||apparatus in tow. A clever strategy, it guaranteed that he would be present when a potential customer tried the beer, which would not have been the case had he simply dropped off bottles. Our beers had a fuller flavor profile and were more bitter than people were accustomed to, so I had to be there to sort of work them through it, Koch says.
Since then, the brewery, located in a modern light-industry park, has expanded from 7,100 square feet to 26,500 and now employs more than 50 people. Its production has better than tripled from 8,700 barrels in 2000 to an anticipated 26,000 this year. Last year, the entrepreneurs magazine Inc. ranked Stone Brewing Co. 279th among the 500 fastest-growing companies in the United States, and it is ex-pected to confer a similar dis-tinction on the company this year. Stones growth is especially remarkable considering it does not advertise its products.
The brewery maintains its own distributing company, which, in keeping with Stones uncompromising ethic, delivers its beers locally via a fleet of eight trucks that are refrigerated to preserve the brews freshness. Stone also hires refrigerated trucks when shipping to distant locales, a practice, Koch says, that costs 2 1/2 to three times more than shipping the stuff un-refrigerated.
In March, Stones arrival in New York City was celebrated at the famed Blind Tiger Ale House in Manhattans West Village with a much ballyhooed noontime event that featured 12 different Stone beers on draft (The Arrogance Hits NYC, the brewery trumpeted in a press release, Locals say, Ouch. ). Since then, Stone beers have found their way to the draft systems of 30 bars and the shelves of more than 150 retail outlets in the city.
As soon as I tasted Arrogant Bastard, I told my boss, We gotta have this beer, says Claude Siegel, director of on-premise sales for S.K.I. Beer Corp., Stones distributor for the citys five boroughs. And, whoever thought a West Coast guy would come up with such a New York name?
|By JAMES RICCI
San Marcos, Calif.
TS a pugnacious little operation. Stone Brewing Co., a San Diego County outfit that started up just a few years ago, ridicules its customers for their low-brow taste and prides itself on its powerfully bitter brews that would send Bud Light drinkers running for the hills.
The brew master is an ex-rock musician. The chief executive, a feisty business school grad. The star brew? Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Youd expect all this to make Stone the toast of beer geekdom. And it is. But lately, its begun climbing out of the beer underground, out of the class of the cult and into the mainstream.
Beeradvocate.com, with 13,000 members one of the largest consumer-based beer rating sites on the Internet, will anoint Stone Americas best brewery when it releases its Best Of list in July. Beeradvocate.coms current list of the worlds 50 highest-ranked beers includes five Stone products, and a sixth is on the verge of inclusion.
Another site, Ratebeer.com, which claims 7,200 members, ranks Stone as the best brewery in North America, and the third best in the world behind two Belgian producers. It is the third straight time that Stone has been so honored in Ratebeer.coms semi-annual compilations. (Another San Diego County brewer, AleSmith Brewing Co., ranked sixth-highest in the world and third-highest in North America.)
TONE, whose beers carry dark, forbidding labels that depict fierce gargoyles, has spread to 17 states and can be found in the coolers at Pavilions and Whole Foods Market stores. Selling for $3 to $5 per 22-ounce bottle, the brewerys ales, porters and stouts are characterized by tongue-stinging bitterness, massive loads of malt fruitiness and brain-rattling alcohol levels.
"If you like the yellow fizzy stuff, it's definitely not for you," says Joe Tucker, executive director of Ratebeer.com.
Stone Chief Executive Greg Koch says that he and the brewery's co-founder, Steve Wagner, "set out a set of standards for ourselves and we've stuck to them rigidly."
| "We brew, not beer that people want, but beer that people deserve," Koch added.
Stone Brewing scorns the notion of light, easy-drinking beers. On releasing its least heavy beer, Levitation Ale (alcohol level 4.4%), in September, Koch sought to assure devotees that the new brew was not a more drinkable beer devised by marketing weasels. In a statement, he pointed out that we never really cared too much for what the average consumer thinks they want. After all, what do they know? This isnt some silly light beer. For beginners, we think light beer is for pansies.
The brewerys official hubris reaches its apogee in Arrogant Bastard Ale, whose slogan is, Youre not worthy. The back of the label, which, like most Stone products, is found mostly in big bottles or on draft at serious beer bars, reads thus:
"This is an aggressive beer. You probably wont 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 would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you its made in 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 youre mouthing your words as you read this.
Among its six year-around beers and five special releases are brews named Double Bastard Ale (a more intense version of Arrogant Bastard, with an alcohol quotient of 10%) and Ruination IPA (an India Pale Ale that might be the single most bitter beer on Earth; it is named for the effect it is likely to have on a drinkers palate).
Beer geeks eat up Stones stagy hubris. It reflects their own contempt for the bland, mass-produced beers that most Americans drink.
| Noted beer author Stephen Beaumont cautions that such aficionados tend to be overly impressed by big beers, and Stone makes a great many very big beers. Still, for the most part, they do so with skill and as much finesse as these massive brews allow.
From rock to hops
TONES in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style no doubt has roots in the 39-year-old Kochs background in rock music. Before settling on a business degree from USC, he attended the Guitar Institute of Technology, and is a devotee of the harder strains of rock, which reverberate in all corners of the brewery.
A tall, fair-haired man, both affable and intense, Koch abandoned songwriting when he realized that he was better suited to business than to music. In his mid-20s, he started Downtown Rehearsal, a company that has converted two large warehouses near Los Angeles artists district into 267 rehearsal rooms for bands.
He turned his head to brewing after befriending Wagner, a home brewer and bassist for one of his tenant bands. They encountered each another at a one-day UC Davis course on the sensory evaluation of beer, and for the next four years went back and forth on trying a brewery of their own.
They launched Stone Brew-ing in July 1996, with Wagner as brew master and Koch as external operative. To Koch, the early days of peddling Pale Ale and Arrogant Bastard Ale were a revelation.
I had never sold a keg of beer in my life, he says. I didnt have a clue how to do it. I felt if a restaurant or bar knew we existed and made great beer, theyd say, Hey, youre local, our customers might like it, so lets try some. Boy, was that a miscalculation.
At that time, Stone made only draft beer, and Koch called on potential customers with a 3 1/2-gallon keg and draft