We’ll be the first to agree that brewing is an art, but as anyone who’s ever tried to scale up a recipe or dial in ABV for consistency knows, it’s also a science. As exemplified by the consistency of our beers, our brewers have the smarts to turn out well-engineered ales. That said, whenever we can, we like to keep the math as simple as possible. Take, for instance, one of our most popular beers, Stone Ruination IPA. That hop-heavy double India pale ale is a result of a basic mathematical equation—one-times-two—and proof that sometimes in life, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. When in doubt, just max it out!
Here at Stone, our brewers love to create aggressive, high octane beers like Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Imperial Russian Stout and, of course, the Arrogant Bastard Ale family of in-your-face goliaths. But even we, the challengers of beer’s historic limitations, realize that for every beer drinker there is a time, place and need for something sessionable. So, in 2002, we took our first swipe at crafting a libation under five percent ABV to give our fans a lower-alcohol option packed with big-time flavor. That creation would come to be known as Stone Levitation Ale.
A porter brewed with peat-smoked malt and enough hops to bring the IBU (International bittering unit) count to 53 is undoubtedly innovative. That beer concept is right up there with the plethora of novel smoked ales and lagers that have become so prominent across the county over the past several years. But the beer we’re referring to, Stone Smoked Porter, isn’t among that new wave. It’s been tantalizing taste buds while hovering within the top layer of craft beer’s cloud of smoke since 1996!
When Stone co-founder and original brewmaster Steve Wagner crafted our initial batch of Stone IPA, little could he have known that that highly hopped first attempt at amplifying a British classic would become so popular and, for many beer drinkers, an India pale ale by which all future New World interpretations of the style would be judged. For many, Wagner’s bright, potent creation was their first IPA. (Was it yours? If so, let us know on social media using #StoneIPA)
We take a lot of things seriously here at Stone. (Not ourselves.) Freshness is definitely one of them. You see, as beer ages, the first thing that starts to fade is the flavor and aroma contributed by the hops. The olfactory glory that they impart is extremely volatile, and from the moment the beer finishes fermenting, the hop character starts to go bye bye, and unfortunately, there’s just no bringing it back.
Of course, there are things you can do to help prolong the hoppy goodness, like protecting your almighty beer from light and keeping it cool. (We store and ship all of our beer under refrigeration, btw.) Under regular conditions, we’ve tasted our beers at different intervals and found that they still taste just as great as we originally intended as much as 90 days after bottling. This finding, coupled with our unrelenting commitment to freshness, enticed us to begin laser-etching enjoy by dates on each bottle. With that process, we also instituted new measures that allow our wonderful fans, like yourself, to report expired beer. We love our beer, and we want to make sure it’s fresh!
But then, we thought, “Hey! Why not brew a big double IPA that is meant to be consumed even fresher? Why not put a date right up on the front of the bottle, and gave it a MUCH shorter shelf life?” It wouldn’t be easy. It wouldn’t be able to go everywhere. But it would be damn delicious, and it would be a mighty interesting undertaking. Sure, we discussed it in a few more meetings, but by this time, we’d already talked ourselves into it: the concept for Stone Enjoy By IPA was born.
As you may recall, we celebrated our true 16th anniversary just a few weeks ago. (On July 26th, to be exact.) And of course we’ve been kind enough to politely remind you about the upcoming Stone 16th Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival. (On August 17-18, to be exact.) But what kind of anniversary celebration would it be without a new libation, amirite?
In keeping with our yearly tradition of making an excellent beer to ring in our happy day of birth, our stellar brewing crew is proud to present the deliciously hoppy Stone 16th Anniversary IPA. It’s actually a double IPA (don’t pretend to be surprised) spiked with a touch of lemon verbena and lemon oil, which Brewmaster Mitch Steele tells us “combines wonderfully with the peach and tropical mango flavors from the Amarillo hops, and with the apple and berry notes from the Calypso hops.”
You know what the problem is with you young punk craft beer drinkers today? You don’t know how good you’ve got it! Double IPAs everywhere, flowing like water! Heck, when I was your age, I had to trek over 100 miles uphill in the snow to get something even remotely hoppy! Oh, gosh, who am I kidding? I’m only 27. The fact is, *I* am a young punk, reveling in the bounty of lupulin-loaded libations at my fingertips.
But thinking back, it’s crazy to see how far my tastes have come. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one who can say that. I remember tasting my first Stone IPA years ago… and absolutely hating it. (Sorry Greg. Sorry Steve. I was young and naïve!) It was so much more bitter than anything I’d ever had, and I was sure that I was not, and would never be, a hophead. But I remember telling a friend about my less-than-stellar experience, and he immediately replied, “Oh, you should try Ruination! It’s their Double IPA!” Wait a tick; if their straight IPA was way too bitter for me, why in the hell would I want to try their Double IPA?! But my friend persisted, twisted my arm, held a gun to my head, and somehow got me to try a sip. And then… a HOPIPHANY.
Holy bitter breakthrough, Batman! What was this beautiful, citrusy magic I was tasting?! My eyes were opened. My worldview changed. I had seen the glory of the almighty hop, and it was good.
It’s apparently mind blowing to some folks that for our first 15+ years, we’d never used Cascade hops in any of our beers. And now, seemingly out of the blue, we’ve gone and used Cascade in our two most recent beer releases: 2012 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine and the Bear Republic / Fat Head’s / Stone TBA. Interestingly enough, we got a fair amount of (unexpected) reactions at this news. Some people laughed. Others cried. (Not really. At least as far as we know.) Some made conclusions about what they thought the beers would taste like before even trying them. (Hardly unusual.) Though most just happily went to their local craft beer bar or trusty bottle shop, picked one up and thoroughly enjoyed it without knowing or caring that the use of Cascade hops was a new endeavor for us. Cool.
Then we got a few strange comments scattered about our multiple social media channels. This one in particular made us scratch our heads: “Stone using Cascade hops? What the hell? I thought you guys wanted to stay a Cascade free brewery.” Wait… what? We never said that. At least that we can recall. Clearly, some folks felt we had some ‘splaining to do. Et voilà… here we are.
It is hard to overstate the importance of drinking fresh beer. But it may not be immediately obvious to the uninitiated that beer is best served fresh in the first place. It is, after all, fermented, and fermented foods often get better with age. Kimchi, yogurt, miso, kefir, kombucha: these are foods whose quality depends on the serene patience of their creators, a willingness to let the invisible magic of fermentation happen at its own pace, and be ready to enjoy when it’s ready.
Further complicating matters is the fact that some beers do indeed improve with a degree of age. Properly cellared (55 degrees or less, dark, cozy), beers on the robust, high ABV end of the spectrum can evolve & improve with time.
The nine year-round beers we brew DO NOT fall into this category. They are—dare we say—delicate creatures that only express the full-spectrum of their brilliance when FRESH. Freshly brewed beer is bright & fragrant, with clean, well-defined flavors that reflect our brewer’s intent.
Once expired, beer can become a sad, faded reflection of its former self, as age, oxygen, and light sinfully corrode the precious liquid. Drinking such beer can leave a less than favorable impression that’s hard to shake.
For that reason, we go to tremendous, expensive lengths to ensure that fresh beer is available to you. But we can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why we need YOU to join in the fight against expired beer.
In a recent post, I discussed Baird / Ishii / Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA, a beer we’re brewing to benefit Japanese tsunami relief. You undoubtedly noted the bit about Aramis hops, a new hop variety from the Alsace region of France, which we’re using in that beer.
For those of you that maintain an interest in all matters hop-related, we’re going to delve a bit deeper into the new hop varietal situation here at Stone.
We work with several hop suppliers to keep us stocked with the bitter, aromatic flowers you all know and love. Occasionally, those suppliers will offer us a brand new hop variety, and if it sounds like the flavor and aroma is up our alley, Brewmaster Mitch Steele usually orders a little bit. This occurs infrequently because it can take many years and a significant amount of money to develop a new hop variety.
Once the hops arrive at Stone, Mitch rips open the bag, gives them a sniff, reads up on their stats, then concocts a small-scale pilot recipe that prominently features the new hops. Depending on the results of that experiment, the new hops may be incorporated into a special release (the hops for our core line-up are pretty much fixed.)
Which brings us to Aramis hops. As far as we know, we’re the first brewery to brew a commercial beer with Aramis. So what does it taste/smell like, you ask? I conducted an informal poll around the brewery and these are some of the descriptors I got: floral, earthy, woody, Earl Grey, lemon, hay, herbal.
We then went a step further and did a taste test, which needlessly confirmed that eating hops—no matter what the varietal—is a terrible idea.
But that’s not all folks! We have an 11-pound bag of Calypso hops—a fun-sounding newish variety—sitting in our cold box, and we recently ripped that sucker open too. Calypso is an American hop derived from Nugget and USDA 19058m (my personal fav) packing considerably more punch than Aramis. Calypso clocks in at 12-14% alpha acid (the chemical component in hops that contribute bitterness to beer), making it useful as both a bittering and flavor/aroma hop.
And what an aroma it has! Another informal brewery poll—conducted with a pint glass full of fresh hop pellets—netted these descriptors: lemons, tart apples, cherry blossoms, black pepper, bitter orange, mint, pear. The aroma is at once distinctly American, insofar as it is remarkably unsubtle and sappy, while also being very fruity, a combination unlike any other hops I’ve smelled. It was almost universally well liked by those polled. A 15-gallon single hop IPA is Calypso’s next stop.
And there are still more new hop varieties to come. Columbia, Sonnet, Delta, and Bravo hops will all arrive in the next few months, giving us a remarkably broad new palette of hop flavors with which to experiment. Naturally, we’ll keep you updated.