For a brewery that made a modest 23,000 barrels last year, Rogue has an unusually large sales area. The handsome silk-screened bottles are marketed in 40 states and exported to Japan. In fact, the chocolate and buckwheat beers were test-marketed in the Far East before they became available in the United States. “Because we don’t make lighter, paler beers, we don’t have enough of a concentration of customers in any one area,” explains Joyce. “We make high-octane beers that travel well.”
Not all of Joyce’s schemes have panned out. Among his failures he cites Rogue tennis shoes and Rogue earrings. The garlic beer was in a class by itself. Brew master John Maier whipped it up for a festival in Tacoma, WA, honoring the pungent herb. “Basically, he took our golden ale and dry-garlicked it,” recalls Joyce. “It was horrible. We went through a couple cases of it, but it was a ‘how many tequilas can I shoot’ kind of thing.”
Of course, failure is an occasional result of taking chances. And people who don’t take chances don’t have many successes either.
The Only Beer for Bastards
If you see Greg Koch and Steve Wagner at a beer festival, don’t expect to saunter over and try Arrogant Bastard, their most distinctive beer, right off the bat. The two will insist that you try Stone Brewing Co.’s other beers first—pale ale, smoked porter and IPA. “You have to prove yourself worthy,” laughs Koch.
Koch won’t reveal what goes into Arrogant Bastard (“we keep the recipe close to our chest”), but it’s an American strong ale with lots of alcohol (7.2 percent ABV), lots of malt and lots of hops. The silk-screened bottles feature a demonic-looking fellow and issue a provocation to the consumer: “You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. Perhaps you think multimillion-dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better.”
Most people take it good naturedly, Koch says. He once received a note from Bastard Nation, a group representing Americans born out of wedlock. They praised his beer for being “a positive promotion of bastardy.”
Koch (who is no relation to Jim Koch of Sam Adams fame) honed his beer appreciation skills while living in the Bay Area in the early 1990s. He founded (and still runs) Downtown Rehearsal, a Los Angeles-based firm that builds music practice studios. The brewery is in San Marcos, a 35-minute drive from downtown San Diego.
Koch intended to celebrate this year’s American Beer Month with a t-shirt amnesty program. Beer drinkers with shirts advertising national brands were invited to trade them in for a substantial discount on an Arrogant Bastard tee with the slogan, “Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies.”
“We know that we’ve painted ourselves in a corner and we can’t ever come out with a golden ale,” says Koch. “But we’re having a hell of a lot of fun. People expect us to be crazier.”
Stone Brewing produced 9,400 barrels last year, up 61 percent. Its beers are available in nine states, mostly in the West, but they also show up in a few East Coast enclaves like the DC/northern Virginia area. Seasonals include Double Bastard (everything that goes into Arrogant Bastard, just more of it) and Anniversary IPA, a hop monster that last year measured 102 bitterness units (Budweiser, by comparison, registers about 12). Koch’s summer seasonal is a Russian imperial stout measuring 9.5 percent ABV. “What’s more perfect than a beer that still tastes good when it’s warm?” he asks.
The American craft brewing industry is richly endowed with unique beers and unique personalities. With a minimum of effort, I can think of at least a dozen other breweries that could have substituted for the ones in this article.
But if you admire individualism at its most rugged, don’t wait to try their beers. Once these brewers become rich and famous, they won’t be eccentrics any longer, but geniuses and visionaries. And everybody will be imitating them.