New Members Lead the Charge for PG’s Trip to Stone Fest: A Road Trip Report

Call it “Pacific Gravity Road Trip: The Next Generation.”

Most of the homebrew club’s old-timers, longtime members and veteran drunks, for one rea$on or another, sat out the annual bus trip down to Stone Brewing’s (13th) Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival on the campus of Cal State San Marcos on Saturday, August 22. So new club members and first-time Stone Fest’ers comprised the lion’s share of the 28 of us who took the excursion. And they were not disappointed.

The bus had ample AC, a working bathroom (although its light was out during the first leg of the trip, making for some interesting maneuvers and challenges at aiming), and the good homebrew and commercial beers flowed. The weather forecast seemed a bit dodgy, and we even hit some rainy drizzle en route down.

But by the time we had checked in and were lined up waiting for the gates to open at 11:00 a.m., the clouds parted, the sun came out, and the heat came on with a vengeance. It was brutal. Many of the beer booths even had sunscreen for the thirsty throngs who arrived without protection. How bad was it? The lines for the (eventually warm) rinse water were longer than they were for many of the beer tents.

That said, the site was much less crowded than last year (the first at this location), with the beer booths more spread out and staggered into different areas. And yes, there were long lines, but they mostly moved quickly. The queues for Avery Brewing and Maui Brewing seemed always to be lengthy.

Why? Well, aside from its great Maharaja Imperial IPA and its 15th and 16th Anniversary brews, Avery also had the very limited (only 5.8 bbls made) Voltron, which also made a brief appearance at the Beachwood BBQ’s Sour Fest that same week. Voltron consisted of five sour beers, including Brabant, Port Alter Boy and Good Sally. It was extremely complex and puckery.

For its part, Maui brought kegs of two beers that usually never leave the Hawaiian island brewpub, meaning if you didn’t taste them here, you’d have to visit our 50th state. One was Mana Wheat, a kind of pineapple wit, which is the first beer made with pineapple I’ve had that was not only drinkable, but refreshing (especially given the temperatures) and extremely well made. Maui nailed pineapple the way they nailed coconut in their CoCoNuT PorTeR. Speaking of which, the second beer, Black Pearl, was that same amazing coconut porter aged in rum barrels. Yeah, brah,’ it was as good as it sounds.

And while we’re on the subject of coconut porter and long lines, host brewery Stone picked the occasion of the fest to debut its latest “Collaboration” beer –– Aloha Plenty, a Kona coffee, macadamia nut, coconut porter, brewed in conjunction with Maui Brewing’s brewmaster Garrett Morrero and homebrewer Ken Schmidt from Schmidt’s award-winning recipe. It was tapped at 1:15 p.m., and by 1:00 it already seemed as if half of the attendees were queued up for a taste. We all finally got some. It was a tasty beer to be sure, but many of us agreed that it was too over-coffee’d, at the expense of the more delicate macadamia and coconut flavors. They could be detected, especially when the beer warmed, but overall it was like a rich and roasty espresso masquerading as a beer.

If you think you’re picking up a theme here, you’re right. Many of the participating breweries debuted beers or brought out rarities, limited releases and one-time-only blends, debunking the popular misconception that the beers at Stone Fest weren’t special enough to be worth the hassle.

Among the favorites: The Bruery’s delicious Sour in the Rye, as well as the first tapping of the 2009 Autumn Maple (no carbonation problems this year!); Russian River’s perfect-for-the-weather Huge Large “Sound Czech” Pils; Jolly Pumpkin’s (making its Stone Fest debut) oak-aged wild ale, Perseguidor, and a brand new sourish blend of Oro de Calabaza and Bam Weizen called Oroweizen; Nor’Cal, a newish pale ale from Bear Republic; Stone’s 13th Anniversary Imperial Red on cask with separate dry hoppings of Amarillo, Columbus and Simcoe; and, last but not least, the most unique beer of the fest, Lost Abbey’s Sangre DC.

Name-changed to Sangria when it was put on tap at the Beachwood Sour Fest on August 27, the beer was –– I kid you not –– served at Stone with a ladle from a large bowl with fruit slices floating in it! It smelled and tasted like sangria, but was in reality a blend of three flat, sour beers from Lost Abbey’s barrel room. Astounding.

No PG members passed out from drunkenness or sunstroke, so we left San Marcos on time and made our traditional stop at Pizza Port San Clemente for a late lunch of pizza (and more beer) before the drive back to Culver City, during which many of the happy revelers caught themselves some Zs. Another great Pacific gravity Road Trip for the history books.

You many not think that Stone is the best California craft brewery, but you gotta admit, they sure know how to put on a beer fest party. Keep that in mind for next year.