THIS TASTE has been a long time coming.
When I turned 21, it was the beginning of a new era for me. Sure, you might think, that’s when you could finally drink. Please. I grew up in a rural town, and I went to a party school in the South – I had consumed my fair share of hops and malts before then. No, when I turned 21, it marked the first time I could pick out the beer I drank. No more handing over cash to an upperclassman, no more showing up at a party and accepting whatever was there, no more grabbing a bottle of whatever was on tap at the local we-don’t-really-card-all-that-much watering hole.
As I do with pretty much every aspect of my life, I took to this new pastime something of a research-first mentality. Basically, I scoured the Internet reading beer reviews and descriptions of beer styles. I had a friend turn 21 just a short while after I did. We made a list of beers we wanted to try and headed down to a brand-new Greenville, N.C., pub that we saw a flier for at the downtown Andy’s. It was called Christy’s Euro Pub. We asked for the first beer on our list, “Yeah, we don’t have that one.” We went to the next beer, and got the same reply. The bartender saw our list and asked for it. We gave it over, and found that none of the beers on our list were available at the pub. It turns out, those beers all happened to be over 5.99 percent alcohol by volume. Our home state, North Carolina, didn’t allow beers 6 percent or over. Lame.
That slowed down my new journey, but didn’t stop it. Christy’s had a wide variety of import bottles, $2 at that time on Tuesdays. Guess what? We were there on a Tuesday.
That’s where it all started.
We did have a few local breweries in town; I tried their beers. I devoured the premium beer sections at all the grocery stores … and I continued my online research.
It was on one of those late-night browser sessions where I happened across an ad for Arrogant Bastard Ale, made by Stone Brewing Co. I read the description, and the this-beer-is-not-for-wussies boast was damn near too much to handle – knowing I lived in a state where I couldn’t get the beer. I also saw that Stone was located in California – some 3,000 miles away. At that moment, I tucked away Arrogant Bastard Ale as a beer I’d try before dying. From there, I moved on.
A few years later, North Carolina came to its senses, and lifted the beer ban. They were called high-gravity beers, and we could finally sample brews greater than the 5.99 percent we were stuck behind for all those years. There were so many new beers to try, and I dived in head first. Still, though, Arrogant Bastard Ale remained elusive. Now, I’ll admit, I wasn’t hunting for it on every trip out, but it was something that I kept in mind. I knew I surely wouldn’t miss the massive gargoyle on the bottle.
Finally, in 2008, on a trip to a beverage warehouse with my father, I spotted a 22 oz. bottle of the bastard. I grabbed two, and said, “Dad, we’re having this.” Only a week later, the woman who would soon be my wife mailed me another bottle – straight from California, where Stone is brewed. In the following months, Stone beers started showing up in grocery stores.
But whenever I think of Stone – and specifically Arrogant Bastard Ale – I think of that somewhat hopeless night in about 2002 on my computer sitting in my room at Pirates Place Apartments complex. I think of making one of the strongest mental notes I’ve ever made about a beer that seemed to be calling my name.
That’s what I think about now, as I finish this column and I’m set to taste Stone’s Double Bastard Ale for the first time. It just hit the stores this week, and when I heard of its arrival, I had the same feeling I had more than seven years ago.
This beer is calling my name.