With session IPA becoming a growing trend in craft beer, you had to know a low-alcohol hop-bomb made by the hop geniuses at Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, California) would soon be on the horizon. In March of this year, they released ‘Go To IPA,’ named such because many claimed this would be the beer they would most often reach for when session drinking.
Session beers often stir up a bit of controversy — what alcohol percentage do you define as “session?” For most, it seems around 4.5% or lower fits the bill. Stone’s version of an all-night pounder comes in right at 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made using the “hop bursting” technique. Hop bursting is when the majority of the bitterness found in the beer (65 IBUs or International Bitterness Units, here) comes from late addition hops, typically added with 15 minutes or less to go in the boil.
Mitch Steele, Stone’s brewmaster, says there is a small bittering charge added just before the wort comes to a boil; the late additions are comprised of El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, and Sterling hops. The beer is finished with dry hops that are comprised of mostly the same additions used late in the boil.
The problem with most session IPA is that the low alcohol often makes the beer thin and lack mouthfeel, becoming more of a hoppy tea rather than a traditional beer. Let’s see if Stone has found balance that truly is a ‘Go To…’
The pour issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy and frothy in texture. It quickly diminished, leaving one finger of foam atop a golden beer that had just a hint of orange to it. The beer was brightly clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving solid sheets of suds after each sip. It’s a very nice looking beer.
The nose is a knuckle sandwich of hops; we’ve got a big Mosaic presence — sweet melon is tackled by oranges, pine, and dankness. There’s some light grapefruit and lemon peel. Overall, I found the hop aroma to be sweet in nature, resinous, and completely covering any malt backing this beer might have. But…there probably isn’t much malt here to begin with; I detected perhaps some grainy sweetness. It’s clean, extremely hoppy, and just as advertised.
Tasting brings on a light bitterness, reminiscent of grapefruit rind, then the middle of the taste explodes with all sorts of hop delight. Pine, melon, light tropical fruits, peaches, very fresh and clean. But things get a little muddy without a malt backbone — the hops fall apart some, and garlic/onion begin to take over the flavor profile. The bitterness, while only 65 IBU, is intense, especially with the lack of any sweetness and the bone dry finish. As it warms, the finish became more pleasant with dank notes of pine. Go To IPA is light-bodied, with a thin, drying mouthfeel. The bitterness, while heavy, isn’t too much, but it borders upon it.
Like many of its competitors, Stone’s Go To IPA lacks body and packs a heavy bitterness. It’s a nice beer, certainly drinkable with some interesting hops, but I’m not sure I could session this due to the hop tea thinness. I know Mitch Steele is a big fan of using 95-100% base malts in IPAs and (especially) Imperial IPAs, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach to take on a beer of this sort.
Stone Go To IPA, 84 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
While we very rarely cut and paste information about beer on this website, we feel the story of this beer is best told by Stone Brewing Co; the following text appears on the back of each bottle of Matt’s Burning Rosids:
Life is extraordinarily precious, joyous…and fragile. In 2013, we suffered the tragic loss of our dear friend and coworker, Matt Courtright. In the midst of our grief, we pulled together as the family we are, suggesting and exploring numerous ways to pay tribute to our dearly departed colleague. In the end, we felt there was no finer way to honor his memory than to brew one of his most recent and special beer recipes.
Everyone at Stone recognized Matt’s prowess and passion for brewing. He loved to explore all beer could be, rather than limit himself or his brews to accepted parameters. He conceived a Belgian-style saison with his Stone friend and compatriot, Brian Bishop. Infused with cherrywood-smoked malt, the beer was dubbed Burning Rosids, referencing the rosid plant family from which cherry trees hail.
Matt’s smile and voluminous laugh were infectious mainstays around the brewery. By no means a shrinking violet, he was exuberant, courageous, unfailingly positive and the type of stalwart friend that everyone was happy to have in their corner. He was larger than life in so many ways…and without a doubt, an incredible brewer. We, Matt’s brewing comrades and friends at Stone were proud to hoist our mash paddles and brew this recipe as a symbolic gesture of how much he meant to everyone and how immensely we will miss him.
Rather than regarding Burning Rosids as a somber memento, please think of it as a celebration of Matt. We do. When you drink this very special beer, please join us in raising your glass, both in Matt’s memory and in tribute to everything he so passionately stood for: caring for others, passion and skill for his art, and laughter…lots of laughter. Among the long list of things he held dear were GoDesignInc.org, a charity committed to fulfilling the architectural needs of developing communities around the world; and TKF, a non-profit working to stop youth violence by educating, mentoring and making positive impacts on high-risk communities. We are proudly contributing funds earned through the sale of this beer to this worthy organization in Matt’s honor.
Enjoy, and please remember that life and those we hold dear are precious gifts to be cherished every day. Consider sharing this beer, conversations on life’s passions and, again, lots of laughter, with good friends as we remember ours.
Matt’s Burning Rosids comes in at 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour produced a small, frothy head that rapidly diminished into just a thin cover around the edges of the glass. The beer is golden-orange in color and has a haze to the body; it’s still translucent and features no particles or sediment. The lacing was good, leaving behind several thin patches of suds. It’s a very nice color and has lots of carbonation bubbles that zoom to the surface.
On the aroma, this brew has a fair amount of Saison funk; the yeast is the first thing I took in, and it’s bready and earthen with a touch of barnyard. The malts are grainy and biscuity, and there are hints of orange peel, clove, bubblegum, and banana character. There’s also some peppery spice, but that seemed to come out more as it warmed. And there, in the background, is a hint of smokiness, complete with just an edge of cherry. No alcohol to be found.
The taste is a bit rocky initially; you must allow this to warm up ten minutes or so and you’ll have a much better experience. It’s mildly bitter up front, with a stiff smokiness, but it quickly opens to more of a traditional Saison laced with spicy fruit and wood. Notes of orange peel, clove, banana, and bubblegum dominate the middle of the palate, with the bubblegum leading the transition to a finish that is definite cherrywood — the smoke is jarring in the first few sips, coming off somewhat burnt, but when allowed to warm and as the palate adjusts, it’s really more spicy/orange/clove that has smoked cherries as a background player. And yes, I got definite notes of cherry, especially as I worked my way through the last half of the glass. I found Burning Rosids to be medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy, drying mouthfeel. The alcohol isn’t overpowering but there is some warming effect.
I really enjoyed this beer and by the end of the bottle, I wanted more. I think most people will feel that way — this is a “dabble here, dabble there…” kind of beer, with flavors all over the map. But you know what? It works — and that’s the sign of a brewer that knew what he was doing. You are missed, Matt; and it is with great honor that I got to sample one of your creations. And it is with sadness that I realize you are gone too soon; but it is with happiness that I honor and respect those with the same spirit as you who craft these crazy elixirs that we love to drink. Here’s to good beer, and the hard-working, passionate men and women that make it.
Stone Matt’s Burning Rosids Imperial Saison, 90 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
The most recent collaboration beer from Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) sees them teaming up with 10 Barrel Brewing Company of Bend, Oregon, and Bluejacket of Washington, D.C. for an Imperial Porter named for its texture: suede.
The collaborative idea came to fruition through email, where head brewers from 10 Barrel (Tonya Cornett) and Bluejacket (Megan O’Leary Parisi) decided to go with a high-alcohol, chocolatey porter. A few more emails later, the beer had suddenly become flavored with ingredients that could be obtained locally near Stone’s facility, where this beer was brewed. Suede Imperial Porter is brewed with avocado honey, jasmine, and calendula flowers. (A calendula is a marigold.)
The beer was released in a limited quantity in October; the ABV (alcohol by volume) comes in at 9.6%, and IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 50.
Pouring produced a small, creamy, light tan head that provided a nice, lasting cap. The beer was dark brown in color, with ruby highlights when held to a bright light. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and the lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin yet solid sheets of fine foam.
The aroma delivers sweet honey with equal parts milk chocolate and coffee up front, with backing notes of a nice roasted malt blend. The hops are herbal, and verge on some mild grapefruit rind; the large alcohol content is completely hidden, but this beer does kind of give off a grapey Imperial Stout note. Absent are the dark fruits that typically accompany the grape jam. As the beer warms, the roasted hit combines with a nice caramel note to really darken things up. What we have here is fairly typical for the style, but it’s fairly typical of a very good example of a Porter.
On the taste, the avocado honey really comes out first, backing some nice thick caramel. It’s not too sweet, and the jasmine is a big player here, too. It hangs with this combination for a bit and you really notice the creamy, silky mouthfeel right away. A punch of dark fruits hit in the middle of the taste, backed up by the grape jam note found in the aroma. But on the taste, the dark fruits are here, as evidenced by raisin and prune. The grape flavor continues to the finish, which winds up with honey again, more jasmine, and minor finishers of milk chocolate and sweetened coffee. As it warms, there’s a growing grapefruit hop presence that doesn’t really provide any bitterness, just a pinch of dryness. Suede Imperial Porter is medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel that is very suede-like.
Smooth beer? Yes, achieved — and the other big achievement has to be the lack of alcohol on the aroma and taste. This is a big beer at 9.6%, but honestly, it drinks like a typical 5-6% Porter. You had better be careful with this one. The honey and jasmine add some interest to the flavor, but you have to recognize that this is just a very nice base beer that could probably stand alone without the “strange” ingredients. And marigolds? Never tasted one, so that’s just label speak to me.
10 Barrel / Bluejacket / Stone Suede Imperial Porter, 91 points. Price: $7.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
We’re in agreement with Stone’s co-founder, Greg Koch: almost nothing should be so sacred that you won’t consider tweaks that result in improvements.
To be clear, this website has reviewed Stone Brewing Co. Ruination IPA before — back in July 2012, I awarded the beer, one of the first Imperial IPAs to ever be bottled and distributed in the United States, 93 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.
Until now, Ruination’s recipe has remained the same since it was first released in 2002. But after experimental batches were brewed at the Escondido, California brewery using two additional hop varieties and raising the ABV a half-percent, Stone decided they liked the new recipe better. So, the new recipe will be the current representation of Ruination, likely for the foreseeable future.
Two things changed about Ruination: the hop bill went from just Columbus and Centennial to Centennial, Chinook, and Magnum; and the ABV (alcohol by volume) jumped from 7.7% to 8.2%. Ruination still retains its 100+ IBU (International Bitterness Units) rating and Stone still calls this groundbreaking IPA a “liquid poem to the glory of the hop.” Let’s see what, if anything, has changed (for better or worse).
Pouring produced an average size, bright white, soapy head that sticks around. The beer is golden-orange in color; the body is slightly hazy but doesn’t have any particles or sediment floating around. Lacing is good, providing thin but solid sheets for about the first two inches of the drink, when it starts to become less consistent. Looks pretty much the same as before, perhaps just a bit hazier.
The nose is where I noticed the most change: gone is the pine note I often found prevalent in Ruination; amped up is the sweet tropical fruit aspect. There’s no shortage of hops here, which is to be expected — big, astringent notes of grapefruit and pineapple greet the nose, and while it’s sweet, you’re still pounded with a raw edge that lets you know this brew is going to be a big bitter bad boy. More subtle hop players included orange peel, lemon, lime, and just a tease of menthol. The light malt body plays into the sweetness, lending some caramel, and there is a small whiff of alcohol to round things out. I’d call the aroma deceptively sweet overall; I bumped the rating up one point here, because I really dig the tropical fruit scents.
On the taste, Ruination is initially quite sweet with sugar coated grapefruit and pineapple juice concentrate. But don’t be fooled: a wave of thick bitterness quickly washes over the tongue, prickling the taste buds with astringent high alpha acids — sweet grapefruit turns achingly bitter yet still juicy, and orange and lemon peel begin to show. Middle of the taste is a bit soft with an edge toward herbal, tea-like hops; the finish is a battle between caramel sweetness and heavily bitter grapefruit. The alcohol is completely hidden; I find Ruination to be medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, and drying mouthfeel.
Has this beer changed much? In short, no, not really. I think the biggest difference is the aroma, which caters more to the sweet tooth than the IBU aficionado. I’m still at 93 points for this beer; even though I jumped the aroma score up, I bumped the drinkability/overall experience category down a point, and here’s why: I miss the piney kick in the taste. It’s just not there. We’ve traded pine for tropical fruits, which in my book kind of equates itself out. And that’s why I am choosing to rate the two versions the same.
The end result for Ruination is this: if you love hops, and feel challenged by a beer that rides the edge of bitterness to where it nearly turns overwhelming and medicinal, you’ll be in heaven. Whether it’s dominant pine or tropical fruit flavors. Cheers to Stone for having the gumption to change something when they feel strongly about it. (Other breweries, take note.)
Stone Ruination IPA (New 2013 Recipe), 93 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
Let it be said that Stone (Escondido, California) collaboration projects are never boring.
Earlier this year, Greg Koch, Stone co-founder, Wil Wheaton, actor and avid homebrewer, and Drew Curtis, creator of Fark.com teamed up to brew a gigantic Imperial Stout they named Stone Farking Wheaton W0̷0̷tstout.
The basis for the idea was cooked up by Koch, who desired a high-alcohol dark beer that would hold up to being stored in the cellar and enjoyed years from now. The detail of the ingredient list would come from Wheaton and Curtis.
Wheaton didn’t have to think hard about what ingredient he would add — wheat, of course — but wheat malt is hardly ever added to a beer such as this one. Even better. Curtis, a stranger to making beer, paid homage to his Kentucky heritage and brought rye and pecans. Take this beer one step further by aging 25% of it in bourbon barrels, and you’ve got something that not only raises eyebrows, but makes your mouth water.
Packaged in three bottles with distinctly different artwork, this beer is a limited release from Stone and comes in at 13% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 65 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). To much fanfare, it quickly sold out around the country, with most people picking up multiple bottles, some to enjoy now and some to sample much later. Let’s get a baseline taste on W0̷0̷tstout.
Release from the bottle produced a small, tan head that was creamy and diminished fast. The color is true Imperial Stout; dark black and completely opaque, with just a faint touch of lighter brown, cola-like edges when held to light. The body appeared clear and there were no sediment dregs in the bottom of the bottle; I noticed no particles or sediment in the beer. Lacing was good, providing a couple of waves of good, tan, thin suds.
The nose reveals a complex and delightful aroma, which is to be expected given the ingredient list on this brew. The initial immediate notes are of bourbon and vanilla but these are by no means the dominant scents — quite the opposite in fact, and they tend to fade into the background the longer you inhale. This beer opens up wide to reveal a big component of dark fruits, especially grapes and raisins, along with nice toasted notes of bread and plenty of dark chocolate. There are some subtle grapefruit hops which combine nicely with the dark fruits, and as the beer warms, I detected some sweet pecan pie. While there isn’t a big alcohol presence, the aroma is big and bossy, in a great way. It throws around its weight very well.
The best way I can describe the taste of W0̷0̷tstout is like this: it’s a chunky, beefy, beast of a beer with a lot of different components that remains compact. Make sense? Let me explain: a rush of flavor greets the tongue, issuing up toasted marshmallow, chocolate, toasted bread, and general roasted malts. Swirl around the mouth and you start to pick up on some hot bourbon and dark fruits. A mild yet forceful hit of alcohol clears the palate midway through the swallow, offering up a finish of dark, layered chocolate, bourbon, grapes, and almonds. The final notes are moderately sweet, but as you continue to drink, the bitterness builds up nicely, making it bittersweet. The 13% alcohol is here, but it never gets in the way. W0̷0̷tstout is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.
Folks, this beer is dangerously drinkable. A certain amount of hype comes on this beer and I’d tell you to believe it. This collaboration is quite a feat, in my opinion; normally, when a beer of this ilk comes together with a few oddball ingredients, it can be cluttered. But these flavors play out on the tongue like a classic feature presentation. Damn the aging, I think this beer is ready to go now, so long as you can tolerate a bit of hot alcohol, which only serves to cleanse the palate for more flavor treats. Bravo! I’ll still age a bottle and report back.
Stone Farking Wheaton W0̷0̷tstout Imperial Stout, 96 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.