Starting in August 2015, batches of Stone Brewing Co.’s renowned Arrogant Bastard Ale have been made and poured at breweries in the U.S., Australia and U.K. as part of the Arrogant Bastard Hits the Road program. Host breweries include such heavy hitters as Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver, Brewdog in Scotland, Maui Brewing Co. in Hawaii, The Bruery in Placentia, Calif. and— thanks to the professional goodwill of head brewer Hollie Stephenson — Asheville’s own Highland Brewing Co.
Since moving to Highland from Stone in spring 2015, Stephenson has remained friends with her former San Diego colleagues. She says that factor mixed with Stone’s mission to partner with hometown breweries for Hits the Road made the collaboration “a natural fit.” The challenge came in finding time to squeeze the Arrogant Bastard brew into Highland’s busy pilot room schedule and have it ready to serve when all five bars on the Highland property — including its meadow bar and forthcoming rooftop bar — are open. An April 25 brew date and a tapping of the finished product on Friday, June 3, were eventually decided, making it one of Asheville Beer Week’s final events.
All Hits the Road host breweries are responsible for purchasing the ingredients for Arrogant Bastard, which Stephenson says is a pretty easy brew from a raw-materials standpoint. During her time at Stone as a shift brewer — she eventually rose to the position of assistant brewery trainer — Stephenson got plenty of experience making Arrogant Bastard. While the batches to which she contributed were created on two 125-barrel brew houses, the Highland iteration was made on its 3-barrel pilot system. Since the components are by and large acquired from the same sources, she says it’s the size of each brewhouse and its respective technological makeup that produce slight deviations in the finished product.
“Stone has a gigantic steam-fired kettle, and if you’re brewing on a teeny little 3-barrel system that’s direct-fire, there are going to be some differences,” she says. “You’re not fermenting in a gigantic, like, 400-barrel fermenter. You’re fermenting in a 6-barrel fermenter. So, there are going to be variations from brewery to brewery, and I think it’ll make all of the batches interesting.”
Using the recipe developed by Stone co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in 1995 and first released in 1997, Highland pilot room brewers Paul Rollow and Trace Redmond handled most of the work, but the day organically turned into a companywide event. “I was lucky to get to pop in. It was pretty cool — it fell on the day that I had a new employee starting as well as the day he was shadowing in the pilot room, so he got all pumped up about it,” Stephenson says. “It was just fun — everybody kind of just popped in and said ‘Hi’ and kind of got a little piece of the action when they had time.”
Though Arrogant Bastard’s official website claims that the beer split from Stone in 2015 under the name Arrogant Bastard Brewing, Stephenson says it’s still a Stone product that’s just been branded differently. Regardless of the new moniker, she’ll know what to expect when the Highland crew begins filtering, carbonating and kegging the ale in mid-May: “It’s called Bastard for a reason — it’s a big, messy, fast fermentation, so it’s making a mess in our pilot room.”
At the June 3 tapping, Highland will donate $2 from every pint sold — $1 from the sale and a matching dollar from Highland — to Foster Care to Success. The nonprofit college fund for foster youths is the main beneficiary of the Hits the Road initiative, and though each host brewery has the option to select a different charity, Stephenson’s admiration for the organization’s efforts persuaded her to choose it as well.
Looking ahead to the release date, Stephenson says drinking an Arrogant Bastard on the rooftop bar will be especially rewarding, and she hopes some of her Stone friends now based at the brewery’s new Richmond, Va., location can come down for the occasion, or at least while it’s still available on draft, and share in the celebration.
“It feels good — it’s kind of elevating,” Stephenson says. “Stone has been around for 20 years this year, and Highland’s been around for 22, so it’s kind of like another little piece of history. I’ve been fortunate to brew for two long-standing breweries that were pioneers, so I think it’s awesome for Highland, and I’m really excited and honored to get to do it.”
Due to Highland being at capacity for its own products, Stephenson says the prospect of Evil Twin Brewing’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø or other contract brewers making a temporary home at the East Asheville brewery “is probably not in the cards,” but that prospects for more collaborative brews are a good deal brighter. She recently reconnected with industry peers and made new contacts at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, some of whom could make for future creative partners.