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Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

by Matt O'Connor

“…he wondered if all beer were bitter, if there were not a period of initiation into the pleasures of this great beverage.” – Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel

If the folks at today’s brewery had their way, you would get your period of initiation out of the way before approaching their brews. Today’s beer is a mouthful: Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, California, just north of San Diego. Flip over the bottle and you’re met with a two paragraph label exclaiming how unworthy you are to sip the nectar inside:

This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory…

The label continues on in this berating style for another 12 lines. The basic gist of the argument goes that this beer is so complex that the average beer consumer should run away in fear.

However, let me be contrarian and say it’s all a bunch of bull. The warning to unsuspecting beer drinkers may have been relevant 14 years ago when Arrogant Bastard was released and maybe seven years ago when its oaked cousin hit the market, but in 2012 beer consumers don’t blink an eye at a 7% ABV ale with an aggressive hop profile. Old news. Thanks for playing. That’s not to say it’s not a good beer, I’ll get to that. I just think the marketing campaign, if you can call it such, is a bit stale and the label should mostly be thought of as a comedic intro to your drink.

Stone makes a bunch of really good beers and has for some time. Two guys named Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, a musician and a businessman with a mutual like for beer, founded the brewery. Since 1996, Stone has been based in Southern California and is probably best known for their Ruination IPA, Imperial Russian Stout, and the Arrogant Bastard family of beers. From the original has spun off today’s oaked version; versions with chipotle pepper, and perhaps to answer critiques like mine of 7% ABV not being all that extreme, Double Bastard at a hefty 10.5% ABV. I’ve had the Double Bastard before and liked it, so I was excited to try this oaked version of its more laid back cousin.

Oaking beer is an interesting technique whose popularity is resurgent among large, craft, and home brewers alike. Beers like Oaked Bastard are aged in tanks with fresh oak wood chips, imparting noticeable flavors: vanilla, toasted nuts, coconut, and well, woody aromas. Other brewers, such as Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company, use entire oak barrels previously used to age whiskeys or wine.

One beer in particular is Allagash Curieux, which is a Belgian-style Tripel aged in previously used Jim Beam whiskey barrels. When mixed together, the aging tames the bright flavors of the tripel, producing a beer I would give a solid A. No matter the method of wood infusion, these flavors come from the natural aromatic compounds and chemicals in the wood that become soluble in the beer. Vanillin is the most noticeable and expectedly tastes and smells of vanilla, but there are also lipids and waxes in the wood that bring out the fatty smells of coconut and toasted almonds. If you’re a fan of bourbon or scotch whiskey, do your self a favor and seek out a wood aged beer; you won’t be disappointed.

First off, let me say this beer gets accolades left and right and has some of the highest ratings on beer websites like BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I encourage you to try yourself, but here’s what I tasted. Poured into my favorite goblet yields a dark brown, almost burgundy colored beer with a solid finger of tan foam. The nose picks up those aromas of vanilla, sweet cherry, and roasted coffee. It smells and looks pretty good and if my review were to stop there, I might have nothing bad to say.

However, upon taking a sip I first noticed how surprisingly thin the beer is in terms of mouth-feel. For all its talk of being better than fizzy yellow macro-brews, it’s a bit light and fizzy itself. There are the roasted notes with a nice fruity hop presence. It’s really a nice beer overall. The oak is less prominent in the taste then I would have thought based on the smell, but it is in there for sure. The finish is an oily hops bitterness that is not really all that overpowering, despite all the bluster of the label. Bottom line is this one wasn’t for me, but I will gladly give it another shot. Grade: B

Facts:

Stone Brewing Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

ABV: 7.2%

Style: Strong Ale

Enjoy: Around 50 degrees is the sweet spot.

 

Also Try:

Alpine Spring, Samuel Adams (Boston, MA). Part of Sam Adams’ new spring mix pack this will replace Noble Pils as Sam’s spring seasonal. Noble Pils fans fret not, the beer will now be offered year round. Alpine Spring is brewed with hops from the Alps and makes a fantastic addition, balanced body with honey sweetness. ABV: 5.5% Grade: A-

Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]theinclusive.net