Although I have a lot of respect for Stone and do enjoy their beer, it isn't my favorite. I like hoppy beer, but theirs has a sharper, more piney bitterness than I like due the their hop selection. By the time you get half-way through a pint it mellows though, it is in those first few mouthfuls that you taste the sharpness.
Stone runs 5 tours on Saturday and 2 tours per day on other days during the summer, and they are full. They are generous with the samples (after the tour), and the tour is well done. They have a new 200bbl brewery, constructed in the past 3 years.
During the tour, we were encouraged to taste some barley and smell some hops. Engaging all the senses really does improve the experience. It was an interesting mix of people touring the brewery, some had no idea about Stone beer, others seemed to have no idea about craft beer. The tour guide could have done better when someone asked why Stone beer cost more than Budweiser, but generally did a great job and was knowledgeable about the brewery. Some items I noticed/learned about commercial brewing on this tour for the first time:
- There is a huge hopper into which the crushed grain is loaded that also serves as a scale. They load about 7500lbs of malt per batch.
- When loading the wort into the fermenter, it is injected through the yeast from the bottom ensuring lots of agitation of the yeast.
- Because of the amount of yeast used, fermentation takes as little as 24 hours!
- Because the water in this area is not that great, the water supply is split into two different filters, a carbon filter and a triple osmosis filter, and then blended to achieve the correct mixture of minerals.
The gift shop was very nice, you can get growlers re-filled, and there is information about lots of events that Stone hosts including Beer University. After the tour, while tasting, I met a great couple from Oceanside that help out at a local smaller brewery. They said that the small operation welcomes volunteers who want to help out on brew day so I will check it out to see if maybe I can volunteer there.