When Big Beers and Big Brewers Go Big

Arrogant Bastard Ale will always hold a special place in my heart when it comes to beer drinking.  It was an early influencer in developing my appreciation for the Strong/Ole Ale style and eventually Barley-wines.  As a friend of mine stated on Untappd “[This is] the beer that made me fall in love with craft beer.”  I think that is probably true for lots of today’s craft beer drinkers.  Still, it is often easily dismissed by beer snobs who are frequently chasing the new styles or most limited of releases.  But Stone never disappoints with this ale; it’s truly a world class American Strong Ale.  Further, Arrogant Bastard has been the base for a number of other fantastic beers over the years.

It has provided Double Bastard, a winter release that takes all the flavors of the “lighter” ale and goes to 11.  I once split a three year old magnum of this crazy brew with some friends and needless to say it got us all absolutely wrecked. Be careful with that one.

Lukcy Basartd Ale (not a typo) married the two above with Oaked Bastard which showed off the ability of Stone to blend various beers and marry them together in such a way as to take an already exceedingly complex ale and give it enough personalities to require institutionalization.

In 2013 Stone released Crime and Punishment.  Crime was a cork and cage bottle of Lukcy Basrtd aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels with an assortment of hot peppers.  Punishment was Double Bastard given the same treatment.  Stone basically took the two ales and drove them off a cliff in a burning car.  They were amazing even if the mere thought of them still gives me heart burn.

Oaked Bastard, my favorite of the lot was a beautiful beer that poured a deep rich mahogany color with a bright white head.  Its subtle wood notes in the nose and finish were glorious and refined.  But it was sadly discontinued last year to make way for Arrogant Bastard Bourbon Barrel Aged.

Recently I procured a 22oz bottle of Arrogant Bastard BBA and after the news of Sepp Blatter stepping down from the head of FIFA, I felt there was never going to be a better opportunity.  In case you are unaware Sepp Blatter is an arrogant, evil, bastard of a man but this is a beer blog so I will just leave a link.

Arrogant Bastard BBA was a good beer but when held up to its kin I am a little worried. The beer pours a dark mahogany color as is true to the lineage.  The head was nearly nonexistent but that is not unusual for BBA beers.  Nose was malty, sweet with a bit of rye. Only the faintest hint of Kentucky bourbon could be determined in the nose.  The mouth feel is medium bodied and not adversely affected by the time held in a cooper’s handiwork. The changes to this great beer by the barrel aging though are in a word… underwhelming.  It is welcome to have a BBA beer with no astringency but it also came without the bourbon.  I regularly praise brewers on their ability to deftly evoke subtly in flavors.  To play at the edge of a flavor profile and not to go crashing through. But this one just never showed up.  It is kind of sad. Look, this is a good, tasty beer but it just never lived up to its pedigree.  It just makes me feel sad that Oaked Bastard is gone.

Postscript – I wonder if volume is the issue with this beer.  Black Note, KBS, Bourbon County and other BBA beers are in such short supply finding just one bottle is often enough.  Arrogant Bastard BBA is being sold on tap, in 22oz bombers and six packs.  It appears to be pretty widely available as far as I can tell.  Stone is a huge operation with nationwide distribution (and sights even further).  Kentucky bourbon barrels are 53 gallons and used barrels are in high demand.  To my mind there is an interesting question:  Is Stone going high volume with what is by nature a low yield product thus resulting in an underwhelming beer?  I can’t answer that specifically that but it seems like it could be the issue.

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