Since 1997, our infamous Arrogant Bastard Ale has been kicking fizzy yellow beer drinkers square in the palate and forcing them to take notice of what good beer really is, forever changing the tastes and habits of the uninitiated and converting them to the culture of craft beer. Such was the instant allure of this mighty brew that the year after it debuted, we crafted an imperialized version and dubbed it Double Bastard Ale. Other iterations followed: a wood-infused take called OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale, as well as a blend of all of the aforementioned members of the Arrogant Bastard Ale family called Lukcy Basartd Ale (no, you didn’t read that wrong, and we didn’t commit an offense against the grammar gods…that’s the way we spell it). All four are cult favorites among craft beer enthusiasts craving exceptional brews with substantial flavor and oomph. This year, that lengthy staying power led us to celebrate the beer by not only conducting our annual November release of Double Bastard Ale, but also reviving two other dastardly Bastard variations and adding an entirely new offspring of this self-assured line to the mix. Get to know all three of this year’s specialties and marvel at their complexity, diversity and awesome ability to continue to engage—and perhaps challenge—even the most stalwart craft beer devotee.
Yep. They are the mostest favoritest thing to love AND to hate on our menu. True, the Mac & Beer Cheese and the Buffalo Burger give them a run for their money, but the onion rings don’t just edge out…they’ve got a clear margin. People really HATE them.
I don’t get it. True, I’m in the “one and done” camp with the onion rings. I never get them when I’m dining by myself, and wouldn’t even if I could order just one. The only time I have one is when I’m dining with other folks and they want to order them. I’ll try gently nudging them to one of our cheese plates, the Brussels sprouts or okra (depending on the season), or our house-made Kimchee. I prefer all of those to the onion rings. However, in my effort to be a good host, I’ll usually succumb to pressure and agree to get an order for the table. And I’ll have one. I’ll slather it in our BBQ sauce (which I genuinely love), and I’ll enjoy it.
And it’s not just hate. We get anger. Flowing and unrestrained. Expletives fly freely on rating websites about them as reviewers spit out their “How. Dare. They.” vitriol. What could there possibly be about an ONION RING that causes such unbridled bile?
And yet they sell huge.
And believe it or not, we’re actually not that thrilled about that fact.
OK then. What’s the problem? Bad profit? No, the onion rings rank a solid “OK” on the profitability scale. Not bad, not great.
It’s making them.
We have three deep fried items on our menu: the aforementioned onion rings, our Spud Buds and the Mushroom Pillows.
When things get busy, the onion rings are usually what puts us in the weeds. Four minutes frying time per batch. Period. If the person working that station is absolutely on it like clockwork — and the busier a kitchen gets, the more challenging that can be sometimes — then they can probably actually produce two batches every five minutes (we’ve been able to squeeze two deep fryers into the too-small kitchen). If we get thirty orders in over a short period, which can often happen when it’s busy…especially when there’s a wait as people order them in even more volumes from the bar to tied them over…then a little quick math demonstrates that the 30th order ain’t comin’ out until (take 30, multiply by five minutes then divide by two) an unacceptable seventy-five minutes later. Ugh. That’s just plain ugly. And our guests are, and let’s put it politely here, decidedly Not Stoked when they find out that they’re at the tail end of that chain. Can’t says I blame ‘em.
So let’s pause a moment in this too long tale of joy turning to sadness, woe and…perhaps?…eventual redemption and take score.
On the Good Side:
Some folks really actually do genuinely, for all their flaws and character defects (the onion rings’, not the people’s), like them. A lot.
On the Not Good Side:
Some folks make them the target for their ire. As such, they’re one of the most complained about items on our menu. I think it’s partially because their one of the most, errr…’normal’ things on our menu so the folks that are looking for ‘normal’ order them and are disappointed as they…aren’t. Normal that is. The Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings admittedly share the stage for being targeted with this type of angst with the Mac & Beer Cheese and the Buffalo Burger, our two other most ‘normal’ items on the menu that still…aren’t.
They barely fit within our Food Philosophy. True, we use organic onions, make the batter ourselves, etc. They qualify on that side, no prob. However, we have an unstated co-philosophy of not really wanting things on our menu that are arguably out-and-out BAD for you. Honestly, the onion rings are hard to defend on that level. In fact I won’t even try. Sure, I believe in people’s right to make their own decisions, but I also believe in our right to be at least VERY reluctant to serve food that’s in the no-redeeming-value-and-perhaps-a-fair-amount-of-just-plain-bad-for-you category. You want poor health? Well, we don’t really want to enable you on that quest. Ummm, ‘cept with this dish I guess. Yeah, I suppose it’s fairly evident that have a personal tough time with this one (unlike the folks at that link above that find them “healthy.” Yeah. Right. Healthy deep fried food.
They’re really hard to get out in the volume we need, when we need it. And when you need them (uh, want them rather…no one “needs” onion rings, no matter how much you might be on the Love Them).
Here’s the current menu description for them:
Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings 7
Crispy tempura-style Arrogant Bastard Ale batter. Too big and
well on the too greasy side (hey, they’re big, fat onion rings, not
carrot sticks). Burned ones often occupy the same plate as ones
that have uncooked gooey batter still on the inside. Yum. Call
us crazy…and many do…we love ‘em. Delivered with a side of
our Stone Smoked Porter BBQ Sauce (same delicious sauce
that we sell in the Stone Store, hint hint).
Here’s how I’d like the menu description to read:
You should reconsider ordering these. It is quite likely you will not like them. They are too big, and both too underdone and too well done. Too greasy as well (what is it with people that want non-greasy deep fried food anyway?) These are one of our most complained about items on the menu. Why don’t we just ax ‘em off our menu and be done with it? Because they’re one of the most popular items on the menu as well. Go figure. If you’re feeling a bit cranky and are looking for something to complain about, then perhaps these will give you just what you need. Oh, and ketchup does NOT go well with these, which is why we accompany them with the Stone Smoked Porter & Pasilla Pepper BBQ sauce. If you’re one of those ketchup-demanders (yes, you have a special designation in the restaurant industry…and it’s not one to be considered in high regard) we’ll supply it on request, but trust us when we say it’s not the best match for these rings. But we digress….
OK. Enough is enough, and it has indeed been enough. What do you think? Should we get rid of them, or are you going to sign up as a charter member of the Save The Arrogant Bastard Onion Rings Campaign?
I’ve made up my mind. Now’s your chance to tell me what you think. Speak up, or forever hold your ketchup (Actually hold the ketchup no matter what, you hooligans).
(Continued from Part 1)
Sure, for Vince the trouble started back in 1999. It wasn’t easy to pull off his feats of onion ring heroics every year. Never a once did he complain.
So when in the summer of 2006 I sent Vince an email asking if he’d be cool with us using his Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Ring recipe in our soon-to-be-opened restaurant, I actually felt a bit guilty. I mean, here’s a guy who had selflessly been working his butt off prepping, cooking and serving onion rings at our event for years for the benefit of the fest-goers and the charities and never gotten a thing in return other than accolades and words of thanks (he did get a lot of those). And now I had the gall, the audacity to casually email him and say “Hey Vince, would you be willing to share the recipe?”
His response of course was a typical Vince-style “Wow, I’d be honored if you served Arrogant Bastard Onion Rings at your new place…I was hoping you’d ask!” What a prince of a man. A good friend through and through (and not just ‘cause of some onion ring recipe).
Turns out though, there were some complications.
See, we’d already set on the plan to use natural ingredients. Absolutely minimal-to-no processed stuff. This counted out anything with high fructose corn syrup (most sodas, condiments and a shocking array of other “food”stuffs), and quite a variety of other things. Our goal was to use real food as a starting point in our kitchen. Not processed foods.
Certainly, that took pre-fab onion rings off our list. True, I sometimes wonder at the sheer phat bank we’d rake if we used the incredibly profitable likes of stuff like this or this (“Selling Points: A healthy and delicious way to enjoy quality onion rings…”). This one is the best yet with a nicely done, but oddly disturbing video that you must check out (love those Matrix-style cascading dollar signs in the background of one shot!).
You get the point. Hell, you probably recognize those industrialized rings from countless different restaurants you’ve visited.
But we knew we’d have none of that. Instead of high profit prefab rings, we were going to buy expensive organic onions, spend the labor to hand peel, slice, dip by hand into batter that we make several times a week by hand, and monitor the deep fry baskets (no auto timing here…we do that by hand too).
So back to Vince and those “complications” I mentioned above. It turned out Vince was using Krusteaz to make the batter. I don’t know why I’d always assumed that he’d been making his own batter, but he wasn’t. Hell, for that one-day-a-year gig, and with all the incredible amounts of work he put into it, I don’t blame the decision one iota. Not a bit. But when we looked at the ingredient list on the Krusteaz package, we realized it just wasn’t going to fit into the parameters that we set for the Stone restaurant. So we had to make our own. Naturally (well, ‘naturally’ as you can possibly get for a batter for deep frying, well, anything). So we did.
Fast forward to now. Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings are one of the most popular items on our menu. Folks wax poetically about ‘em, make special trips for them, and can’t ever ever ever stop complaining about them.
TO BE CONTINUED….Part 3
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
The title of “Most Arrogant Bar in America” is not a distinction we bestow lightly. We receive enthusiastic support from countless worthy establishments in all the vast reaches of this fine country, and we appreciate all the love. Really, we do. Sadly, there can be only one. Yes, that’s us for brewing…but in the world of Most Arrogant Bar in 2008, that distinction goes elsewhere.
Enter: Boston’s Bistro & Pub in Dayton, Ohio.
In a stunning performance, and for the second time in its illustrious history, Boston’s Bistro & Pub has snagged the title of “Most Arrogant Bar in America.” During the Most Arrogant Bar competition this past November, they served more Arrogant Bastard Ale, OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale and Double Bastard Ale than any other establishment on the planet. And they lived to tell the tale.
We would like all Stone fans to join us in congratulating Dave Boston and his crew for another lively display of no-holds-barred Arrogance.
Bravo, gentlemen. Bra-vo!
To celebrate this less-than humble occasion, Boston’s Bistro & Pub and Stone Brewing Co. are hosting a formal presentation of “Most Arrogant Bar” to Boston’s on Monday, January 19. Stone’s own Martin Saylor will be on hand, along with 12 half-barrels of Stone beer, including some tasty rarities such as Dry-Hopped Double Bastard Ale (the first half-barrel of this incredible beer to EVER land in the state of Ohio) and Stone Imperial Russian Stout, which placed second on BeerAdvocate’s list of “All-Time Top Beers on Planet Earth.” The festivities begin at 6pm and go till 8pm. If you’re within driving distance and you consider yourself a bit on the Arrogant side, have your teetotalling neighbor drive you instead. Better that way.
Once again, congrats to those Bastards over at Boston’s Bistro & Pub. They truly are an Arrogant bunch.