Anyone who’s had a Stone beer is familiar with the text on the labeling—the paragraph of text first made famous on the Arrogant Bastard bottle admonishing would-be drinkers for not being worthy and probably not liking the beer is the classic example—and what’s interesting is that Koch writes all of that text himself.
Each year’s edition of their Old Guardian Barley Wine features different text written each year by Koch, and his tradition is to open a bottle (or two) of the previous year’s Old Guardian for inspiration. He never plans ahead what he’s going to write, it’s as much stream-of-consciousness as anything, and he’ll take the time to write it wherever he happens to be at the time. This year it was in India; another time while he was in Istanbul.
You can imagine bringing along a couple of bombers of beer along while traveling the world is a bit of a pain… but not as much as leaving one behind! If you follow @StoneGreg on Twitter then you likely saw the posts alluding to this—yep, the second beer was accidentally left behind in the hotel minibar as he was leaving India.
That bit of the story made it into the label of this year’s bottle, which you can (squintingly) read over at Beernews.org. It’s rather meta—writing the label text about writing the label text.
Remember the hop shortage a couple of years back? I asked about how they affected Stone—known for being a rather hop-intense brewer—and Koch confirmed that they were hit pretty hard by the shortage. It manifested across the board by price raises and they were adaptable to various changes in their hopping (mostly minor changes involved with bittering hops), but they definitely felt the pain.
(Regarding prices, anecdotally I’ll point out that even in San Diego, Stone beer is more expensive than other local beer: $10 to $11 and up for a six pack of Pale Ale or IPA, for instance, while other offerings hover in the $7 to $9 range per six-pack. I’m painting with broad strokes, obviously, but it seems similar to the Rogue effect we have here in Oregon: six-packs of Rogue beers are markedly more expensive than those of other Oregon brewers, which leads to a bit of grumbling. No theories here, just an observation.)
Because I am interested in such things, I found out Stone has a laboratory with which they can properly analyze their beers. (Of course, all large-enough breweries should have an in-house lab, but I’m a nerd and had to inquire anyway.) Has Stone ever offered (or considered offering) use of their lab to other, smaller area brewers? No, said Koch, a bit surprised, that’s something they’d never thought of doing before. But he certainly seemed receptive to the idea; maybe (giving myself far too much credit here) someday Stone will do just that (nothing Koch said, I’m just reaching).
All in all, it was a really good meeting, I thought, and even though I’m quite sure I babbled like an idiot more than once, Koch was extremely friendly and forthright and was generous enough to donate about 45 minutes of his day to me.
And I’ll reiterate from past reviews, if you ever find yourself in San Diego, take the time to visit Stone Brewing up in Escondido. Totally worth the trip and you’ll be glad you did.