We’ve been (mis-)labeled “arrogant.” We get it. You brew up a beer called Arrogant Bastard Ale and have the audacity to demand that everybody be entitled to the finest beer today’s craftsmen and women can brew, and people form certain opinions. But in reality, we’re not arrogant. What we are is extremely passionate and confident in craft beer and our abilities in that arena. To a person, our Brew Crew works tirelessly to up their technical knowledge and abilities. From keeping up on best practices and emerging techniques for upping beer’s flavor, increasing the efficiency of our brewhouse, stimulating our yeast so they perform as optimally as possible or staying on top of the ever-changing hop crops and the immense influx of new botanical varietals being produced from the Pacific Northwest to Australia and New Zealand, Brewmaster Mitch Steele and his team have their hands (and heads) full. Each day offers a new opportunity to learn and grow, and our beers reflect that—perhaps more now than ever before.
When it comes to brewing competitions, one can’t help but survey the field of entrants beforehand and speculate on what greatness may emerge from those crafty competitors. We like to think we know the members of the Stone Brew Crew pretty well—the IPA experts, the Belgophiles, the dark beer enthusiasts, the strong ale hoisters. Everybody gravitates towards certain styles and excels at crafting recipes for them. Just when we thought we had everyone pegged, along came our annual in-house brewing competition, the Stone Spotlight Series. This year’s winner, frankly, blew us out of the water. There’s no way we could have seen the blue-ribbon beer coming, especially from the duo that brought it to life, Brewing Supervisor Drew Neldon and Brewer Steve Via. Sit, stay and enjoy the story of Stone Spotlight: Imperial Mutt Brown Ale.
Talk about mixed emotions. December 12, 2012 rolled around and, come 12:12 p.m., we were elated to finally be able to crack open a vertical tasting like no other. A few hours later, we felt a haze of gloom descend over us as we realized that experience we’d spent nearly 11 years preparing for was over, never to return. It was right there at our Stone Epic Festival, with 11 bottles representing every vintage of Stone Vertical Epic Ale gaping back at us with their empty, open maws, that it all sunk in. This chapter in the history of Stone Brewing Co. was done; eclipsed by the passage of time and a finite supply of triplicate day/month/year dates.
So far, 2015 has seen a flurry of activity here at Stone. This is nothing new. For several years, we’ve been hard at work debuting beers at a rapid and voluminous clip. But this year’s been different. In addition to introducing new brews like Stone Delicious IPA, 2015 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine – Extra Hoppy and 2015 Stone CHAI-SPICED Imperial Russian Stout, we’ve also broke the sad news that some of our beers are being retired, never to return to production again. First, it was Stone Levitation Amber Ale, followed almost immediately by Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA. Both were met with much lamenting, but none so much as the next beer to wave bye-bye. It’s no wonder, it’s only the first beer we ever produced beginning 19 years ago: Stone Pale Ale (which will make its valiant return to the suds scene as Stone Pale Ale 2.0 starting in April). Well, the shake-up isn’t over. There’s still one more beer that will be exiting production for eternity and, as hard as it is to say good-bye, the time has come. Spring 2015 will see the last-ever brew session for Stone Ruination IPA.
It was born in 1996 within the humble, rented (strategically near Pizza Port) Solana Beach condo of Stone Co-founder Greg Koch; a 99%/1% collaborative effort between Koch (the one percent in that equation) and fellow Co-founder/original Brewmaster Steve Wagner. Before Stone sold a single beer, the duo spent countless hours experimenting with a wide array of recipes in search of a brew worthy of becoming the world’s first taste of Stone Brewing Co. Such status was tough to live up to, and plenty of trial beers fell short, but when Koch and Wagner first tasted Stone Pale Ale, there was no question in their mind that it was the one!
You might have heard we released 120 beers last year. Within that 120 were our core beers, dated editions of Stone Enjoy By IPA, collaborations, Liberty Station beers, Stochasticity Project experiments and a multitude of others. Even we had trouble keeping up with this onslaught of ales, so confusion among our fans is understandable. But there’s always a rhyme and reason to our madness. With multiple naming conventions (and design conventions failing that), our releases all have their rightful place in our family of beers. Below, we’ll break it down for you, bottle by bottle, and demystify our portfolio.
We hold many things dear at Stone Brewing Co. High on that list of items held on-high are hops. They are the lush foundation on which some of our greatest successes have been forged. They rest ever-presently at the core of what we do and are largely what have helped us to stand out over the past 18-plus years. We love them every bit as much as you lupulin-craving nuts. So, when we were afforded the opportunity to construct a beer to honor this country’s hop growers, you best believe we took it very seriously!
India pale ales are our bread-and-butter here at Stone. We love them as much as you do. Similarly, we get an immeasurable amount of satisfaction out of experimenting with new hop combinations to create IPAs with flavor profiles that vary from what we’ve thus far experienced. The arrival of Stone Delicious IPA provides a tangible example of why continual IPA and hop exploration are so fulfilling. With the new Lemondrop varietal as a centerpiece and a massive dry-hop comprised exclusively of lemony El Dorado hops from Washington State, this beer lives up to its name behind a plethora of tart, citrusy notes and a stunning grove-like, lemon tree bouquet, providing a graceful yet in no way subtle one-two punch to the senses. Our newest IPA is unique to our stable of beers in every way…including the fact it just so happens to be our first gluten-reduced offering.
You know what the big problem is with being well known for playing epic April Fool’s Day jokes on the public at large? The public at large starts to expect them, thus rendering such gags nearly impossible to pull off. Still, building up the status as a supremely self-righteous April Fooler was a fun process for the creative minds at Stone. Announcing we would start brewing a lemon-lime “malternative” beverage, a 27.3% ABV extra-strong ale, and a “lo-carb” beer (“Lite™” was trademarked), we’ve used this faux holiday to explore miles of territory we’d never tread in real life…and even some we would.
On April 1, 2010, we told our fans we’d be teaming with our Scottish brewing comrades at BrewDog to craft BrewDog / Stone Luciferin Golden Imperial Stout, a high-alcohol stout coming in at 11.8% alcohol-by-volume with plenty of roasty flavor. There was just one catch—it wouldn’t incorporate any roasted malts and it wouldn’t be brown in color. So, basically, it would be different from every stout on the planet. Nobody with a working knowledge of calendars bought it and, though it was, essentially a joke, our brewmaster, Mitch Steele, filed that idea away and spent the next four years secretly pondering how he’d create a golden-hued stout. And we’re glad he did, because now that imaginary beer has been brewed into brilliant reality. Enter, Stochasticity Project Master of Disguise.
While this beer, the latest in our experimental and otherwise avant-garde series of Stochasticity Project brews, is slightly lower in alcohol than its fictitious predecessor—9.7%, to be exact—it’s actually quite similar to the concept for the prank that inspired it. In teasing BrewDog / Stone Luciferin Golden Imperial Stout, we said it relied on cacao nibs and coffee to mimic the chocolaty, roast-heavy flavors of a traditional imperial stout, and pale and extra pale malts to keep the color in the lower expanses of the SRM scale (the Standard Reference Method used to grade beer’s color). For Master of Disguise, Steele employed all of these tactics, and more!
Steele reached out to familiar conspirators, Ryan Bros. Coffee and Chocovivo. The latter provides pure cocoa in large, thin sheets, which add tremendous chocolate character as shown in Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout, while the former is based a few short miles from our brewery and has contributed roasted beans for use in numerous beers, including Aleman/Two Brothers/Stone DayMan Coffee IPA, 2013 Stone ESPRESSO Imperial Russian Stout and Stone Coffee Milk Stout. The fruits of our suppliers’ labors played a big part in helping Steele pull off this charade, as did the malt bill, which consisted purely of lighter varieties including Caraplis, and English amber and pale malts. Flaked oats were also added to give the beer a thicker mouth-feel more in line with what one expects from a smooth, velvety stout.
So, Master of Disguise looks like a pale ale or IPA, but there was more to this endeavor than aesthetics. The aroma, taste and composition were every bit as important—what good is a beer if it doesn’t taste delicious, after all? Fortunately, the chocolate, coffee and oats did the trick with this treat of a beer, which presents notes of java in the bouquet and the front palate. Chocolate comes through mid-sip, conveyed by a slightly viscous body akin to an oatmeal stout in its creaminess, and the finish features a light yet lasting roastiness. Stochasticity Project Master of Disguise is the physically embodied proof of a lofty hypothesis. Let’s just hope Steele isn’t as keen to realize other Stone April Foolery like Bastard Oxide, a metal-laced energy drink, or BastardSHOTZ, 22 ounces of Arrogant Bastard Ale condensed into three ounces of gel conveniently doled into three-ounce, EZ-squeeze “Gel Pakz” for on-the-go American strong ale enthusiasts, or the canned and helium-infused Stochasticity Project CrHeam Ale.
Stats & Tasting Notes by Brewmaster Mitch Steele
- ABV: 9.7%
- IBUs: 55 IBUs
- Availability: Limited22-ounce bottles and draft, beginning November 17
- Hop Bill: Liberty and Nugget
- Distribution: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT and WA
- Appearance: Pours deep gold, with a light tan head.
- Aroma: Coffee aromatics dominate. Roasted notes and cocoa play in the background, until the beer warms in the glass, and then they are pleasantly apparent along with fruity esters from the yeast and hints of vanilla.
- Taste: At first, the flavor is mostly coffee and fruity esters from the fermentation. As the flavor progresses, more cocoa comes out, along with a balanced bitterness.
- Palate: Full-bodied and smooth
- Overall: After we brewed Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, a black IPA, someone on the brewery team joked that our next beer should be a golden stout. We then used that joke for an April Fool’s gag one year, and I’ve been wondering if we could pull it off ever since. The resulting beer here is a rich strong ale with prevalent coffee and cocoa notes.
Suggested Pairings by “Dr.” Bill Sysak
- Appetizers: Bacon-wrapped dates, coconut shrimp, blue cheese-stuffed mushrooms, spiced pumpkin seeds
- Soups: French onion, beef stew, lentils, chili con carne
- Entrées: Lamb chops, coffee-rubbed venison, mushroom risotto, red lentil curry
- Cheeses: Aged Cheddar, Maytag Blue, Grana Padano, Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue
- Desserts: Brownies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, tiramisu
- Cigars: Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Maduro, Liga Privada No. 9 by Drew Estate, Illusione MJ12 Maduro, Arturo Fuente Opus X
‘Tis almost the time of year when children of all ages shall belt out in their most joyous tones the tale-telling tune of three kings bringing forth gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (looks like two of these regal sorts were slightly less generous than the golden one). But before the season of yule arrives, the attention of those with the power to discern what is truly excellent from what is only marketed to appear superior shall fall upon what is truly the most wonderful time of the year—Bastard Season. As if my birthday (November 7 for those looking to graduate from ignoramus to Worthy) and Arrogant Bastard Day (#BastardDay is November 1) weren’t reason enough to celebrate (it is), the proverbial ante is upped each November when I bring the lesser-seen members of my Liquid Arrogance lineage into the equation, sharing the spotlight just long enough to take the revelry to the utmost level before plunging my spawn back behind the curtain for another 11 months. Given the brief nature of their time at center-stage, I shall throw them—and you—a bone, allowing them to bask in your adoration as you take in their magnificence. Just remember who was first. These Bastards would literally be nothing without Yours Truly.
Once one has discovered they possess the gene that allows them to not only comprehend, but greatly appreciate the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a 22-ounce enigma that is Arrogant Bastard Ale, they do not go back to mass-produced industrial swill. In fact, they find themselves succumbing to the sudden urge to go even further. My answer to that is Double Bastard Ale, a version of the Liquid Arrogance brewed to be brawnier, not as an enticing value-added to blockheads and frat bros looking to beat the bar or get, as they so eloquently put it, “crunk.” Hardly. Double Bastard Ale registers higher on the ABV scale because that makes this mighty spawn of my liquid loins ideal for aging, not just a few months (or days if you, like so many others, find it irresistible to wait much longer than that to quaff such an other-worldly brew), but years. The eldest of this proud creation, the original vintage dating back to 1998, is not only holding up, but holding its own, bringing new and poignant meaning to the term timeless.
Double Bastard Ale plays an integral role in the every-other-year conjuring of another form of Liquid Arrogance, Lukcy Basartd Ale. And so do I. Lukcy Basard Ale is something so ambitious, it’s best if mere mortals attempt it just once every 730 days, lest their puny brains buckle under the pressure of harnessing not one, but three editions of the Arrogance to produce one grand cru cuvee of such magnificence it will bring tears to the eyes of both the Worthy and inferior. The latter will cry as their faces contort into an expression resembling that of the “bitter beer face” ad campaign run by Big Beer Sellouts R Us back in the ‘80s, while the former will shed salty streams of fluid joy. Lukcy Basartd Ale is a masterful blending of Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (the last of which just joined my other relatives as a once-in-a-while release after several years trying to hang with me year-round) designed to be consumed at the peak of freshness—yes, astute reader, the opposite of the cellarable Double Bastard Ale. It’s more than most can handle, making it all the more special for those who’ve proven up to that feat since Lukcy Basartd Ale’s 2010 debut.
Then there’s the youngster of the bunch, a limb on the family tree that, while presently short and stubby, is oaken to the core and will undoubtedly grow to scrape the sky with the rest of the upper echelon members of this storied clan—Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale. Life has nothing to do with killing time, but to make this no-brainer of an American strong ale a reality, I endured months of sequestering in the pitch-black, closed quarters of a vanillin- and whiskey-laced oak vessel. Normally, being relegated to solitary confinement would anger me, but knowing it was for the greater good of mankind, and the proliferation of the most noble bloodline within the netherworld of craft beer, I bore down (there was no way you’d find me grinning), bided my time and spent those months contemplating what I would become, figuring if something as puny as a caterpillar can, by virtue of little more than time spent in a chrysalis, can emerge as a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly, there would be no words to describe the magnificence of what an already incredible specimen such as myself would become after emerging, born anew, from those bourbon barrels. Adjectives fail as adequate descriptors, but I’ll venture some all the same: amazing, awe-inspiring, hellishly heavenly, jaw-dropping, life-changing and myriad other synonyms plucked from the second half of the alphabet.
Myself and the esteemed aforementioned relatives have been crammed unceremoniously into a snug and simple-yet-stylish Arrogant Bastard Box so that those who aspire to experience the best of the best may do so in ceremonious fashion. And though the niche component of the population that can step to this level of amazingness is rather small, these legions grow larger every day, meaning that red-and-black box of awesome shalt last long. (Read: Hurry up or be the sad sack that misses the bus and has to watch as the truly Worthy—and immensely elated—pull out of the depot.)
Post-Script: If you have the gall and daring to climb even higher up my family tree or peek into its dark knothole, the origins of three more of my other descendants, Crime, Punishment and Southern Charred can be found here.