While the North has Lagunitas, Stone Brewing is an undeniable force in the Southern California brewing market. Their ‘Arrogant Bastard’ method of marketing resonates well with the image of an iconoclastic brewery, eschewing the homogeneity of mass produced American beer with zeal and enthusiasm. A quote from Pierre Bourdieu’s 1979 work, A Social Critique on the Judgment of Taste, astutely sheds light on Stone Brewing’s marketing outlook;
Tastes (i.e. manifested preferences) are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference. It is no accident that, when they have to be justified, they are asserted purely negatively, by the refusal of other tastes. In matters of taste, more than anywhere else, all determination is negation; and tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes, disgust provoked by the horror or visceral intolerance (‘sick-making’) of the tastes of others. – Pierre Bourdieu (1979 C.E.)
Compare these words with what Stone has to say about their popular Arrogant Bastard Strong Ale, printed on the back of their bottles;
This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory — maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing these words as you read this.
Bourdieu wrote of differentiating levels of taste, and the ability a select few in society to appreciate an artistic creation over a baser substitution. While A Social Critique of Taste argued primarily for higher levels of society to be able to appreciate the refined and higher works of art, the brewing industry is not isolated to those with a six figure income; Stone, however, argues that it is isolated from those unable to appreciate a bold and complex beer. It is incredibly effective marketing tactic, as it emboldens the faithful to the company and challenges newcomers to try a new product. A prominent homebrewer from QUAFF comments on the perception of Stone in the community;
My thoughts on Stone are… they have done a lot for the craft beer industry. I think that my own personal opinion is that they are really strong in marketing. Greg Koch is a Marketing Graduate from USC. He’s responsible for looking at the market and where they can go to sell beer. I think to some extent, there is somewhat of a jaded view within the community [of homebrewers] from that perspective. They don’t win as many awards as some of the other breweries, like Coronado, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, but they are still very successful. Greg is willing to push things, willing to be edgy, he’ll do things his way whether anybody likes it or not, and you have to respect the guy for that.
The fact that the brewery is so successful with an abrasive outlook is evidence that consumers actively seek a product that sets them apart from other consumers, such that they willingly accept the Arrogant Bastard marketing and learn to appreciate beers so flavorful that bottles warn the consumer before drinking of the brew’s intensity. For the first generation of brewers in California to stand out against macrobreweries, they simply needed to survive. Now they openly proclaim, and market off of their antithetical character. Devoted Stone customers celebrate the brash marketing, for they feel that they carry the level of distinction necessary to enjoy an Arrogant Bastard of a Beverage.
Eric Ortega, “The Golden State of Brewing; California’s Economic and Cultural Influence in the American Brewing Industry” (Master’s thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 2015), 101-103.