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.

Let Us Ignore the Fact that I Just Trashed Coffee Beers and Enjoy a Sunday Morning Stout


Discerning craft beer drinkers can be a dismissive and an impolite bunch. The term “craft beer snob” can be a badge of honor when I turn down a Bug Light Lime; even a free one. Yet, it’s not a label I am comfortable with when I am drinking a craft beer that I find less than stellar. Brewers put lots of man hours and risk, financial and otherwise, into their craft. It’s hard for me to not always want to be supportive of the little brewery that could.

Even when I find a beer not exactly perfect, I frequently just chalk it up to not being to my taste.  De gustibus non est disputandum!  Unless a beer is so bad its clearly a failure or I have to pour it out I will give the craft brewer the benefit of the doubt.

I say this because over the past couple weeks as members of my beer drinking social media circle began trying Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, a bourbon barrel aged coffee stout, I started to see a very serious and repeated trend: “Good but no KBS.” “KBS is still the best.” “KBS kills this.” “Meh, it’s not KBS.”

Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) is a world class beer, worthy of all the superlatives that are regularly gushed upon it. It’s a beautiful beer wonderfully crafted and if you are a fan of bourbon and/or bourbon barrel aged beers it is high on the list of must haves each year. Year in and year out, KBS sets a high standard for what bourbon barrel aged (BBA) beer can be.

After having a bottle the other night I can too say “Sunday Morning Stout is not as great as KBS.”  You see Founder’s brew is just transcendent.  It and its brother Canadian Breakfast Stout are highly regarded by beer snobs with good reason.

But the twist here is I liked it precisely for the ways in which it was not like KBS. In my opinion, KBS is best after a few years of cellaring. Its astringency goes way down; the bourbon’s burn takes time to mellow out. Given sufficient time, the coffee notes quiet with vanilla and oak taking over. It’s just a better beer even after at least twelve months rest.

In contrast, Sunday Morning Stout is ready now.  This is a stark contrast. It’s a fully matured ready to drink BBA beer today. Sunday Morning pours thick like a quart of motor oil and sits in the glass heavily. Held up to the light shows off this opaque beer has a slightly reddish brown hue at the meniscus with a thick greasiness that clings to the glass. In the parlance of wine tasting, this beer “has legs.” Even from a slightly vigorous pour I only got a short tan head. The nose is not boozy but simply offers a whiff of the bourbon and oak with a backdrop of fresh roasted coffee grinds. As the beer clings to the glass, so it does for you after a pull. This one is greasy as hell with an enjoyable mouth feel; not as thick as KBS but more than sufficient to remain true to style.

Coffee flavors play second fiddle to chocolate and roasted malts taking center stage. All the flavors you find are subtlety played here. Where the KBS plays tremolo the Sunday Morning is practicing portato. The bourbon barrel used with Sunday Morning brings out vanilla and caramel flavors; these are prominent in the finish while not evident at first. This is a beer that requires patience as as it opens with fresh air and dissipation of the refrigerated cold. As the beer comes up to temperature a warming astringency appears that is acceptable for this 11.3% ABV big beer.

So yes, this beer is no Kentucky Breakfast Stout. In some ways its better as its more welcoming and fully ready for its time in the spot light right now. It gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Weyerbacher does big beers well. If you can’t get your hands on Sunday Morning Stout I also recommend picking up a variety case of Weyerbacher’s Big Beer. You will not be disappointed.