ESCONDIDO, CA -- Ever been to Chicago on St. Patty's Day? The river is dyed green, and the hundreds of Irish Pubs scattered throughout the city offer green beer. Thanks but no thanks.
As a big fan of microbrews -- the slightly larger producers brew what is properly called "craft beer"-- I am always on the lookout for environmentally friendly labels. In Escondido, about 20 miles north of San Diego, is what is surely among the greenest breweries in the world - Stone Brewing Co. The idea of an environmentally friendly brew house seems out of synch with one of their best-selling labels, "Arrogant Bastard?" But we will forgive them, after all, it is fabulous marketing tool that has encouraged beer enthusiasts from around the world to come witness this green suds establishment.
The story of Stone Brewing Co. begins with the two founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner. Koch owned recording studios in L.A. and Wagner was a studio musician who rented space. Serendipitously, they ran into each other at a "A Sensory Evaluation of Beer" seminar and, as they say, the rest is history. Since its founding in 1996, Stone Brewing has become one of the largest craft beer producers in America, with annual output of 98,500 barrels.
What makes Stone green? Only the largest, operating room clean, state-of-the-art facility you've ever seen, a huge 55,000 square foot building tucked in an anonymous area of Escondido. On a guided tour with Stone's knowledgeable Tour Guide Supervisor, Ken Wright, we learn that the hundreds of thousands of pounds of by-product created during the brewing process (it looks like wet sawdust) is fully biodegradable and trucked to local farms for use as cattle feed. The plant has a full gray water recycling capability to help cut water consumption (this is critical because the brewing process is very water-intensive), and the roof is adorned with solar panels to help reduce the enormous energy consumption brewing requires by 30 percent.
All Stone bottles and cardboard carriers are fully recyclable, and the plant was built using a variety of reclaimed woods and other metals. One of the most impressive features of the tour was seeing the process from brewing the hops, to bottling, to hauling off for distribution. Unfortunately a rarity in modern day American culture - a vertically integrated manufacturing process. There were costs involved in making Stone a green operation, but the founders determined that this was worthwhile investment for business and environmental reasons. Stone has not really played this card from the marketing standpoint, instead preferring to let the sustainable design speak for itself and hope the word spreads virally and by reputation.
A beautifully designed one-acre beer garden lies adjacent to the brewery; visitors can meander along the heavily landscaped pathways and walkways while sipping the wide variety of ales, hefeweizen and other popular brews. Although I am a Belgian-only beer drinker at heart, the spectacular facility produces great year-round beers such as Levitation Ale and Ruination, as well as Stone Pale Ale and IPA, and of course Arrogant Bastard.
Our only criticism of the entire operation, and this is echoed in many internet reviews by consumers, is the food. The restaurant is very appealing visually, the design and materials used are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the grub leaves a lot to be desired. I do, however, admire the Bistro's "Meatless Monday" promotion. As a greenie, even if the food is horrendous, you gotta love their enthusiasm for vegetarianism! They are the largest restaurant purchaser of local, small farm organic produce in San Diego County. The Meatless Monday credo is as follows:
"If you have dined with us before, you already know that we use locally grown, organic ingredients as part of our dedication to sustainability, community, and better health. Now we are kicking it up a notch by offering a meatless menu on Mondays. Meat dishes are available on request but we encourage you to make a commitment to your health and the environment by trying our Chef's fantastic vegetarian creations. You won't miss the meat!"
Tours of the brewery are offered three times per day during the week, four times on Friday, eight times on Saturdays, and six times on Sundays. Take one you'll be pleased to see how even an inherently non-green activity such as craft brewing can be made much more energy efficient and sustainable with some forethought, commitment and investment as demonstrated by Stone Brewing Co. As always, I invite your comments and recommendations of other green brew-ha!