Last week, we took to social media, asking Stone fans to tell us what time-honored holiday treats they’d like to see our test kitchen tackle in an attempt to make them better using craft beer. A wide variety of suggestions came back, some in the form of pleas. We took some of the most popular and got to work simmering, whisking and brushing a variety of brews into a pair of desserts that, when the dust of the confectioner sugar cleared, were all the better for it. Accept the recipes for both of them as our holiday gift to all of you. Cheers to craft beer, and more craft beer in the kitchen!
We’re obsessed with hops and all the bitter, fruity, resinous, tropical flavors they can bring to beer. These little buds are amazing in and of themselves, but the work that goes into making those characteristics shine is just as impressive. From the kettle and far beyond, we’re breaking down the magic of getting the most out of our hops and pushing those IBUs ever higher.
There are watershed moments in everyone’s existences where they look back and see that an event, perhaps comprised of little more than a few seconds and seemingly meaningless at the time, changes the trajectory of one’s life forever. For some, it can be sage words from a wise individual or exorcising themselves from the grip of a premature demise. For others, a chance encounter with the love of their lives or a moment of introspection so deep it inspires sea change, the pursuit of lifelong dreams or the abandonment of ill-conceived ventures in favor of aspiring to something better. And then, for some, there’s the discovery of something life-changing—an artifact, an heirloom, a new technology, a book, a religion, a field of study…or a beer. At first blush, that last one seems like an exaggeration; something you’d expect from a macrobeer commercial wherein some heretofore severely lame, nerdy member of society cracks open a cold-as-the-Rockies can of lo-cal, lo-flavor adjunct pilsner, then suddenly finds himself surrounded by a harem of supermodels on the deck of his new yacht as it pulls into the personal dock at his annexed island mansion in the Bahamas. My story does not end like this, but the tale of my first encounter with Arrogant Bastard Ale does lead to a very happy ending.
Picture it, a Friday night in San Diego during the fall of 1998—a young man yet to quaff his first beer saunters into a low-frills, seemingly Irish-themed bar on the edge of a strip mall that, otherwise, is completely occupied by Asian restaurants. The name of that establishment—O’Brien’s Pub. The mission of the group—beers to kick-start the weekend. Did anybody in the quintet know this was an early Mecca for craft beer in a city that would evolve to become, arguably, the epicenter for craft beer in the United States? Nope. They all just happened to work a half-mile away at a microelectronics manufacturer that often inspired them to seek out adult beverages to help erode the stress of the nine-to-five. The other four laborers in my group hit up O’Brien’s pretty regularly and, thinking I’d make a decent addition to their social circle, had asked me to come along. A fan of friends and adult beverages, I took them up on their invite.
Upon entering the pub, as if by fate, a group of five cleared out from a table in the otherwise packed-to-capacity bar. We scurried over to claim their vacated territory as our own and, as my friends perused a whiteboard with a bunch of foreign-sounding names messily scrawled upon it—Bear Republic Racer 5, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot—I thought to myself: Crap, I’ve never had a beer before and I don’t want to sound like a loser. What am I going to order? I started combing over my severely limited vernacular where beer brands were concerned, weighing each against the criteria that television ads and billboards had provided to tell me which was the fanciest, top tier choice. A waitress came to the table and, as if sensing the opportunity to completely humiliate a beer rookie, asked me what I’d like to drink. I cleared my throat and, in my deepest, manliest voice, replied: “Um, a Heineken?”
I’d hoped for the others to not even hear me or, if they did, only passively acknowledge the selection as they proceeded to issue their orders…but that didn’t happen. Instead, each of their faces elongated to gaping caricatures akin to Edvard Munch’s famed masterpiece, The Scream. It was as if their jaw muscles had gelatinized at the mere utterance of the Dutch macrobrew. I thought for sure at that moment that my drinking buddies had gone from to-be to would-be status, but then they exhibited the positive behavior that I would later learn is the hallmark of any good craft beer fan. Rather than shame me for being so ignorant to the craft culture, they had the waitress cancel my order and told her, “He’ll have an Arrogant Bastard Ale.” Rather than feel belittled or inferior, I felt gratitude that they’d taken me under their wing and helped me out. And, though I had no idea what Arrogant Bastard Ale was, I had to admit, it sounded a heck of a lot more interesting than any beer I’d heard of up to that point.
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?
When a brewing company grows to a certain size, there’s the natural perception that, as said organization’s demand dictates the production of more and more beer, with heightened quantities comes lowered artisanship. Sadly, in the case of numerous big beer operations (we won’t name names—they…and likely you…know who they are already), this is true. But craft beer, by its very nature, is about inventiveness, creativity and…we’ll say it…FUN! Without those, what’s the point of getting into craft brewing in the first place? We don’t know the answer and, in to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.
We at Stone count ourselves lucky to have so many fans of what we do and the beers we create. Most of those who’ve tagged along as we forge through this hop-studded journey have taken fandom to new heights. That level of devotion is something we don’t take lightly and work to reward by coming up with new beer recipes and getting those brews into our staunch supporters’ hands and pint glasses. As devotees keeping a watchful eye on us will attest, 2013 was a big year for new Stone brews. But even our most keyed-in fans were probably unaware of just how big. We say this, because after examining 12 months’ worth of brewing schedules, even our jaws dropped to the floor when we discovered that we had delivered 74 new beers outside our not-so-standard standard-issue brews this year. So, join us, won’t you, as we revisit them and other notable Stone happenings from the year that was.
Bottle art is serious business at Stone. Great beer without great packaging would be like presenting filet mignon and lobster on a trashcan lid. Fortunately, we have incredible artists on our team, plus writers (and a CEO) to pen short novels on the backs of our bottles, all of whom are Worthy of the beers whose virtues they promote. These individuals are more than capable, but when it came time to develop designs for a beer released in connection with celebrities and around the same time as San Diego’s annual Comic-Con—Drew Curtis/Wil Wheaton/Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout—we decided to go above and beyond, crafting three unique bottles that have become collector’s items among beer fans, thanks to three gifted and diverse artists.