Arrogant Bastard Ale
Arrogant Bastard Ale
I t’s hard to remember and even harder to fathom, but there was a time when I did not like beer. Well, I didn’t think I would like beer. Every example of “beer” I had seen looked exactly the same and was described in some of the most boring terms ever churned from the bowels of Madison Avenue: “light,” “cool,” and, enticer extraordinaire, “less filling.” Booze wase fun and wine seemed sophisticated, but beer came across as shallow and bland. So I avoided the last until one night when, at the age of 22, some co-workers invited me for drinks after work at their regular watering hole, O’Brien’s Pub.
A rare, early-adopter of worldly and American artisanal beers, O’Brien’s was stocked to the gills with an enviable variety of micro-brewed selections, none of which I found all that enviable. Watching our server approach the table, it was the only time in my life I can remember feeling nervous about ordering a drink, it becoming clear that I was about to out myself as someone completely oblivious to and ignorant about beer. As each of my colleagues placed their orders, I scraped the furthest recesses of my memory banks for the name of a beer that sounded top-shelf or a cut above Bud Light. What I came up with was, “A Heineken, please.”
I’ve spent well over a decade writing professionally and still can’t come up with adequate words to describe the horrified brand of shock and awe painted across my companions’ faces on that fateful night. Fortunately, like many craft beer drinkers, rather than shame me or have fun at my expense, they helped me out. “He’ll have what we’re having,” said my friend, “One more Arrogant Bastard, please.”
Gauging my confusion, my buddy informed me he was referring to Arrogant Bastard Ale, a recently-released American strong ale from nearby Stone Brewing. Of course, given my naivety where beer was concerned, that meant little to me, but I was grateful to have survived my miscue with my reputation and drinking-buddy potential still intact. I breathed a sigh of relief, settled in and awaited the arrival of this oddly- but intriguingly-named ale.
Within minutes I was staring at a shaker-pint filled to the brim with heady, deep-crimson liquid. I remember commenting, “This doesn’t look like any beer that I’ve seen before.” My party shared a knowing chuckle over that while I lifted the glass to my nose and caught a whiff of what is now such a familiar scent—vibrant, verdant, piney hops. It was an exotic and intoxicating ambrosia that stayed with me as I took my first sip. All at once, my taste buds were assaulted by myriad bold flavors, none of which I could get my palate around in the moment. This was my first beer after all, and what I would later be able to identify as notes of burnt sugar, biscuit, grapefruit pith, resin and a cannabis-like greenness were completely foreign to me.
I won’t pretend that my palate was so ahead-of-its-time and ultra-refined that I was able to enjoy Arrogant Bastard Ale the first time that I sampled it. To be honest, I didn’t really like it…but I pretended to. The fact these guys were eve still talking to me at this point was nothing shy of a miracle, so I drank the beer, one confounded gulp at a time. All the while, I kept thinking that there was no way this beer could be described as “light” or “cool” and certainly not “less-filling.” And even though I couldn’t fully appreciate a beer this over-the-top, I was instantly able to understand that Arrogant Bastard Ale was not about quenching one’s thirst. It was about amplifying flavor so that people who enjoyed this kind of beer could savor each sip and have an experience, versus some quick hit of minimal alcohol delivered against the backdrop of a generic and soulless, mass-produced beverage.
Later that night, my craft connoisseurship expanded to include Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, and on future visits to O’Brien’s I would sample other Stone wares—IPA, Smoked Porter, Old Guardian Barley Wine—as well as staples of the day like Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, AleSmith Nautical Nut Brown and Russian River Pliny the Elder. That led to brewery visits, bottle shares, homebrewing and so much more, including becoming the most prolific beer journalist in San Diego County and a professional within the craft-beer industry, including three years working for Stone Brewing – talk about full-circle!
Would any of this have taken place had my friends not intervened and instead allowed me to order that Heineken? Not a chance. I owe a lot to that first Arrogant Bastard, and the table full of kind, inclusive craft-beer fans who shared something they so greatly appreciated with me and, in the process, changed the trajectory of my entire life for the better.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.