Written by Tom Becham
On Saturday, August 20, 2016, a friend and I attended Stone Brewing’s 20th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival. While Stone doesn’t exactly make the kind of beer I generally like, their skill, as well as impact in the craft beer community, cannot go unacknowledged. Also, Stone completely takes over the campus of California State University, San Marcos for its festivals, and invites many big names in the beer game, as well as upcoming talent. Their festivals are fun, informative, filled with fantastic beer to match anyone’s tastes, and the crowds are managed almost as well as Disney’s. When you add the fact that Stone promised some additional attractions for their 20th Anniversary, well, I had to attend.
The surprises included live music, including a roving Dixieland/New Orleans jazz band, a Rock band comprised of Stone employees, and one other I didn’t actually see. Several charities had booths set up, including Pints for Prostates, a very good cause. There were many tents with food vendors passing out samples of cheese, chocolate, etc., and soft drinks for designated drivers.
But you’re wanting to know about the beer.
Stone itself had over 40 taps of its own stuff, including its 20th Anniversary Encore Series of past beers they no longer brew regularly. They also had four taps of cask ale, still fairly rare in California.
Other brewers included Firestone Walker, The Bruery (one of this writer’s favorites), Great Divide, Cigar City, Sierra Nevada, Modern Times, Maui, Founders, Libertine, Victory, New Belgium, Ommegang, Boulevard, Oskar Blues, Surly, Allagash, Ladyface Ale Companie (local to this writer and another favorite), Smog City, Alpine, Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin, Avery, SKA, Bell’s… well you get the picture.
There were also three cideries in attendance, and one winery that makes…interesting wines aged on things like hot peppers and ginger. There was even a kombucha brewer at one tent.
Here are the standout beers for me:
- Stone’s 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA w/Grilled Pineapples & HBC 431 Hops on cask – This Double IPA uses a very citrusy hop, and avocado honey in its standard configuration, and is very tasty. With the pineapple, it’s transformed and becomes one of the Top 10 DIPAs I’ve ever had. Stunning.
- The Bruery’s Chocolate Rain – This is called an Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. At 19.7% ABV, I expected a hot-as-hell monster. Instead, it drinks like a beer of less than half its strength. More like an Imperial Porter in body and mouthfeel, though. Still, a remarkable beer. Lives up to the hype.
- 21st Amendment Brewery’s Hell or High Watermelon Wheat – I know fruit-flavored wheat beers catch a lot of flak for being “girlfriend beer”. But this one actually has a strong finish of watermelon, and is a good summer quaffer in its own right. Perfect for the hot summer day in San Marcos.
- Surly Brewing Company’s Pentagram – Don’t know why this had such a sinister name. This is a dark sour ale, along the lines of a Flemish Red or Oud Bruin. It reminds me a lot of Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, a drier interpretation of those styles. The sour is well-moderated, and not overpowering, but would still appeal to sour fanatics.
- Avery Brewing Company’s Chai High – This is a brown ale with chai tea spices. This is the kind of thing that can be supremely annoying, and especially trendy. However, Avery pulls this one off perfectly. The nutty flavor profile of the base brown ale is very tea-like, so it melds splendidly with chai spice. The slight chocolate finish gives it a unique twist, and keeps surprising the palate in good ways.
- Lost Abbey’s Angel’s Share aged in brandy barrels – Lost Abbey produces some amazing big beers, and Angel’s Share is one of their best. This version adds extra dimensions with the brandy notes. It defies description, but should you ever have the fortune to try this, DO IT.
- Madewest Brewing Company’s Pale Ale – Madewest is a new brewery (less than a year open to the public) and is located in Ventura, about twelve miles from my home. Ironically, I had to travel one-third the length of California to attend a beer festival to try any of their beer before August 20. Their Pale is a hoppier American rendition, with hops that make the tongue tingle. While not my favored style, this is extremely well-made, and has me impressed enough to plan a weekend visit to Madewest in the near future.
Tom Becham has been writing for PGA for many years. In fact he’s been writing so long he wears the hat to cover baldness, or the antenna that grow out of elderly Martian’s heads: we’re not sure which, but we’re glad he writes for us.