Stone Brewing: Rock Star of Beer
By Eric and Mimi Griffith
Multiple city tour across the nation? Check. Fans lining up in anticipation of your arrival? Check. Flashbulbs popping and video cameras rolling? Check. Signing tons of autographs? Check. Rushed in and out of venues by an entourage? Check. Stage dives? Check.
This would appear to be the prerequisites for a rock star with a top ten album, but actually it is just a day in the life of Greg Koch, CEO & co-founder of Stone Brewing Co. If you haven’t heard about his antics or experienced him in person just check out this clip to get a feel for the energy and intensity he brings to his “beer sermons.”
An Arrogant Bastard is Born
So how did we get here? And I don’t mean here on Earth, I mean standing in a bar with a glass of beer raised in celebration of a once angry young man who has finally decided it’s time to share his much sought after brews with the craft beer fanatics of St. Louis. As Greg noted, his most frequent question when traveling to new markets is “What took you so long?”
You see Stone Brewing has been turning out the good stuff since 1996 in Escondido,CA, and they have been one of the fasted growing breweries in the nation over the past 10 years. It all started when Greg discovered how wonderful beer could be while he sipped a steam beer from Anchor Brewing. He describes the feeling as being lied to by the mass marketed, fizzy-yellow beer makers, also known as “the man.” The rock star CEO sums up the epiphany as “boy meets beer, boy falls in love, boy has new career.”
Koch teamed up with Steve Wagner and together they founded Stone Brewing while homebrewing their first beers. Well it sounds like Steve was homebrewing and Greg was sanitizing and fantasizing. He developed the gargoyle to serve as the face of Stone Brewing and it also serves as the protector whose job is to ward off cheap ingredients, and preservatives. Stone produces stronger, bigger character beers than most breweries, but Koch believes that Americans have taste and he will not pander to the lowest common denominator.
The recipe of outstanding beer, in-your-face labels, high quality ingredients, and heaps of passion has pushed Stone from 400 barrels in 1996 to 115,000 barrels of nectar in 2010, and it now distributes to 35 states. The Q & A session atCicero’sBeerSchoolwas more in the vain of an intimate, sit-down, acoustic jam, but like any good rock star, Greg Koch brought along several of his greatest hits…
Stone Levitation Ale
He says- I am ready to make this my new favorite session beer. It appears dark brown in the glass leading you toward the malt side, but then grabs you with a dry-hopped aroma of Amarillo and Simcoe. There is a sweet background to the flavor, but the aroma helps balance out the palate. You would never guess this is only 4.4% ABV and it lets you know that lower alcohol does not have to equal lower taste.
She says- Modest on alcohol but big on flavor. The toasty malts introduce a sweet flavor right off the bat that is followed by the citrus and piney notes of the hop blends. How great to find a full flavor beer that is completely sessionable! You could drink Levitation with a variety of different foods and be happy.
He says- Crisp and clear to the eye with a light amber color. This is a true, original West Coast IPA with big citrus leaning hops.
I know why this is Stone’s top seller. Creamy in the mouth yet refreshing on the finish. It does everything an IPA should do. Centennial and Chinook fans will be very pleased.
She says- I noticed citrus hops as the first scent, but it wasn’t overwhelming like some IPAs. It had a medium body and a crisp finish. The hop profile will make IPA fans happy. This is a lovely beer!
He says- While Greg Koch discouraged the practice, I did age an Arrogant Bastard Ale for one year and it was still delicious. This is a strong ale with
hops as the focus. Caramel and nut flavors hide behind a mask of “classified” hops. It comes with a nice 7.2% ABV so you can share a few sips with a friend. Aging the beer took away the hop nose, but the complexity of the beer was not lost. Is this a self portrait of the CEO? Read the label and decide for yourself.
She says- I found it to be slightly smoky on the nose. I agree with Eric in that the word complex is a good one for this beer. The malt and hop balance was wonderful yet each was distinctive. This beer is full of fabulous personality.
He says- Another great IPA from Stone, this time it’s a Double India Pale Ale with an ABV of 7.7%. Stronger, sweeter, and stickier than the IPA. This beer packs over 100 IBUs and is slapping my tongue with extreme amounts of Centennial and Columbus hops. Save this one for the end of the night because as the name implies your palate will be ruined for all other brews.
She says- We found out that this was the first Double IPA to ever be bottled for distribution. As a hophead I love DIPAs and this one was great. I taste lots of pine from the hops. This beer does not ruin my palate, but rather fills my taste buds with a million reminders of why I became a hop lover.
The Last Sip
As Greg recites his monologue from the back of the Arrogant Bastard label we realize he either has a really good memory or he truly lives this mantra everyday. Probably a mixture of both, but the reality is he turns out great beer and we are happy to finally have Stone Brewing inSt. Louis.
About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about a year now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for five years and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, just realized beer actually has flavor about a year ago. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!