Since 1996, Escondido’s Stone Brewing has been known for its bold beers, love of hops and in-your-face marketing. It’s currently one of the top 10 craft breweries by volume in the United States, and has added several new outposts throughout California (as well as in Berlin, Germany). With the number of new small, independent breweries that have sprung up in the past decade, it’s easy to forget about one of the classic craft brewers.
This is an iconic West Coast IPA, originally brewed to celebrate Stone’s first anniversary in 1997. At 6.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and 71 International Bitterness Units (IBU), this seriously bitter brew still packs a punch relative to most single IPAs that have come out in the past two decades. The original recipe was tweaked in 2016 to add five new hop varietals to the dry hopping regimen, which originally included just Chinook and Centennial but now also includes Azacca, Calypso, Motueka, Ella and Vic Secret.
The beer pours honey gold in color with a tall, dense, very long-lasting white head; medium-light body; and moderately high carbonation. The hop aroma is primarily sweet orange and sharp pine, with additional notes of peach and pineapple. The initial impression on the palate is earthy, piney, slightly spicy hop bitterness, which extends well into the lingering bitter finish. The hop flavor emphasizes dank pine, but with plenty of the same fruity components as the aroma, and malt flavor is well balanced but certainly not the star of the hoppy show.
Ripper San Diego-style pale ale
At 5.7 percent ABV and 40 IBU, Ripper is a kinder, gentler brew than the Stone IPA, or even the classic Stone Pale Ale, but it still represents the tradition of hoppy beers from the West Coast. Pouring a crystal-clear, orange-amber color with a tall, moussy, long-lasting ecru head, the aroma comes across as slightly sweet, in part due to maltiness and in part because of some sweet, fruity, tropical hop notes of orange rind, ripe cantaloupe and passionfruit from the Cascade and Galaxy hops.
On the palate, the hop bitterness is firm but not overwhelming, with some dank pine character and green mango. Although the beer features a little more malt presence than is traditional in Stone’s hoppy brews, it still finishes pretty dry.
Hop Revolver IPA
As the name might indicate, Stone is brew- ing the same 7.7 percent ABV, 80 IBU recipe, changing only the hops to highlight the characteristics of different varietals. Pouring bright gold with a hint of orange color, with a very dense, persistent white head, the Ekuanot version highlights hop aromas of sweet orange, cantaloupe and delicate pine, featuring a backdrop of very mild malt sweetness.
On the palate, the piney hop bitterness dances on the tongue, supported again by delicate maltiness. The subtleties of the hop aromas do not carry through into the flavor – on the palate, the bitterness is far more substantial than any distinct hop flavors. Well carbonated, with a medium-light body, the beer is unusual in the distinct difference between aroma and flavor, and the bitterness lingers long after the final sip.
Like Stone IPA, this classic Double IPA, originally released in 2002 as an ode to the citrusy, floral Centennial hop variety, underwent a recipe makeover in 2015 with the addition of Simcoe, Citra and Azacca hops. Bright gold with a long-lasting white head, Ruination features hop aromas of grapefruit, gooseberry and pine.
With an ABV of 8.5 percent and more than 100 IBU, Ruination is appropriately named. The robust piney hop bitterness and substantial alcohol combine to create a pleasant burn on the palate, which moves into the back of the throat as the long, dry, bitter finish continues.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.