There are few things I like more than taking side trips on vacations to seek out good beer. And in this case, I had the fortunate situation of finding myself on a business trip in San Diego, California – the land of, among many other breweries, Stone Brewing Co.

I found time (well, in reality I *made* time) in my crazy schedule to take a trip up to Escondido and check out the epic Stone Brewery location. The sun was shining as it did the entire time I was in San Diego, and I began to think it must never be cold or rainy here. The brewery itself is in two parts – the brewery, and the “Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.” On top of a hill with an epic view, the building is huge and the entrance features a walkway with stones and beautiful flowers – the day that I visited, the wisteria vines made a fragrant canopy to walk underneath. The flowers primed my senses for what would prove to be a unique sensory experience.

I walked in and entered a world of rocks, wrought iron and wood. The place felt huge – walking through the inside seating area, the ceilings were high and the center featured a koi pond, with real bamboo growing out of it. Gargoyles, stones and wrought iron gave the place an atmosphere that just made me want to say, “Awesome.”

I asked to be seated outside (I couldn’t resist the sunlight) and though the windiness in the outside seating area made me anchor my beer list and menu with a rock table decoration, I eagerly poured over the menu. And I was extremely surprised by what I found. Instead of being a list and description of only Stone Beers (which I fully expected – I mean, I am AT Stone….) I was greeted by one of the most jaw-dropping beer lists I’ve seen. In addition to the 7 or 8 different Stone brews on tap, there were a little under 30 additional beers on tap. Including things that to an East-Coaster like me, were just epic: Pliny The Elder; selections from Avery Brewing, Green Flash, Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Victory. The bottle list, on the back of the tap list, featured 82 bottles priced from $4-40 – including such rarities as Brew Dog Atlantic IPA and Paradox, and international icons such as Fantome, Dupont, Roquefort, and Russian River’s Damnation.

On a friend’s recommendation, I ordered aBallast Pt. Victory at Sea (on cask). The beer arrived and was a black hole of opacity – even directly in the sunlight. It smelled like coffee, toast and vanilla, and reminded me a lot of my recent adventure with Maui Coconut Porter. Not a lot of carbonation (from the casking) but it was a delightfully smooth beer that left beautiful lace on the glass.

For dinner I had possibly the freshest mushrooms I’ve ever had (in a Wild Mushroom Pasta) with shavings of fresh parmesan. I was in gastronomic heaven; though not a foodie myself, I could certainly see people falling in love with the place for the food alone. For dessert, I spied something even more special – a trio of asian inspired creme brulees. Green Tea and Strawberry; Chocolate Ginger and Mango – delicious and heavenly.

Somehow, this experience changed my idea of what a brewery can be. Instead of featuring the typical fare to pair only with their own beer, or focusing exclusively on their own products, Stone seems to embrace the spirt of craft beer as a whole. As stated in beer wars, “Macro Brewers want you to drink their beer. Craft brewers want you to drink GOOD beer.” I believe that the philosophy exhibited by Stone is the right direction – to bring more and more people into the craft beer world by showing them that it can be interesting, exciting and sophisticated at the same time. This isn’t joe-sixpack cuisine, nor is it snobbish – its just damn good food and damn good beer served in a really great atmosphere. So I highly recommend this as a stop if you’re anywhere near Southern California – – for business or not ;)