Arrogant Beer
What happens when arrogance arrives in the Show-Me State? In the case of Arrogant Bastard Ale hailing from Stone Brewing Co. based in San Diego, I decided to see if the attitude lived up to the beer’s haughty characterization. By rights as a state resident, I demand proof and satisfaction (read: Show me!) that a hoppy ale from the West Coast deserves the kind of name reserved for clientele with a mouth fueled by far too many drinks.

Further, I needed ample reason to temporarily abandon allegiance to the hometown pride and joy, Boulevard Brewery (est. 1989), and its extensive lineup of fine quality beer. My DNA has nourished on the lemony goodness of Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat since the beer arrived on the market. So, when Missouri became the 35th state to distribute beer from Stone Brewing – heralded by a roll-out of events in late April 2011 in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia – I succumbed to curiosity and decided to taste the beer.

Quickly, here’s a bit of back story. Stone Brewing, founded in 1996, produced 115,000 barrels of beer last year. They brew nine beers year-round ranging from a pale ale to a smoked porter and the aforementioned Arrogant Bastard Ale in addition to a wide selection of seasonal and limited edition releases. By comparison, Boulevard produces 150,000 barrels of craft beer annually with a total production capacity for over 600,000 barrels. Besides Unfiltered Wheat and Pale Ale as its mainstays, Boulevard regularly rolls out seasonal treats and the popular Smokestack Series (Tank 7 is a personal favorite), Both companies have developed both a sizable capacity and expertise for producing beer that is distributed and savored in multiple states. However, size and quantity isn’t everything. Otherwise, beer drinkers across the nation would still be chugging bottles and cans of Bud Lite and other mass-produced beers.

Stone Brewing prides itself on distinctive taste to back up its ballsy name for an ale. After popping the bottle cap, I poured Arrogant Bastard Ale into a pint glass and allowed the head to settle into a thick froth. This American strong ale is 7.2% alcohol by volume so it packs a punch. The initial aroma has spice notes and a hoppy bravado that reminded me of India Pale Ale. The beer itself has a medium body and dark caramel color. The taste is clean and sharp with the lively flavor from the hops that finishes with a crisp bite.

Feeling experimental and craving a lighter ale for a hot weekend afternoon, I filled a pint glass with one-third cup of Simply Lemonade and topped it off with Arrogant Bastard. My intent was to mix a shandy, a lighter beer typically cut with ginger ale, ginger beer, or lemonade, for a refreshing summer drink. Once I came closer to a 50/50 ratio, the Bastard wasn’t so arrogant after all. The ale mellowed in strength and flavor. I dubbed it Simply Arrogant, being far more pleasant to drink in the heat of the day without making my head woozy.

Later, I tried the Smoked Porter from Stone Brewing. I enjoy dark, heavy beers including porters and stouts on occasion. This modestly named beer capped off its pour into a pint glass with a frothy head. The froth was slightly creamy and reminiscent of a root beer float in color. The beer was nothing like soda pop. The porter washed down smoothly with notes of caramel and chocolate following a vanguard of faint smoke. I nibbled on a piece of extra dark chocolate which complemented the subtle chocolate flavor of the beer. Bold, sophisticated, confident – quite a beer. In fact, one of the better smoked porters I’ve had in years.

I recommend both of these craft beers from Stone Brewing not only for drinking, but also for cooking.

Smoky Stew
Again, inspiration struck. I wandered into the kitchen with about one cup of the porter left in the pint glass. A beef and vegetable stew was slowly simmering in a pot on the stove. I had already tossed in cubes of round steak, hunks of diced onion and celery, and liberal doses of salt, granulated garlic, fresh ground black pepper, and gumbo filé, dried and ground sassafras leaves used to thicken and flavor gumbo and stews.

After eating salad with garden fresh lettuce, strawberries, asparagus, and other seasonal foods of spring, I craved something heartier, something meaty and manly and foreboding. I dumped in the last of the smoked porter. I tossed in two handfuls of wild rice and two whole cloves of garlic. The stew turned dark and mysterious in color. I wanted it to look like a bog. I strolled out to the herb garden, gathered a handful of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and chives, made a bouquet garni, and plunged it into the bubbling water. I let it simmer and ignored the pot for thirty minutes.

Recipes are folly for men and women alike. Some people swear by them. I do not. A recipe is a road map, an imposed set of directions and measurements and indicators to systematically outline a process and guide you to a destination. But a road map is not the landscape. Nor is a recipe the final dish. (I am prone to detours; therefore, I’m apt to get lost.) I wander, follow my instincts and senses, calculate the balance of saltiness and herbs, add a dash as needed, slowly building layers of flavor from base to background to the forefront of what my appetite craves, what my culinary imagination wants to realize in a bowl.

I slid a spoon into the broth, sipped, slurped, winced at the heat and basked in the flavors combining from parts into a synthesis of organic expression. Instead of whisking in flour to thicken the stew, I added a handful of leftover jasmine rice. I spotted three pieces of grilled chicken in a container and retrieved them from the refrigerator. I separated meat from bone, peeled away charred skin, and knew that the smoke from the meat would commune with the porter. This alchemy will be not be repeated in a recipe, cookbook, or food television show. For balance, I extracted frozen Roma tomato chunks, grilled red, yellow, and green bell pepper, and slippery slices of grilled onion saved from a long-forgotten cookout. I added the vegetables to the meats, rice, and fragrant broth. The result was a concoction, a thick stew that was not quite gumbo, a manly amalgamation of exalted flavor and texture compressed from primal elements fit for a god.

Sounds kind of arrogant, huh? Shuddup and pass me an Unfiltered Wheat. Cheers.