Tasting Notes - Stone IPA

Words and Photos - Matthew Curtis

I never wanted my blog to be strictly a beer reviews blog instead focusing more on my adventures in beer. Ultimately though for the humble beer blogger nothing beats drinking a great beer and it inspiring you to put pen to paper, or in a more modern context mashing the keys on your laptop for a couple of hours. So far the beers I’ve wrote about have been chosen mostly due to their sheer awesomeness and with the beer I am reviewing today I was expecting a double dose of awesomeness.

Stone IPA is revered within beer geek circles as one of the best in the business, it has a 100% flawless rating on ratebeer.com (I am not a member) and many beer lovers often cite Stone as one of their favourite breweries.

Will San Diego's finest live up to my expectations?

Unfortunately unlike so many of you I have not experienced as much of the same joy with Stone beers, I like them, I really do but have never been inspired to wax lyrical about them. I won’t lie I think Arrogant Bastard Ale is superb and Ruination is a really enjoyable double IPA but as someone who holds IPA on a pedestal above all other beer styles I probably wouldn’t put any of the Stone brews in my top ten if I was the kind of guy who liked making lists.

As I am such a fan of India Pale Ale I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks looking at a few different IPAs from both sides of the pond and investigating the style as a whole. I’ll predominantly be focusing on the modern American style of IPA as these are my favourites but it would be unreasonable of me to ignore some more traditional British ales, however I won’t be looking at anything like Greene King IPA, I’ve already drank my fill of that over the years before I discovered the joy of the hop. For the record I have nothing against beers such as those brewed by Greene King, they just don't do it for me anymore and this blog is about looking forward, not moaning about the past.

The first thing you notice about Stone beers is their strong branding which, bar the comic sans (c’mon guys, who uses comic sans!) on the bottle neck looks great. The Gargoyle emblem is immediately recognisable and one other thing I really like is that the graphics appear to be printed onto the bottle itself rather than onto a label, another feature that helps these bottles stand out on the shelf. Pouring the Stone IPA into my favourite New Belgium chalice I get a lovely, hazy, straw coloured beer that produces a tightly packed head of white bubbles about one centimetre thick. There is plenty of busy carbonation ensuring that the head lasts as long as you drink the beer and produces some nice lacing as you sup away.

Sticking my nose in I expect to get a glorious hit of tropical and citrus fruits as is so often the case with a beer such as this but instead after a small hint of lemon juice I get a nose full of alcohol and the heady aroma of juniper berries followed by masses of caramel from the malt. Unlike many IPAs which hide their high ABV well my particular bottle of Stone IPA has a strong taste of booze with the two dominant bitter flavours being lemon and juniper, it’s almost as if someone has poured a slug of Bombay Sapphire into my beer. Underpinning the boozy, bitter notes are masses of bready, golden syrup-esque flavours that are far too sweet for my tastes and destroy the hints of fruit before they’ve had a chance to develop.

My first thought is that I’ve served the beer too cold, so after drinking half the glass I leave it alone for about fifteen minutes to see if a slight increase in temperature gives it any benefit. I must admit that when I come back to the beer that there were flavours of grapefruit and mango that I didn’t detect before and I enjoy the second half of the bottle much more than the first but I can’t escape that cloying sweetness from the malt, this beer is simply too sweet for my tastes.

I hadn’t planned to write about this experience as I don’t want to label myself as a beer basher, I didn’t dislike this beer, it certainly wasn’t drain pour but it fell far from setting my world alight. I’ve read several glowing reviews of this beer after drinking my bottle and one thing that is a common theme among them is how well balanced the flavours are and how the high ABV is almost undetectable. These reviews left me with many questions and the conclusion I came to is that I may have received a bad bottle which may simply have been from a below par batch.

There is only one thing for it, I’ll have to give it a few months before I buy some more but the next time some bottles of Stone IPA make their way to the UK I’ll have to do some ‘quality control’ and see if I did have a bad bottle or if this beer simply doesn't suit my selective palate. If the second trial proves to be just as unsuccessful then I’ll have plan a trip to San Diego and try it at the source. It’s a tough gig being a beer blogger.