their dynamic (read: workaholic) co-founder and CEO Greg Koch is actually taking a four month travelling sabbatical and ignoring social media while he is away. To put that in context, Mr Koch giving up social media is akin me giving up bacon [1]

While his travelling schedule remains cloaked in secrecy, one of the few places Greg Koch would publicly admit to visiting was little old New Zealand. The City Tap Takeover (Twitter: #citytaptakeover) will be the key event on his tour here. In an article on the Beer Pulse website, Greg described his global journey as “completely off the grid” and “no-working-at-all.”  He said “I will not be available or checking email, my phone or any social media outlets” though he apparently will be contactable for brewery emergencies but woe betides any employee who rings him unnecessarily. 

The same article noted that “Stone is coming off of what is the most active 12-18 month stretch in its 17-year history. The company opened a new brewery and restaurant, a farm, an airport dining venue, and added a 120-barrel brewhouse and packaging hall. Not to mention, the company has hired 185 people year-to-date.”  There is also a US$24 million (NZ$28.7 million) hotel and headquarters project though the date for that remains elusive. 

Greg has also been exceptionally busy including an appearance as a judge on the show “Chopped” – a guilty pleasure of mine on Food Network. Hosted by the dapper gastronome Ted Allen (best known for being the food expert on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), Chopped sees regular chefs compete for the comparatively modest US$10,000 prize with one being eliminated (or “Chopped”) after the judges taste each course. In New Zealand, we will probably see his episode in a few years. From the screenshot I saw, Greg was rocking quite the beard on the show. [2]

Stone was founded in 1996 and the LA Times reported that “Stone has grown from 400 barrels that year to 177,200 barrels last year, developing a cult-like following among craft beer enthusiasts.”  I’ve written about them several times in the past and it seems that one of my previous posts may have contributed to Stone threatening to take legal action against New Zealand. 

In 2009 I wrote a post called “Fizzy yellow beer drinking ninnies need not read on.” That is one of Greg Koch’s signature lines and the blog featured Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard IPA. I was Facebook friends with Greg and I noticed that shortly after the article appeared he wrote about composing a “cease and desist” letter to New Zealand. Basically, Stone looks to tightly control the export of their beers and he seemed upset that some of his beers had reached New Zealand through the so-called “gray market.” [3]

I may or may not have written on his page that New Zealand was not some small store in Wyoming, we were in fact a sovereign nation and also, ironically, a firm believer in genuine free trade. The sale and purchase of Stone beers in New Zealand was perfectly legal even if the brewery objected. For some reason, we stopped being Facebook friends shortly after that. I have however continued to enjoy Greg Koch’s opinions on Twitter and any number of beer related publications.  I’ve also continued to enjoy Stone beers, often from my prized “Arrogant Bastard Ale” glass which continues to remind me that I may not be worthy.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss some of the beers which will be available at the City Tap Takeover. However, I won’t even come close to listing them all. I did also promise to include two which were not Pale Ales – a decision that I am already regretting. As a small act of rebellion, I’m going to start with an India Pale Ale – just for a change.

One of their most famous beers is Stone Ruination IPA (8.2%). It apparently earned it’s moniker “because of its truly ruinous effect on your palate.” The brewers believe “this massive hop monster will change forever your preconceptions of what defines good beer.” In perhaps the greatest sentence I’ve read in 2014, [4] Stone describe this “indelicate jewel” as “a liquid poem to the glory of the hop.”

While not a big poetry fan myself, I can see their point. This orange amber beer with a bright white head throws a billowing nose of citrus, pine needles, flowers and lemon peel. The hefty body has notes of caramel and honey under lashings of tropical fruit and spicy hops. Ruination ends with an assertive bitter finish that just goes on and on and on… [5]

In accordance with my rash promise to cover some non-IPAs, the next beer is Stone Russian Imperial Stout (10.5%) which weighs in at about 60 IBUs which is comparatively modest by Stone’s extremely high standards. First brewed in 2000, the City Tap Takeover will feature the 2010, 2011 and 2013 Espresso versions of this thick, rich, sinful and darkly delicious libation. Like many strong stouts, this Stone beer ages magnificently. [6] 

It is close to pitch black with a milk chocolate head. There are notes of dark chocolate, charred toast, rich coffee, star anise, cocoa powder, berries, molasses toffee and grapefruit ahead of a dry, balanced yet slightly astringent bitter finish. It is a silky soft beer and Greg Koch says “there’s no question that Stone Imperial Stout is revered among enthusiasts… I know, because I’m one of ’em and I can hardly wait for it to come out each year!”  The Espresso stout uses coffee from their San Diego neighbours at Ryan Brothers Coffee. Despite its superficial drinkability, this is definitely a beer for sipping and savouring.

Yet another beer which is definitely not an IPA is the Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean (5.9%). Basically, Stone had been making a Smoked Porter for close to ten years when one of their brewers had a “brilliant idea” – why not add whole Madagascar [7] vanilla beans to a small batch of the finished beer.  Pouring ruby red with a tan head, this beer is a mixture of sweet and spice. Originally a very limited edition, the Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean was only bottled for the first time in 2012. There are notes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla, milkshake, faint smoke and lots of bitter roast leading up to a dry finish. 

The final beer for this week is Stone Cali-Belgique IPA aged in White Wine Barrels (8.8%). This may need some explanation. This is the trademark Stone IPA brewed with an artisan Belgian yeast strain. It has been described by the brewers as “both completely new and different…Behind the fancy title is simply delicious Stone IPA dressed up in new Belgian duds.”

Weighing in at over 70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), this beer has a heady aroma of white wine, grapes, orange and spice. In the glass there are notes of orange peel, wine, funky Belgian yeast, pine, perfume, oak, vanilla and caramel. This vinous brew finishes bitter then tart at the very end.

There will be one more blog on Stone and the City Tap Takeover but even then I won’t have come close to covering all the beers available at Malthouse and Fork & Brewer on 13 March. 

Remember, some of the rarer beers will only have one keg so it will pay to get in quickly.

Next time, we drink to Leonardo DiCaprio and The Wolf of Wall Street. I doubt you guys will win any Oscars this year but any film that can make me laugh for 20 minutes just watching the leading man (admittedly as high as a kite) trying to get down a small flight of stairs really deserves something. Oh yes – you also made Jonah Hill funny. No small feat.

[1] Both are highly unlikely but both just happened.  Greg turned over his beloved Twitter account to Stone co-founder and brewmaster Steve Wagner on 13 February and it’s been almost four months since I’ve tasted the salty kiss of bacon-y goodness. Asked about possible Twitter withdrawal, Mr Koch said “Let’s see, not staring at a little screen every couple hours to check on things?  Yeah, no.”

[2] His beard was so big that it made Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor’s face mane look like Niall Horan. For the record, because no one reading this will ever admit to knowing a band member from One Direction, Niall is an absolute baby face, even by One Direction standards.

[3] This usually occurs when retailers or exporters in America sell beer to retailers or importers in New Zealand without the express consent of the brewery.

[4] Excluding everything I’ve written obviously, particularly the line which used “gerrymandering” in a beer review.

[5] Disclaimer: Reviewer may be a hopeless Journey “Don’t Stop Believing” fan.

[6] Just like Sean Connery and exactly unlike Dolph Lundgren.  Poor Dolph went downhill fast virtually the minute he watched the final cut of “Masters of the Universe”, truly one of the worst films in the history of motion picture making.

[7] The country – not the Disney movie with the hip-hop hippos.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine


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