Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Stone Brewing

Stone Brewing Co. co-founder and CEO Greg Koch was in Durango last week to promote his beers and hang out with the Ska Brewing guys.

I like Stone. Levitation Ale (4.4 percent ABV, 45 IBUs), it seems to me, is a major accomplishment. It has huge taste for a session beer. Levitation was recognized with a gold medal at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival in the American-style red/amber ale category.

It has a resiny, piney taste that's more flavorful than most amber ales. I have never encountered a more flavorful beer with such low alcohol content. It's marvelous.

I spoke briefly with Koch(pronounced Cook) at Lady Falconburgh's (pictured), and he said Levitation is the only beer in Stone's regular lineup that has changed significantly since its introduction. The recipe has evolved. It's now hopped with Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe and Crystal hops, and dry-hopped with Amarillos.

San Diego-based Stone is all about the West Coast hop craze. Their ales all derive from basic English styles (pale ale, IPA, porter, stout), before getting stuffed full of hops.

Stone's Pale Ale (5.4 percent ABV, 41 IBUs), is its flagship and was its first beer. I recommend it, as I do the IPA (6.9 percent, 77 IBUs) and Imperial Russian Stout (10.5 percent ABV, 90+ IBUs).

Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2 percent ABV, IBUs not released) is an extraordinarily popular beer, but I'm not on the bandwagon. It lacks a distinctive taste. It's not bitter, sweet or funky. It's just a dark ale that leaves me without any memorable impressions.

Arrogant Bastard's marketing is also, to me, a little off-putting. Stone says: "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."

The whole arrogant bastard bit is apparently not just a gimmick. Koch, as his public interviews make evident, is a beer snob of the highest order. Still, I found him to be friendly and open during our brief conversation.

In general, I resent breweries that succumb to obnoxious corporate marketing because so many do well without it. Speak softly and distribute big beer, I say.

A lot of good breweries find their way onto liquor-store shelves in Colorado. Stone has to compete with a long list of out-of-state breweries, not to mention Colorado's own brewers. Yet Stone is a solid choice, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their lineup.


  1. Stone does have a great selection of beers, as does many San Diego Breweries. They got together at the Stone Bistro for a tasting party and it was broadcast on a local radio station.

  2. Stone's marketing is off-putting to you? Wow. I *love* their "You're not worthy" tagline and marketing about "aggressive beer." That was what drew me to the brewery in the first place, when I was just starting to discover IPAs.

    Their marketing continues to be my favorite brewery marketing in the country, and their label design and attitude are something I've tried to emulate in my homebrew labels.
    Not sure how you can say they have succumbed to obnoxious corporate marketing. They're *making fun of* the macrobreweries that use obnoxious corporate marketing.

    Marketing is 90% of the battle in selling beer and making a decent profit. The breweries that distribute big beer but do no marketing and just rely on word of mouth are unlikely to ever achieve larger scale or wider distribution. Marketing is about creating an image or niche for your brewery that sets them apart from the thousands of other breweries out there. I think Stone has done an amazing job at that.