Book Review: The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.

The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.A little while back I received a review copy of The Craft of Stone Brewing Co., the new book (just released) celebrating the history and culture of everyone’s favorite Arrogant brewer, Stone Brewing. It’s part history, part informational reference, and part how-to, and overall presents an entertaining read on one of craft brewing’s most popular makers and purveyors of beer.

First, a couple of nitpicks to get out of the way (the only real “negatives” I have about the book):

  • For some reason publishers think all beer books need to devote pages to an introduction to beer: in this case, an overview of what beer is, the types of styles that exist, ingredients, how to make it, and a brief history. For this book I think this is completely unnecessary and distracting, and pulls away from the “voice” and tone the rest of the book adopts. For a book about Stone, the vast majority of the target audience, I’d wager, is already beer-savvy and won’t need this distraction. If there has to be something, how about a “Further Resources” section at the back which can point to relevant information?
  • To a lesser extent, the section containing homebrew recipes probably doesn’t need a primer on how to brew beer, again considering the tone and style of the book up to that point. Although, while I personally found it superfluous I will concede that it is a more technical niche than the “intro to beer” at the beginning of the book, and thus a case could be made for it.

The book is roughly divided into thirds by the nature of the topics it covers: the first third is the history of Stone as told by Greg Koch, with additional commentary by Steve Wagner and others. The middle third covers the beers of Stone: a brief writeup of I believe every beer Stone has ever made and collaborated on (to date). A section on enjoying beer by “Dr.” Bill Sysak caps this section. The final third is devoted to recipes: both food recipes from the Stone Bistro kitchens, and the homebrew recipes for clones of many of Stone’s beers.

The history of Stone is an enjoyable read, though I did find the conversational tone of the text to be distracting at times, and there are a few spots where you feel like part of the story is missing—like the two or three paragraphs devoted to the establishment of their own distribution company, Stone Distributing. It’s along the lines of, “We weren’t happy with the traditional system, so we started our own, and carried beers from other small brewers.” And then it rolls right back into the overall narrative, while I’m wondering how big of an undertaking that must have been, how much opposition did they run into, where did they find the time to take this on, and so on. Perhaps they should have devoted an extra page or two for a sidebar (like they did for the Arrogant Bastard onion rings, for example) to talk about Stone Distributing if nothing else—it seems like that’s a key component of the Stone story and you don’t really know anything about it.

And, being a conversational approach to the story, there are many places where there is the definite “Stone arrogance” bleeding through; most of the time it’s fairly tongue-in-cheek (as the best of it is with Stone), occasionally it seems disharmoniously serious. For example, Koch was (is) adamantly opposed to serving ketchup at the Stone Bistro, calling it out as a “characterless condiment made of tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, dehydrated onion, and possibly high-fructose corn syrup.” Something about it rubbed me the wrong way; surely Koch (and Stone) is aware that you can make much better-than-commercial ketchup using real ingredients? (I can personally attest to this!) After all, everything else they make is either in-house or sourced locally, so why not this? The tone of the story left me wondering if the arrogant attitude was real enough to have overlooked this obvious solution, or it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek but fell flat.

For the middle section I’m a sucker for catalogs of beers with stats and history, and the brewers notes about them from Wagner and Mitch Steele are great additions. This is a list of basically every beer Stone has ever made, and stats include the release date, hops used (if not classified like with Arrogant Bastard), IBUs and ABV. The final version of the book (I have basically a galley copy with black and white photos) has nice color photographs of many of the beers, and there are a few additional sidebars and labels that are entertaining as well.

In the final section of the book, recipes for both food and brew, I tended to flip over the food recipes a bit more loosely to get to the homebrew section. (Naturally.) Stone actually has a number of homebrew clone recipes on their website—if you know where to find them. The recipes in the book go above and beyond: these are full, all-grain versions of Stone’s beers (or awfully close) in homebrew-sized batches formulated by Wagner himself. Besides the basic recipe and notes for brewing, each recipe also has an “advanced” sidebar which gives the percentages and numbers needed to play with the formulations yourself.

Unfortunately, Stone fans, you still won’t find a recipe for Arrogant Bastard anywhere in this book.

Overall, it’s a mostly-well-put-together history and summary of Stone Brewing, and while it is a bit specialized I’d love to see this (or similar) format adopted for other breweries: histories (that is first-hand and presumably accurate) and overviews of the people involved, dates, numbers, catalog of beers, recipes. I don’t know that this particular book is an essential addition to your beer bookshelf, but I think it would definitely be a valuable addition particularly if you collect beer history books—though keep in mind that this is more of a coffee table book than a dense text or manual.

Amazon currently has it for $14.88, 40% off the retail price—which is a good deal for the hardcover edition (which may be the only edition that will be released).