg Koch, co-owner of Stone, makes no apologies for ruffling visitors’ feathers. “Stone will not change and will be committed to what we’re all about in everything we do.

“We’ve got so much grief about our menu from people because people were expecting the usual kind of pub food. But we want our food to reflect our beer. People are always very keen to tell you how badly you’ve mucked things up but we wouldn’t be where we are today if we listened to the people who we upset.” In addition to Stone’s own selection of beers, Stone’s new bistro acts as a showcase for America’s more ambitious small breweries.

Alesmith, Avery, Ommegang, Dogfish Head and Russian River are all on the list alongside a variety of challenging Belgian beers.

One of the latest additions is that of the Lost Abbey brewery. The brainchild of Tomme Arthur, a founding father of San Diego’s vibrant brewing scene, Lost Abbey beers champion Belgian beer styles and add a brash west coast twist.

Stone owners Greg Koch and Steve Wagner recently hosted their first ever beer dinner at the new bistro and invited Tomme to match is beers with the cuisine of Stone’s executive chef Carlton Greenawalt.

The resulting “Lost Abbey Brewmaster’s Dinner” was a memorable five-course banquet of beer in which the combination varied from the sensational to the sublime.

Beer and food pairings

1) Vegetable eggrolls with mole sauce
Rolls made with plantain, shredded cabbage, chiles, roasted garlic an corn, drizzled with mole sauce and sprinkled almonds

Paired with: Lost Abbey Lost & Found Ale (8% ABV).
A deep amber Abbey-style beer brewed from a blend of six malts, sugar and a special raisin puree. Full of yeasty spiciness and a full-on fruit finish

Tomme’s comments: “These types of beers have a lot of chocolate and roast flavours and that really blended well with the plantain and mole in the dish. There’s so much potential for this beer to find a partner and indulge in a joyous south of the border tango!”

2) Mixed baby greens with balsamic-soy crispy duck
Organic greens tossed in a ginger-tinted orange-sage vinaigrette, goats’ cheese and spicy soy soaked crispy duck

Paired with: Red Barn Ale (6.7%) An ale rooted in the Belgian farmhouse style akin to the Saison beers of the Dupont brewery. A simple base of barley malt and flaked barley are combined with an incredibly flavourful and spicy yeast. Organic ginger, orange peel, black pepper and grains of paradise

Tomme’s comments: “This is a drying beer with a deep clove-like undercurrent that brings alive the taste buds with each sip. Paired with an amazing salad, we believe that Saison style beers are the perfect partner for greens, fresh cheese and the tangy balsamic vinaigrette”

3) Creamy onion and garlic veloute with swiss chard and Asiago cheese

Lightly caramelised onions and garlic in a creamy, rich soup with braised red chard and crumbled cheese

Paired with: Avant Garde Ale (7%) Inspired by the Biere de Garde style of Northern France, Avant Garde is brewed with long summer days, rocking chairs and porches in mind. An inviting aroma of fresh bread and soft fruits gives way to a beer of great depth

Tomme’s comments: “Over the past few months, we have marveled at the ability of this beer to handle all sorts of different cheeses. We believe it provides an excellent starting point for adventures in cheese and beer pairings”

4) Pomegranate and “Old Viscosity” braised boneless beef short ribs
Tender, melt in your mouth ribs braised in Tomme’s Old Viscosity ale. Black truffle potato pave and locally grown, multi-coloured carrots

Paired with: Veritas Ale (8%). A unique, one-off limited edition beer made from a blend of oak barrel-aged beers straight out of the world of wine. Smooth notes of red wine, soft French oak, tannins, fruits and cherries

Tomme’s comments: “Earthy and bright cherry flavours combine with the pomegranate and tender meat wonderfully. It adds a fruity dimension to the traditional dark beer and meat pairing”

5) Belgian chocolate pots de crème
An indulgent bittersweet chocolate custard injected with a shot of maple, butterscotch syrup and a dash of coconut milk

Paired with: Lost Abbey Angel’s Share (12.5%) A barleywine that showcases the properties of barrel ageing and maturation with no small amount of panache. It’s fullbodied and sweet with belly-warming alcohol, soft tannins and a finish of vanilla bean and rum

Tomme’s comments: “What a fantastic way to finish the meal. The glimmer of coconut in the custard draws out the subtleties of the beer. Caramel and maple syrup can be found in both the dessert and the Angel’s Share.
Rejoice for you too have found beer and food nirvana!”