In all the tasting rooms, representing all the breweries, within the entire county of San Diego, there’s only one requiring that even local residents buy an airplane ticket to get there: Stone Brewing in Terminal 2, gate 36, of the San Diego International Airport.
It’s a little after 10 am when I arrive, on a weekday. But the place has been open since six, and I find most of the 20 stools surrounding the bar occupied, pints already poured. Any rules people may have about drinking in the morning go out the window at an airport bar, where the only measure of time that matters is how long before your flight boards.
By 10:30, more than half the passengers drinking at the bar have moved on, summoned to their gates, and replaced by new travelers: couples discussing vacation plans, solo travelers browsing smart phones, and businesspeople working on laptops. The one thing they all have in common is a beer on the bartop before them.
We’re past the TSA checkpoint here. You can’t get to this area unless you’ve got a ticket to fly somewhere. It can’t be a ticket on Southwest, Frontier, or Alaska airlines, either. Those fly out of terminal 1. And as we’ve learned in the last five years since the airport remade its drinking and dining options with local vendors, Terminal 1 is the inferior terminal.
“When I realized my flight left from Terminal 2, I cheered out loud,” says a guy seated next to me, who is on his way to visit family on the east coast. Terminal 2 also offers great food options including Phil’s BBQ and Saffron Thai, but he cheered because he knew he could drink at Stone in Terminal 2. Heck, I did the same thing.
When I ask whether the bar is often this crowded before noon, the tender tells me crowds ebb and flow throughout the day, fluctuating with airline schedules. But its busiest times are during convention weekends, and whenever a flight gets delayed at a nearby gate. Things seem to be moving as normal this morning. By 11 am, the bar population has recycled anew, and both bartenders keep incredibly busy.
It’s a full restaurant and bar, meaning there are cocktails and wine in addition to food. But I just start with a flight: three 7-ounce pours for $11.50, picked off the draft menu. All the core Stone beers are there, of course, but I took the opportunity to sample a trio of less familiar offerings: a hoppy lager, the I’m Peach double IPA, and a stout named Cimmerian Portal.
That lager, hopped with Huell melon, is sort of Stone’s concession to the times, that its long ago “fizzy yellow beer is for wussies” stance has softened now that craft beer drinkers want craft-brewed fizzy yellow beer alongside their IPAs. The citrusy lager is bolstered by the characteristic bitterness of Stone IPAs, though in more restrained doses. In other words, the beer is still arrogant, just less so.
The I’m Peach offers more of the zesty hop aromas Stone beers are known for, and tastes delightfully peachy enough to back up the playful troll-jab this beer takes at the sitting president (on its packaging, I’m Peach reads like Impeach).
Finally, I tackle the stout, which offers a complex blend of dark roast flavors, berries, and bitter chocolate. At a well-rounded 7-percent, in most occasions I’d view it as a prudent choice over my favorite Stone stout, a very potent, 10.8-percent Russian imperial. But next time I get a ticket to Terminal 2, I hope they have the big stout available. What better time to drink a heavy beer than right before trying to nap on a plane?