The American craft brewing industry is extremely cohesive, with businesses mirroring each other from the West Coast to the East Coast, North to South, Alaska to Hawaii. Even so, San Diego is very unique. With more than 100 brewhouses having opened throughout the county over the past 25 years, the question we hear most is about competition within the industry. It’s an understandable inquiry (imagine having 100 cheese-makers in one county…yeah, we’re looking at you, Wisconsin!), but it always makes San Diego brewers scratch their heads. For the most part, we really don’t see other breweries as competitors. To us, they are our comrades in the fight for the rise in awareness and availability of high-quality beer in a world dominated by macrobeer. That’s the great thing about artisanal industries like craft beer—just like us, our compatriots are working on bettering the craft, and each great new beer gives us, and other breweries opportunities and ideas. It’s a “collaboration not competition” mindset, a constant alliance and source of inspiration among our breweries. We’ll admit that it’s far from the norm for most industries, so one feels compelled to pose the question: How did such a unique business culture arise?
In addition to the guarantee of authenticity, a major benefit of wearing one’s emotions and opinions on their sleeves is that such individuals are ready at the drop of a hat—or the click of a camera’s “on” switch—to share their beliefs in a cogent and intelligent manner. Our CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch is never shy about sharing his views where quality and consumers are concerned. Recently, a camera crew from UCTV, the television faction of the University of California education system, engaged him unexpectedly at the debut of Bottled & Kegged, an exhibit at the San Diego History Center chronicling the rise of craft brewing in San Diego County. What resulted is the video below, which eloquently outlines GK’s passionate beliefs on what people should not only desire, but demand for themselves—something better, something with heart, something crafted to be the best.
Truth be told, they’ve been a pain in the ass since day one.
And that “day one” dates all the way back to 1999. First, it was a joyous pain….
It was the Stone 3rd Anniversary Open House. Our good friend Vince Marsaglia, stoked about the fact that we’d started to raise some nice money for charity at the Anniversary celebrations, and being the kind of guy who loves to pitch in and loves to cook, offered up his serious skills. And what did he settle on? Onion Rings! The Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings were born.
We didn’t charge anything for them. We’d gone from asking for a voluntary donation for charity at the 1st Anniversary, to $5 at the 2nd Anniversary. I’m really struggling to recall here, but I think we raised it again at the 3rd Anniversary to somewhere in the $7 range. We’ve got a record of that detail in a filebox somewhere, but I don’t want to go dig through all that stuff right now. The bottom line is that we were a little concerned about the increase in price, and the idea of offering attendees a free perk to get a little food in their stomachs seemed like a great idea.
They were an instant hit. The line was long and nonstop all through the fest. Vince and his helpers worked like crazy all day, ran out, and ended up covered head to toe in batter. Vince was grinning the whole time.
Before reading this, you might have understandably guessed that the Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings were a Stone invention. They were not. Credit goes entirely to Vince.
The next year Vince made even more onion rings. They were so popular that the line was again 30-50 people deep the entire day, they again worked like crazy, eventually ran out again, and Vince and team were covered in even more batter at the end of the day.
Vince has not missed leading the Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Ring team during the Stone Anniversary Celebrations since. That counts up to NINE years he’s been doing it. Each year he’s prepped and brought more onions, we’ve made his tent area bigger, and we’ve added additional fryer capacity. And each year the legend of them, and the line, has continued to grow.
That’s when the real trouble started.
TO BE CONTINUED….Part 2