Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA

Aside from beer there are three other beverages that I drink frequently. Water (I drink a lot of water), coffee, and tea. After my two early-morning, caffeine-kick cups of coffee I drink cup after cup of tea all day long. Earl Grey, English breakfast, Lapsang Souchong, peppermint, fruity herbal teas, I drink them all. I’m particularly fond of green tea. I love the herbal/nutty/fruity flavor blend of a well-brewed cup of good green tea.

When I received a bottle of Japanese Green Tea IPA from Stone Brewing Co. I was naturally excited. Not necessarily about the IPA part, that’s not my thing. But I could make myself imagine how the fruity and spicy flavors of hops might meld with those of the tea. I didn’t read the bottle or the press release too carefully before digging in. As I sipped I thought, “This seems a little thick and sweet for an IPA. How un-Stone-like.” After about a glass and a half the light headedness I was feeling led me to take a closer look. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t drinking a 7% IPA, but a 10% double IPA. I drank the rest. I wasn’t going anywhere that evening.

Japanese Green Tea IPA is a re-issue of a 2011 collaboration project with Japan-based Baird Brewing Company and Ishii Brewing Co. from Guam. It’s a bit stronger this time around than the first and they have subbed out some of the hops. With five different hop varieties in this beer you are unlikely to notice that small change.

So would this beer tantalize my tea-loving taste buds?

Here’s my notes.

2015-japanese-greenteaJapanese Green Tea IPA
Stone Brewing Co. Escondido, California
Style: Double IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: Low biscuit and pils-like sweetness. Moderate tropical fruit hops. Floral and herbal overtones. Nutty/herbal green tea character comes through clearly. Low notes of vanilla/caramel reminding me of crème brulee.

Appearance: Full, creamy, white head with excellent retention. Dark golden and brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Bitterness is high and lingering. It is backed up by medium malt sweetness mid-palate, shaped by that same crème brulee character from the aroma. Floral, perfume, and tropical fruit flavors like mango, pineapple and mandarin orange are in abundance. Nutty/floral green tea is clear. Faint notes of lemon. The early sweetness gives way to a just-off-dry finish with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: This is a big beer with many layers of complexity. For the first few sips the tea and hop flavors didn’t quite meld, but as it warmed it all coalesced into something very nice. Comes off a little bit syrupy in the middle, but the dryness of the finish mediates that.

Stone Brewing Co. Delicious IPA

IPA, experimental hop varieties, gluten concerns – three things that are really hot in the beer world right now. So what happens when you put them all together? Delicious IPA from Stone Brewing Co. That’s what.

Delicious IPA is not actually gluten-free. It’s one of those reduced gluten beers like Omission or Two Brothers Prairie Path. It’s brewed with barley malt and then the gluten is removed with an enzyme that brings it below the federal guidelines for gluten-free of 20ppm. The problem is that gluten can’t be accurately measured below 20ppm, so there is no way of actually knowing with any certainty what amount of gluten remains. Therefore, if you really are a celiac sufferer, drink with caution.

El Dorado is the one and only hop variety used in this beer. It was released in 2010 and is grown exclusively by CLS Farms in Moxee, Washington. It is a high alpha-acid variety that is also high in essential oils, making it good for both bittering and character. The farm website describes its profile as tropical fruit and stone fruit. The folks at Stone say it reminds them of “lemon Starburst candy.”

IPAs are not really my thing. It’s not that I don’t like them, but the super-hoppy beers don’t tend to be my go-to. I have historically had issues with the beers from Stone Brewing Co. Not because they aren’t well made, but because to my palate they focus too much on bitterness and not on hop flavor and aroma. I’m not such a fan of the bitter.

That said, they have made some hoppy beers that I love. I’m crazy for Go-To IPA, even though there is nothing about that beer that I should like. Delicious IPA is a pretty audacious name. But then, audacity is what Stone does best. Does the beer live up to its moniker?

Here’s my notes:

stone-delicious-ipaStone Delicious IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.7% ABV
80 IBU

Aroma: Resiny, tropical fruit hoppiness – mango, pineapple. Some strong lemon citrus in there, too. Lemon Starburst is correct. Malt aromatics are very low – light toast. There may be some fruity esters in there, but the hops deliver such a fruity wallop that it’s really hard to tell.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Huge head of creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma. Hops dominate, but bitterness is remarkably soft for 80 IBU – medium to medium-high. Hop flavors are the star – lemon, tropical fruit. There is an impression of tartness – almost citric acid. Malt character is low with light toast and just-balancing sweetness. The finish is dry with lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Surprisingly light body for nearly 8%. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is 7.7% and 80 IBU? If I weren’t reading those words on the bottle and in a press release, I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought this was some kind of session IPA. So light and drinkable. Despite the high IBUs, the focal point of this beer is hop flavor and aroma, a departure from my normal impression of Stone beers. I could sit and smell it for days. And it’s reduced gluten for those who have sensitivities.

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye Kölsch

Black Rye Kölsch!??! What the #&@$? Really?

I recently wrote a piece for the Growler Magazine decrying the tyranny of style. But really? Black Rye Kölsch? That doesn’t even make sense. Why evoke the word kölsch when the beer apparently has nothing kölsch-like about it? I mean, kölsch isn’t just a style invented for American competition guidelines; it’s an actual thing, defined by an international convention that spells out what it is and where it can be brewed?

Dick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier is the first entry in Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone Spotlight Series, the product of an intra-brewery competition engaging all brewery employees in the creation of small-batch beers. As described on the brewery blog:

“in [order] to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.”

Spröcket Bier was created by Quality Production Assurance Lead Rick Blankemeier and Production Warehouse Lead Robbie Chandler. It was based on a rye kölsch homebrew recipe. Blackness was applied as a nod to the Stone reputation for extremity. Like the black IPA and white stout before it, it is an oxymoron of a beer. But can this contradictory brew be good?

Here’s my notes:

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye KölschDick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: “Black Rye Kölsch”
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low roasted malt – French roast coffee and bitter chocolate. Doughy, bready. Confectioner’s sugar sweetness. Low spicy, blackberry/current Hallertau hops. Moderate fruity notes – tangerine or pear.

Appearance: Black and nearly opaque with reddish highlights. Appears clear. Full head of sturdy, creamy, beige foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Dry, espresso roast hits tip of tongue. A bit or roast astringency lasts through to the finish. Mid-palate is very pilsner-like – low, grainy pils malt character and the spicy, licorice, blackberry/current of Hallertau hops. Hop bitterness is medium, enhanced by roast. Rye character comes out just before swallowing and after – dry, spicy, rye bread. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and roast astringency. Low pear-like fruity esters. Midway through the bottle the roast falls back, allowing a more kölsch or pilsner-like beer to emerge.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Moderate astringency.

Overall Impression: My experience of this beer changed as I drank. Temperature? Palate conditioning? At first I didn’t care for it. It made me angry. Why even evoke the name kölsch? It had nothing particularly kölsch-like about it beyond continental hops and a certain yeastiness in the nose. A coffee-ish pilsner perhaps? Coffee schwarzbier? It was too roasty for schwarzbier, but came closer to that than kölsch. I enjoyed the moments when the pilsner-like characteristics came through, but then that dry, Irish-stout type roastiness would get in the way. Dry, dry, dry. Dry roast. Dry finish. All enhanced by the dry impression of rye. But the longer I drank, the less the roast got in the way. The pilsner/kölsch character began to burst through. It kept flipping back and forth between roast and kölsch – an interesting, schizophrenic flickering in my brain. By the end of the bottle I was kind of digging it. Still, I don’t think I would call it a kölsch.

Stone Ruin Ten IPA

In 2012, Stone Brewing Co. celebrated the tenth anniversary of their brutally-bitter Ruination IPA with an amped-up version of that beer. Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA was brewed with twice as many hops as the original – a whopping 5 pounds per barrel – to achieve a tongue-scraping 110 IBU. The ABV was ramped up from 7.7% to 10.8%. This beer was a hops and booze fiend’s wet dream.

It was not my cup of tea. I don’t seem to have actually recorded any tasting notes anywhere. At least if I did I can’t find them now. However, I do recall having a social media back-and-forth with someone about the beer. I took the negative position. It was too much boozy bitter and not enough juicy hop flavors. I really didn’t like that beer.

Fast forward a year. Due to popular demand, Stone has re-brewed this monster. It was released in June as Ruin Ten IPA. I figured, “What the heck! I’ll give it another go.”

Sensory perception is so fungible. The experience of a beverage or food is subject to so many variables. What time of day is it? Who are you with and what are you doing? When and what did you last eat? What kind of mood are you in? All of these things and more come into play when tasting beer. What seems an abomination one day may be sublime the next. Or at least palatable.

Here’s my notes:

Stone Ruin Ten IPARuin Ten IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Hops lead the way from start to finish with juicy tangerines, pineapples, and tropical fruits. Some light herbal notes are in there as well. It’s not all hops though. Some malty sweetness with tones of caramel lies underneath the fruit.

Appearance: Copper colored with reddish tint. Hazy on pouring, but cleared up to brilliant clarity as it warmed. Dense stand of persistent, off-white foam.

Flavor: Aggressively high bitterness lingers all the way through to the finish, but it isn’t an unbalanced beer. Ample caramel-tinged malt sweetness gives a sturdy counterpoint. Bitterness is the main hop characteristic, but hop flavors aren’t ignored; tropical fruit, oranges and lemons, herbs. Alcohol is also noticeable, but stops short of being boozy. The finish is long with caramel, bitterness and alcohol being the lingering notes.

Mouthfeel: Full body, but well attenuated. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: At this particular time and place I really enjoyed this beer. Malt offers better balance in this version than in the smaller Ruination IPA on which it is based. It’s not just all about bitter. Nice citrus and fruit hop flavors as well.

Stone Enjoy By 5.17.13 IPA

“ENJOY BY 5. 17. 13!” The bottle in my fridge had been relentlessly nagging me for three weeks. The big black and white letters on the green label glared at me from the shelf. I was away when it arrived on my doorstep, but it even from afar it scolded me for my neglect, imprinting guilt upon my mind – nee my soul – that I was allowing it to fade with each passing day. And now the dreaded deadline had arrived. I had let it go until the last minute. It was 5. 17. 13.

I pried the cap off of the bottle and poured its copper-colored contents into my Sam Adams/Dogfish Head IPA glass. I raised it to my nose with anticipation. Had I waited too long? Would the lupuline nectar be degraded; a mere shadow of its once bitter self? Only a taste would tell.

Here’s my notes:

Enjoy by 5. 17. 13. IPA
Stone Brewing Co, Escondido, California
Style: Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Light apricots and pineapple. Hint of sugary grain. Aromatics very low overall.

Appearance: Golden color and hazy. Substantial and persistent, off-white, rocky foam. The head really hangs around.

Flavor: Bit of chives right off the bat. Brown sugar, but not sweet. Light toast. Bitterness is high, but not unbalanced. Malt sweetness is enough to counter. The bitterness hangs on in the finish though, coming back for another bite long after swallowing. Hop flavors are low, with hints of chive, herbs, mint, and  citrus peel. Some stone-fruit flavors pop in as well. Alcohol is noticeable, but not hot. Very dry. Although I have picked several things out, it’s all very subtle. Bitterness dominates.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Mild astringency. Alcohol warmth.

Overall Impression: I really wanted more. More hop aroma. More hop flavor. More interesting malt. The whole seemed a bit one-dimensional to me, and that dimension was mostly bitter. Sure, there were some other things going on, but as I stated above they were all pretty subtle. I found myself thinking, “Well, there’s another 9.5% IPA. And the world certainly needed another one of those.” Maybe I did leave it too long.

Stone Brewing Co. Double Bastard

I have no fancy introductory comments to this one. It’s strong. It’s rich. It’s hoppy. It’s doubly bastardish. Here’s my notes:

Stone Brewing Co. Double Bastard AleDouble Bastard
Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, California
Style: American Strong Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle.

Aroma: Brown sugar and spice. Caramel. Cooling. Grapefruit rind and citrus melding with pine resin.

Appearance: Low, off-white to ivory head that dropped quickly, sustaining only a foamy ring around the edge. Dark amber and clear.

Flavor: Sweet brown-sugar and caramel. Bitterness is high, but so is the malt sweetness. The two nearly balance, with bitterness having only the slightest upper-hand. Citrusy grapefruit and orange peel hops with a faint background of pine tree. Very subtle raisiny, dark-fruit and chocolate flavors. Alcohol is verging on boozy, but stops just short of it.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Moderately-low carbonation. Slightly astringent.

Overall Impression: Certainly a tasty beer, but a one-glass beer for me. On the second glass it started to seem a bit one-note and overbearing. It’s a nice after-dinner beer for a cold Minnesota fall (or winter) night.  It’s good to drink now, but the slight booziness and forward bitterness will fade with some age, meaning it should be great to drink next fall or the one after that.

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Black IPA

In calling its 15th anniversary beer an Escondidian Black IPA, Stone Brewing Co. took an intentional jab at the silly debate over what to call black and bitter beers; Cascadian Dark Ale or Black IPA. As it is the first Imperial version of this up-and-coming style (that I know of), I suppose it is within their rights to claim origins in Escondido.

It’s a big bruiser of a black and bitter beer. Weighing in at 10.8% ABV and 100 IBU. I have to say that my experience of this beer may have been tainted by the fact that I was really in the mood for a saison. This is not a saison. I let myself get talked into opening the bottle. With that in mind, here’s my notes:

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA
Stone Brewing Co, San Diego, California
Style: Imperial Black IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Immediate hit of big pine and citrus hops; grapefruits and tangerines. Underneath lies dusky roast and bitter coffee. Imperial stout-like with bold American hops.

Appearance: Opaque black. Full and long-lasting creamy tan head.

Flavor: Hops hit first on the tip of the tongue; a shockwave of bitterness, tangerines, and pine. Mid-palate the malt rushes in bringing bold coffee and bitter chocolate flavors. Sweetness fights with the bitterness and nearly wins. The finish leaves lingering blackstrap molasses and hop bitterness amplified by burnt roasted flavors. Throughout a mix of pith and pine, sweet tar and roast.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and a bit astringent. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Is this a hoppy imperial stout or a sweet and strong black IPA? I don’t usually hang on styles, but if forced to choose I’d go with the former. It’s big. It’s thick. It’s boldly roasty and bitter. Only the extra-intense hop flavor and aroma tell me that this is something other than an RIS. While the coffee/chocolate/tangerine blend was pleasant, it slapped me around a bit more than I wanted.

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale from Stone Brewing Co.

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is another style bender from Stone Brewing Co. Beer Advocate calls it an “American Black Ale” (now there’s a vague designation). Ratebeer says it’s a Black IPA…Nah, too much roast. I’m calling it an American Imperial Stout. But again, does it really matter?

This is one from Stone that I had never tried. I was happy to have the chance. Here’s my notes:

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Stone Brewing Co, San Diego, California
Style: American Imperial Stout?
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: All of the aromatics are surprisingly low. Pine and grapefruit hops with balancing levels of coffee-like roast. A bit of alcohol becomes apparent as the beer warms.

Appearance: Opaque black. Full, rocky, beige head that sticks around.

Flavor: Much more roasted malt character than the aroma lets on. Stout-like and Creamy. Coffee and dark chocolate. Bit of sugary sweetness. Slightly astringent roasted-malt bitterness gives a boost to the medium-high hop bitterness. Although it’s a bitter beer, the perceived bitterness is lower than the claimed 90 IBUs.  Brassy pine and grapefruit hop flavors with some orange notes peeking around the corner. A touch of alcohol comes as the beer warms. A second bite of roasty bitterness hits on the way down and lingers into the finish.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and rich malt balanced by a bit of hop and roast astringency. Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: I don’t tend to favor hoppy black beers, especially those with high levels of American hop flavors. Roasted malt and American hops often do battle in my mouth. This one was quite nice.

Stone’s triumphant march into Minnesota happens next week. Stone Week Minnesota kicks off on Tuesday the 29th and features pub specials, tap takeovers, and beer-store tastings at location throughout the Twin Cities. Co-Founder and CEO Greg Koch will be on hand along with a gaggle of other brewery reps.

Stone IPA

Stone Brewing Co. roars into the metro the week of March 29th. It’s a long-awaited moment for many Twin Cities beer fans. The brewery is particularly noted for big, bitter beers and bold braggadocio. I thought I would give a few of them a second (or third…okay fourth) try leading into the launch. The first up is Stone IPA. Here’s my notes:

Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, California
Style: India Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: Combination of citrus hops and stone-fruit syrup from malts. Actually less hop aroma than I had expected. Still pleasant though. Tangerine, pineapple, and sweet.

Appearance: Light amber to deep golden. Clear. Big, persistent, rocky, white head.

Flavor: Hits the tip of the tongue first with fruity, sweet malt, with a distinct biscuit character. English malts? Sharp bitterness grabs hold in the middle. Hops are definitely slanted to bitterness over flavor. Grassy and citrus hop flavors are moderate and make a good counterbalance to the malt. Citrus rind bitterness lingers well beyond the swallow.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-low carbonation.

Overall Impression: A decent IPA, but I would like a greater emphasis on hop flavor over bitterness. That’s just my personal preference. I appreciated the biscuit notes that added complexity to the malt. It’s a nice beer, but it didn’t make me want to run out and buy a bunch of it.