It takes a stone arrogant bastard of a brewery to, just 15 months after tapping its first keg, release a new beer and brand it Arrogant Bastard Ale. Even more so to market it with copy like this:
This is an aggressive ale. 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. . . If you don’t like it, keep it to yourself – we don’t want to hear from any sniveling yellow-swill-drinking wimps ‘cause Arrogant Bastard wasn’t made for you.”
Slightly over a decade later, those arrogant bastards of Stone Brewing were named “All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” by Beer Advocate Magazine. Shortly thereafter founder Greg Koch received knighthood from the Belgian Brewers Federation. Arrogance, for sure, but apparently also with the sack (or should we now say squirely sword) to back it up.
Loving both beer and cool gargoyle mascots, we felt obligated to take a pilgrimage to Stone’s flagship World Bistro and Garden in Escondido, California. Driving past the contemporarily chic industrial complex we caught our first whiff of arrogance. Hidden behind a grove of trees and lacking both signage and visible street numbers, visitors get little help in finding the place. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you’ll likely drive right by – just as we did.
Hiding your place of business is always a gamble. The aim is usually to create a veneer of exclusivity that, when done successfully, can make a brewery, bar and restaurant such as Stone’s feel excitingly like a modern-day speakeasy. More often the transparent gimmick just creates needless aggravation for first-time patrons. It’s a bold choice, but who are we to judge? Stone’s legendary beer making ability is rivaled only by its marketing prowess. Tellingly, our difficulty locating the bistro paled in comparison to the challenge we encountered finding a parking space in Stone’s bustling lot. Clearly their little game of hide and seek hasn’t deterred its growing legion of ardent fans.
Inside, the 12,000 square foot dining space sprawls seamlessly under high ceilings and open air. An adjoining acre-sized beer garden offers visitors a tranquil environment of waterfalls and koi ponds for optimal beverage contemplation. More than just a pretty face, the garden also contains a small grove of avocados and herbs that provide fresh ingredients for the Bistro’s menu, which is supposed to be fantastic. But we didn’t come for the food. Instead we made our way past the restaurant’s modern stone and iron decor toward the towering glass walls that separate the bar area from gleaming silver brewing vats.
Lucking into a couple of free bar stools, we were confronted with more beers than we could hope to sample in a dozen visits – 42 brews on draft (including 26 Stone varietals), another 126 in bottles, and not a single “fizzy yellow beer” in the house. It’s the kind of place you can only do justice to with a designated driver. Because neither Shannon nor I were volunteering for that thankless gig we limited our ambitions to a single shared flight of Stone’s strong ales.
What we discovered is that Arrogant Bastard, as good as it is, isn’t Stone’s best beer – or even its most arrogant. A richly malty and bitingly bitter, black imperial IPA wins that distinction. Normally we’d go on to extol its virtues, but with Stone we don’t have to. Those arrogant bastards do a pretty good job of selling themselves:
We’re brewers whose substantial mettle and idiomatic approach to brewing allows us to consistently create works of art such as this justifiably self righteous ale. Its bitterness hits our sweet spot. Its blackness lightens our hearts. Its liquid dichotomy pulls it all together in this sublimely sacrosanct ale. Yes, we damn well know our stuff here at Stone, and it would be irresponsible of us not to acknowledge how remarkable this heavenly creation of ours is. Thus the name we are compelled to give it . . . Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale . . . serves as a reminder of just how good we are.”
We’ll drink to that.