Is Stone Brewing Co. Cannibalizing Their Portfolio?
In 2001, Apple Computer revolutionized the tech gadget and music industry with the invention of the iPod. All of the sudden, a person could upload a stack of CDs into a rectangle no bigger than a deck of cards for their listening pleasure. This changed the way people bought and listened to music forever. People have not gone back to the Discman, walkman or record player (unless you are one of those hipsters).
Similarly in 1996, Stone Brewing Co. began brewing beers that changed the way people perceived microbrewing and changed the way other breweries presented and produced their own beers. Beers like Stone Pale Ale, Stone IPA, Arrogant Bastard and Ruination IPA not only sparked a craft beer revolution in ways veterans like Anchor and Sierra Nevada Brewing hadn’t done. Big flavors, high alcohol and big branding shot this genre of adult beverages into the stratosphere.
Back to the iPod for a moment, you are probably thinking about how you no longer use the iPod. In 2008, the year after the first iPhone was on the market, there was no longer a need to carry a cell phone and a digital music player, the iPhone took care of both of those things. Since 2008, there has been a steady decline in sales of iPods. Not because iPods aren’t great, but rather Apple created a product that cannibalized the market for a stand alone music player. While not as drastic, Apple has seen trends that indicate the invention of the iPad has also eaten up sales for low-cost notebook computers.
After the announcement late last week of Ruination IPA being retired, it got me thinking that it’s not the competitive market that’s driving big change to Stone’s core lineup, it’s Stone that’s driving the change. Over the last few years, Stone has expanded their portfolio of beers tremendously. I would have to guess like any competitive craft brewery, Stone’s goal is to penetrate the market as much as possible and sell their beer to as many people as possible. Offering a wider variety will attract people at all levels of their craft beer journey. In the process of adding more variety with new exciting beers, shade was thrown on some of the beers that made Stone what it is today. Let’s take a look at the particular products that are on their way out or have recently left the shelf.
Stone Levitation Ale – This was what we now know of American Session Ale to be. Lots of aroma and bite with low alcohol. In my early phase of craft beer enjoyment, this beer didn’t appeal to me on alcohol content alone. Fast forward to 2014 and here comes Stone Go-To IPA. It’s no secret that anything labeled IPA will sell, Stone has mastered IPAs and nailed the new Session IPA style. The packaging is bright yellow, it practically screams DRINK ME! This in contrast to the washed out packaging on Levitation Ale, and you knew the days were numbered for this already under-loved beer.
Stone Pale Ale – This is another casualty of the birth of Stone Go-To IPA. Stone Pale Ale was Stone’s first beer on the market. It drinks nothing like the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and doesn’t resemble what we think of in terms of a new generation American Pale Ale. I was happy with it being an option for those who wanted a well made beer sans the dump truck full of hops. Apparently this beer was continually passed up for crisper, hoppier beers. It will be interesting to see how the Stone Pale Ale 2.0 experiment works. For those who haven’t heard, Stone will be updating the recipe so the beer resembles it’s Pale Ale peers in the market place.
Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA – Black IPAs were all the rage a few years ago, and nobody did them better than Stone. The trick to their Black IPA success was making the beer taste and smell like a West Coast IPA/Double IPA. While I can’t quite pin point any particular beer that cannibalized SSR, I would say the Stone Collaboration Series, Stone Spotlight Series and the new seasonal lineup all took a front seat and put SSR way in the back.
Stone OAKED Arrogant Bastard – Much like the fate of Sublimely Self Righteous, Stone pumps out too many other special beers, which detracts from the beer once viewed as a special treat, OAKED Arrogant Bastard. Also, Lukcy Basartd Ale proved to be a far more enjoyable beer, which did no favors to OAKED.
Stone Ruination IPA – While this is the most shocking announcement Stone has made in regards to portfolio restructuring, I completely understand why Ruination is walking the plank. Since late 2012, I have not purchased a bottle of Ruination IPA. Why you ask? Stone Enjoy By IPA is why. Forgetting the fact that I’m a fresh beer fanatic, Stone Enjoy By delivers the flavor and drinkability that I crave, and where I live, it’s easily accessible and perfectly priced for my beer budget. In comparison, Ruination IPA seems like a “malt bomb” to Enjoy By IPA. As alluded to by Stone, tastes are changing. I’m sure their marketing and finance team has crunched the numbers and decided Ruination 2.0 is a good idea, I am scratching my head why they need two full time IPAs in their lineup.
While I’m still in shock Stone is retiring Ruination IPA, nothing would shock me more than Arrogant Bastard being dropped from the core lineup. The iconic gargoyle along with the palate shattering harsh bitterness was my first experience with Stone Brewing Co. I view it as a right of passage into the world of Stone. With that said, I don’t see Arrogant Bastard on the shelf like I used to. Go-To IPA seems to be in all the bigger retailers such as grocery stores and places like Target, and speciality stores and smaller markets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s seem to put emphasis on Stone’s seasonals and one offs. I do see Double Bastard collecting dust, and to a lesser degree Old Guardian. While both are neat beers, I envision these two beers getting a revamp, possibly putting them into bourbon barrels, which is how many barleywines and strong ales thrive in this over saturated market.
As a fan, I do observe what does well and what sits, and while I am happy with all the new offerings, it’s sad to see Mr. Koch and Mr. Wagner’s babies leaving the nest.