Perhaps The Arrogant Bastard Needs to Retire
This past week, Stone Brewing’s spin-off brand, Arrogant Brewing, made waves when they released an ill-thought-out tweet on their @ArrogantBastard Twitter account.
There are plenty of online personalities and beer blogs that are liberally covering the parallels of the #MeToo movement with the beer industry, so we’ll leave that to the passionate ones. What got my attention more than anything is that Arrogant Bastard is still a thing in 2018 and that this is the most play this brand has gotten in years. While the branding is meant to be abrasive, brash and of course, arrogant, I’m pretty sure the puppet masters behind this branding were not looking to shock the masses in this manner. With that said, 36 hours after the mishap, Stone Brewing’s chairman issued a sincere apology that can be found here. LINK
A very brief history of Arrogant Bastard
Stone Brewing made a name for themselves and made a mark on the most recent craft beer boom in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with beers that were 180-degrees counter to not only American Macro domestic beers, but also what was being shipped as imports from the likes of Heineken and InBev at the time. The marketing hook was that Stone was making this bold flavored beer that the tame palate would not be able to handle, pretty much issuing a challenge to those who claim to be a beer connoisseur. During this time in pop culture, there was a large swing from the previous decades of political correctness, in which MTV had shows with plenty of sexuality and vulgarity, Frito-Lay and Pepsi were marketing XTREME and Boldness in their junk food offerings, and Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard fit right in to the pop culture, all while cleverly marketing finer beer to a new generation of beer drinkers.
The success of this brand led to merchandise sales and spin-off beers. Over the years, we’ve seen Double Bastard Ale (retired), OAKED Arrogant Bastard (Retired), Lukcy Baserdt (Retired) all due to the popularity of this iconic lifestyle brand. For those not familiar with the beer itself, I would like to describe it as a strong red ale with abrasive piney hops. It truly is the opposite of a watery macro lager, and Stone used that as part of its pitch to try the beer.
As tastes, buying trends and pop culture changed, Stone began retiring their offshoot Arrogant Bastard family members one by one due to poor sales. A few years ago, in fact, Stone began lopping off many of the core beers that made them famous due to a shift in consumer tastes and subsequent sales. It was smart not to drag around dead weight for sure.
Then, Stone quietly moved Arrogant Bastard Ale out of the portfolio and created a second label known as Arrogant Brewing. They started softening their main branding, moving away from the gargoyle as the main focus, and trying to appeal to foodies and wine converts, as the “bro-branding” was kind of a handicap.
We reached out to a well-informed member of the Stone supply chain for more insight on Arrogant Bastard’s place in the 2018 craft beer world. We learned that Arrogant Bastard is Stone’s number one selling 22 oz. bottle. We were told that although it’s still brewed in Stone’s brewhouse, and delivered off of the same truck as the rest of the Stone beers, that it is requested by the sales rep that Arrogant Brewing beers are to be distanced from the Stone lineup on the shelves.
It’s always been my impression that Arrogant Bastard will always have a place on the shelf as the branding might be appealing to the brand new, young and brash beer drinker. The bro, the frat boy. Hell, the 24-year-old Danny Fullpint went all in on Arrogant Bastard as a $4.00 way to catch a buzz, I could see that still being the case today. When we asked our friend in the supply chain, he told me quite the opposite. The 2018 Arrogant Bastard customer is the loyal fan from the late 90’s – early 2000’s, and each year, that drinker keeps getting older.
A case to retire Arrogant Bastard
If it wasn’t for the Twitter snafu, I would have almost forgotten Arrogant Bastard completely. There are two main reasons why this iconic brand has outlived its usefulness: Its marketing is outdated and its sales have proven to be dismal, despite old heads still buying bombers of Arrogant Bastard at the grocery store.
“You’re Not Worthy” and “Fizzy Yellow Beer is For Wussies” no longer resonates now that we have 6,000+ breweries, many a few miles from one’s homes. It was a great crusade to convert craft beer drinkers, but seems no longer necessary. As mentioned above, the counterculture that was popular in the 90’s and 00’s isn’t what’s going on currently. I don’t see dudes bumping Limp Bizkit in their Chevy Avalanche any longer, nor do I see bro’s rocking the Gargoyle flat brim. Still, Arrogant Bastard seems to have held on to this and it feels very dated.
2018 might be deemed the year of the craft lager. Countless breweries are pumping out easy drinking lagers with retro branding to give a “simpler times” feel. Founders, Firestone Walker, Fig Mountain, Modern Times, Cigar City will all do very well this year because of the resurgence and appreciation for a well-made lager. Meanwhile, Stone Brewing announced at their annual sales summit a few weeks ago that Who You Callin’ Wussie was being discontinued. You may be asking yourself, what is Who You Callin’ Wussie is? It was a well-made canned hoppy lager that was horribly named and branded under the Arrogant Brewing portfolio. You see, after nearly two decades of Stone throwing shade on Pilsners and Light Lagers, they recognized that people like a well-made lager or even a very simple easy-to-drink lager, but they painted themselves into a corner. Their only option was to poke fun at themselves and try to cash in. The beer looked like a bro’d out energy drink and you couldn’t easily determine that it was a lager (if you finally figured out it wasn’t an energy drink). This is a case where dated branding, not change in tastes, hurt sales.
I don’t like to point out problems without solutions. Arrogant Bastard Ale is a fine beer and a beer I respect. Who You Callin’ Wussie was a clean, perfectly executed beer. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if Stone took the Bastard branding to the craft beer retirement home, and reincarnated these two recipes into the Stone Brewing portfolio. Stone Hoppy Crimson and Stone Sorry Not Sorry Lager have a fun ring to them.