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Previous Pint Pleasures - September 17, 2010

guinness eileen

Stone Brewing/World Bistro & Gardens, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, California

Last month I went to the Pacific Coast of America to visit family and friends. Although I was in Southern California and Seattle, Washington for only three weeks in total, I managed to visit a host of new pubs and breweries, and I had the chance to taste an unbelievable 48 brews. The majority of these tastings occurred on a three-day tour with my Bay Area friend, Mistah Rick, of the breweries and brewpubs of the northern San Diego County coast.

Even though my home town of Long Beach claims Southern California's first brewpub -- the Belmont Brewing Company, which opened in 1990 -- I have never been very thrilled with the quality of microbrews in perpetually sunny and tan-obsessed Southern California. But something has definitely been (excuse the pun) brewing since the last time I visited, because the sun-blanched Southland is now teeming with breweries creating some really nice IPAs, Trappist-style beers, and traditional English ales.

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And the mega-microbrewery of them all is located in Escondido, one of the oldest cities in San Diego County. Situated in a valley surrounded by rocky hills, Escondido was originally called Mehel-om-pom-pavo by the native Luiseño tribe. The city occupies two former ranchos established in the mid 1800s: Rancho Rincon del Diablo and Rancho San Bernardino. In 1888 Escondido was incorporated as a city, quickly growing into an agricultural community. Just outside Escondido is the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and a Buddhist monastery lies north of the city.

But the biggest attraction for beer lovers is the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens located in the Quail Hills area. It was Saturday evening when we entered the massive, seemingly endless yet surprisingly full car park. We walked for what seemed like miles before we finally reached the huge multi-level pub and brewery. We passed through the building and out the back into the, er, gardens? That small word hardly does it justice: it's like a massive land with trees and woods and flowers and streams and meadows and bridges and ponds and hundreds of people sitting around, standing around, all happily sipping pints of microbrews.

We had come to Stoneyland!

The Stone brewery began life in San Marcos, moving to a new custom-designed facility in Escondido in 2006. It has a brewing capacity of up to 250,000 barrels per year and includes an on-site bottling line, a merchandise shop, a restaurant which seats nearly 400 diners and imbibers, a large outdoor patio, and an acre of organic gardens featuring trees and plants from around the world, a small pine forest, shady lawns, pools, and a koi pond. The rotating menu of food features organic, free-range ingredients, and the bars serve Stone's own brews as well as other craft and speciality brewers from around the US and abroad.

In other words, this is no ordinary microbrewery.

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Strolling past Pintland, with Breweryland above our heads, we wondered if that was Fantasyland we could see just beyond. Because everybody seemed so peaceful and happy we started to worry we may have ended up in the "This Side of Paradise" episode of Star Trek where everything is just too beautiful. On our way to one of the several Barlands we decided to stop into Restaurantland and put our name in for a meal.

And then we ordered two pints to share. The first was Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard (7.2% ABV, Stone Brewing). I'd had the regular Arrogant Bastard before and remember it being a very bluesy soulful brew, but this went even deeper into the Delta backwoods of bitterness. In fact according to the brewery's website, the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) of this beer are classified information.

Our second pint was Cali-Belgique IPA (6.9% ABV, Stone Brewing). Described by the brewery as the identical twin to their flagship Stone IPA but raised in a Belgian culture, it's a lovely floral, mildly hoppy pussyfooty angelcake of a beer. We could detect coriander, a bit of orange peel, and something very yum-yum.

Our meal was quite impressive as well. My Mac 'n Beer Cheese, made vegetarian by substituting the sausage with tofu, was made with Stone Smoked Porter and Garlic Beer Cheese. Rick's Pan Roasted Scallops with White Truffle Pommes Purrée were massive and stacked into high mountains. Everything on the menu is locally sourced and meant to impress.

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The next day we made a return trip to Stoneyland to sit in the garden and have a pint. This time we both had pints of Russian River IPA (6.75% ABV, Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA). Dry and hoppy, this pint is especially good for conversation. Strolling past Tom Sawyer Island with our pints in hand, we settled in a secluded glen in Fantasyland, watching young nymphs frolic nearby. We contemplated taking the Skyride over to Adventureland but came to our senses, realising we were in the idyllic garden nation of Stone Brewery in Escondido and not the Magic Kingdom of Anaheim. There's a big difference: the admission to "Stoneyland" is free.