An Interview with an Arrogant Bastard
March 04, 2004
Tagging Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch as an ‘Arrogant bastard’ might be a bit over the top. That is until you bring up the topic of his beers. Then the little horns of arrogance and confidence sprout from his skull. And so they should.
Greg and his partner, Stone Brewing President & Brewmaster Steve Wagner, have been crafting quality beers since July 1996 though their history reaches years before. They first met in Los Angeles in 1989 where Greg owned the rehearsal studio Steve’s band practiced in. A few years later they met again at a weekend “A Sensory Evaluation of Beer” class taught at The University of California, Davis. Here it became obvious to both they shared the same passion and tastes in beer. Four years of research and planning later, Stone Brewing was born.
Anyone who has downed a Stone brew should agree their beers are in the upper echelon. It takes a lot more than the right ingredients and recipe to craft a good beer. Stone’s brews are a result of meticulous, hard work by a large team of people that truly care about both their work and the finished beer product.
For those of you unfamiliar with Stone’s line of beers, they have some of the most interesting bottle art around to house the extreme brews. The most sinister of them all is the Arrogant Gargoyle; the guardian of Stone’s extremely hoppy IPA’s. Don’t think you are getting just a cool bottle as Greg Koch would enthusiastically tell you. It’s filled with some of the best damn beer you’ve ever tasted. That’s not arrogance talking either. You know he’s right.
Recently I had the good fortune of cornering the busy Stone Brewing CEO and Chairman to get the rundown on Stone Brewing – including their infamous Stone Vertical Epic Ale. The first of these ales were released February 2nd 2002 (02.02.02), followed by a release on March 3rd 2003 (03.03.03), the last beer of this series will be released December 12th 2012 (12.12.12). The day of the final release you are supposed to sit back and sample all 10 years and reflect a little on life.
TMR: What is a day like for Greg Koch? Do you walk the floors of the brewery and sample beers or is most of your day a quagmire of paperwork?
GK: Our brewery is a modest size so I walk the floor everyday and yes, on most days there is some sampling going on.
TMR: So what are you sampling, new beers? Finished batches?
GK: A little bit of everything. We keep a close eye on every beer that leaves our brewery. There also might be some test brews that are smaller batches that I will sample now and then.
TMR: These test batches – have you ever had anything you didn’t like that went straight down the drain?
GK: I have never had a Stone beer I didn’t like. When we work on a new recipe we might taste it and think is needs a little more of this or a little more of that, but as far as drain pours go…that is usually the result of an accident or contamination by a sloppy brewer. We are way to careful to ever let that happen.
TMR: Some of you competitors have added Malternatives to their product lines to reach a broader audience. Any plans on Stone doing this?
TMR: Greg I can’t put that in my column.
GK: Then just say I said “Heck no.”
TMR: You have the Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard when are we going to see the Triple Bastard?
GK: Wow! I can’t even imagine a Triple Bastard. I don’t even know which way we would go with it.
TMR: Kind of scary?
GK: But scary in a good way. [Almost evil laugh]
TMR: Is the music thing still there at Stone brewing? If so, if you wanted to grab a guitar and bang out a rockin’ drinkin’ song and jam with your buddies what would it be?
GK: The music thing is long over but if I was going to grab a guitar and bang out a drinking song with my buddies it would have to be something easy that I could still remember like ‘Rock Me Like A Hurricane’ by The Scorpions. Wait no, it would be ‘Breaking The Law’ by Judas Priest. That song has a lot of power chords so you can take swigs of your beer while you’re playing it.
TMR: What is the next big beer for Stone?
GK: Stone 04.04.04 Vertical Epic Ale (Greg’s enthusiasm and excitement skyrocket) This beer is so good, wait til’ you try it. There is a Belgium thing going on and a Hefeweizen thing, but wait it’s not a Hefeweizen in any way. (Greg when on for about 5 minutes describing 04.04.04. I can’t wait to try this beer. I simply suggest go buy it next month and find out for yourself)
TMR: So I am staring at my 02.02.02 and 03.03.03 in the basement wondering what it tastes like.
GK: We keep tasting notes on our website for our Stone Vertical Epic Ales. We plan on opening each beer every 6 months and posting our findings. If we feel a beer is not going to make it to 12.12.12 we will post an alert on our website suggesting people drink it now. Eventually we want to get all of our special releases moving forward on the website. Some of the past beers we don’t have enough cellared to do this with like the Stone 6th Anniversary Porter. I have none of that in my personal cellar and I have no 02.02.02!
TMR: Do you think Steve will share some of his 02.02.02 with you?
GK: HELL NO!
TMR: What about a Belgium Strong Ale… any plans on doing a beer of that style?
GK: We have only brewed a Belguim Strong Ale once in a limited batch called Sawyer’s Triple, and it was a very sad story. Sawyer Sherwood was the son of Bill Sherwood, Stone’s Brewing Facilities Manager. Sawyer died of complications from Adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare neuro-degenerative disease known as ALD. We brewed Sawyer’s Triple to raise money and awareness about ALD. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Sawyer’s Triple went towards ALD causes and charities.
TMR: Sawyer’s Triple isn’t available anymore but is there anyway members of TheManRoom can help?
GK: There are links to a lot of great organizations that do a lot of great stuff for ALD on the Stone Brewing website.
TMR: Speaking of Man Rooms you have seen our site. What is your Man Room like?
GK: [Laughs] I am single. My whole house is a Man Room.
TMR: Ok I understand but there has to be a big screen somewhere. Lets say you go home tonight and the remote is in your left hand. What is in your right hand and what is on the screen?
GK: I just got The Mighty Wind. I love that kind of comedy; that Spinal Tap, Best of Show kind of stuff. In my right hand will probably be a Stone Smoked Porter.
TMR: Do you ever read member beer ratings on websites? If so, what goes through your mind when you read them?
GK: I read member ratings all the time. It doesn’t bother me when someone doesn’t like our beer and gives it a bad rating, but when I read something about Stone Ruination IPA like “this beer was way too hoppy,” that aggravates me. No kidding its way to hoppy! Did you read the bottle before you bought it? We have a great following of people who love our beers, we thank them all.
TMR: Greg this is the time where I do my picks. I know it is hard for you; all of your beers are so good. But what should my readers start off with on their journey into Stone Brews?
GK: Arrogant Bastard Ale, the Double Bastard Ale and Stone Ruination IPA. Arrogant Bastard Ale
I must admit the fist time I bought Arrogant Bastard was because the brash name and the cool bottle art caught my eye. The beer inside of this great package is just as unique. This medium bodied beer has a dark amber color with an off white head. The aroma is fresh and sweet with a somewhat fruity nose. Nice and hoppy with a large malty presence. The sweetness of this beer and hops are perfectly balance thus masking the 7.2% ABV.
Commercial description: This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We suggest you stick to safer and more familiar territory – maybe something with a multi – million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made at a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi – million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing the words as you read this.
Double Bastard Ale
This American Strong Ale looks so good with rich mahogany and an undersized tan head. The aroma is very sweet and carmely. As you raise the glass to your mouth and touch your tongue to this elixir you notice the big malt flavor and a huge pine hop aroma, my guess is from a more than generous helping of Cascade hops.
Commercial description: Arrogant Bastard Ale has often been accurately described as an “angry” beer with its 7.2% alc.vol. and massive flavor profile. At 10% alc.vol. Double Bastard Ale is a bit “more angry” to say the least. “Those looking for other more descriptive adjectives are welcome to pay a visit to their local library,” said Koch. “Besides, most people aren’t all that smart and a visit to the library would probably do them some good. Hell, we don’t want to have to do ALL the work ALL the time… sometimes people just need to figure things out for themselves.”
Stone Ruination IPA
Tremendously cloudy with a golden brown tone, the head is slightly compressed solid and frothy. The aroma has that huge citrus, floral, and pine hop profile. The 7.7% is perfectly balance by the malt and the hops in this more than complex Imperial IPA.
Commercial description: Stone Ruination IPA. So named, the bottle’s label states, “because of the immediate ruinous effect on your palate.” Stone Ruination IPA is the first new year-round release from Stone Brewing since the introduction of the infamous Arrogant Bastard Ale more than four and a half years ago. Not surprisingly, those who seek, crave and rejoice in beers with big, bold bitter character will find true nirvana in Stone Ruination IPA. However, Stone CEO Greg Koch comments “I have found it quite interesting that people who previously felt that bitterness in beer was unappealing have discovered joy in the startlingly bracing and uniquely refreshing bitter character of Stone Anniversary IPAs.” Still, Stone wouldn’t go so far as to recommend Stone Ruination IPA to someone who prefers drinks that taste like LifeSavers candies. “This beer is, after all, a celebration of hoppiness,” reports Koch, which may explain the phrase on the front of the Ruination IPA’s label that reads “A Liquid Poem to the Glory of the Hop.”
And my pick for Stone Brewing Company is:
Stone 03.03.03 Vertical Epic Ale
When I cracked this beer I was expecting the all-out Stone hop attack that I love so dearly. But no, these guys have to mix things around to keep us on our toes. It has a rich malty consistency with gentle hop aromas. What a perfect Belgium-type beer, right? It hosts a beautiful dark-brown color with a frothy head, and just the right amount carbonation accompanied by a perfect balance of spiciness and peppery tones. This is one of the most complex beers I have ever drank in my life. I can not wait to get my hands on some 04.04.04
Each of the eleven Vertical Epic ales will be released one year, one month and one day apart. In other words, this year’s edition will be released April 4th, 2004, followed by May 5th, 2005, all the way to December 12th, 2012. The grand premise of the series is that each edition is to be brewed in a different style from the previous year, and since the beers will be bottle conditioned (naturally carbonated in the bottle) they will mature when cellared, providing the beer enthusiast with a Vertical Epic tasting to look forward to sometime after 12.12.12 when the last edition is released. The bottle label on the 02.02.02 edition explains: “As with any good epic, herein like the promise of larger-than-life experiences, heroics and twists & turns as the adventure unfolds.” Different people do different things to mark the milestones of their lives. Photo albums, hope chests and the like provide us with a record of memorable events over the passage of time. Stone Brewing suggests including a note with current thoughts and events to store with the bottle. That way, when the bottle is finally opened, the enthusiast will be able to reminisce about past events with a complex vintage brew in hand. “Today’s events such as the economic downturn, the tumultuous stock market and international tensions will be history by then,” muses Koch. “It will be interesting to see what will change in the next ten years.”
Stone Brewing is located at 155 Mata Way in San Marcos. For more info, go to http://web.archive.org/web/20050208235334/http://www.stonebrew.com/ or call the brewery at (760) 471-4999.
More information about ALD and Sawyer