Stone Brewing Co. San Diego County locals know the name well. The gargoyle, the majestic World Bistro and Gardens, and even CEO Greg Koch himself, are all staples of the local beer scene. What locals might not know, however, is just how big the North County brewery is in the world of craft beer beyond the region. Stone is going national and is poised to grow into one of the largest brewers in the country. In a recent celebration of their transcontinental reach, Greg Koch embarked on a nation-spanning tour of special evens dubbed the “Stone Total Tap Tower Takeover Tour Two Thousand Ten” – how’s that for alliteration? Seven spots in just seven nights saw kegs of Stone special releases, starting in Baltimore, Maryland on October 1st and finishing back in Southern California on the 7th at Naja’s Place in Redondo Beach.
With forty Stone beers on draught at each event, it’s safe to say that attendees were able to partake in one of the best selections of Stone beers that they may ever see. The fifth night of the tour was in Chicago, which just so happens to be where I am currently enrolled in the Master Brewer Program at the Siebel Institute of Technology. What better extracurricular activity could there be than a night of amazing Stone Beers and hanging out with Greg Koch? My teachers would surely understand if I came to class a little tired the next day.
Local beer scene stalwart Small Bar – not to be confused with San Diego’s Small Bar – hosted the event, at not one, but all three of their locations in Chicago, spreading the forty Stone taps between them. Lucky for us event attendees, they also provided a trolley to shuttle patrons between the three locations all night. By the time I arrived just before 7p.m. at Small Bar Fullerton, several of my fellow Siebel students were already seated at one of the booths. Our first round read like a Stone fan’s dream list: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout 2008, Wine Barrel Aged Old Guardian 2007, Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Guardian 2006, Bourbon Barrel Aged 12th Anniversary Stout, and Imperial Russian Stout 10th Anniversary Special Blend. Mind you this was only the first stop of three locations.
As the trolley pulled up to take the pilgrims to their next checkpoint, Small Bar Logan Square, Greg Koch took a break from mingling with the crowd to mount the staircase next to the bar and deliver his craft beer manifesto. He applauded the faithful for not settling for the lowest common denominator of flavor, and rejected the “fizzy yellow beer” as he loves to say, of the big industrial breweries. Stone’s brash, or dare I say, “arrogant,” approach to selling their beer has made them quite successful over the years. Lets just say I’m taking notes in case I open my own brewery someday.
Small Bar Logan Square is the smallest of the three locations, and the furthest from the city center. GK compensated us nicely, though: Five Vertical Epics as well as Stone Imperial Russian Stout GK’s Mad Man Mix, Imperial Russian Belgo Stout, 2004 Old Guardian, and 2006 Double Bastard Ale Aged with French Oak. On the ride over, I asked Greg to write a doctor’s note to the vice president of Siebel excusing the students from not being at their sharpest the next morning. For the record, our VP wasn’t impressed… it might have had something to do with the personal note at the end.
Small Bar Division made up the final stop of the night. Standouts on the tap list included 2004 Stone Imperial Russian Stout, 2006 Double Bastard Ale, 2006 Double Bastard Ale Aged in Brandy Barrels, Dogfish Head/Victory/Stone Saison du BUFF, 21st Amendment/FirestoneWalker/Stone El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale, and double dry-hopped versions of both Stone IPA and 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA. We finished the night with some great conversations with the guys from Small Bar, who were awesome hosts for the event. Spreading between the three locations instead of simply using one led to a greater overall experience. Every location was packed, from the beginning at seven until when we left around midnight.
The verdict: Chicago absolutely loves Stone; their popularity growing by leaps and bounds since distribution started here last April. They are a great inspiration to craft brewers in the area, who realize cutting corners to cut cost just doesn’t cut it.