Stone Brewing Co is one of the undisputed masters of the Double IPA style, and 2012 has seen a bumper-crop of special DIPA releases from the San Diego brewery. Which is the finest example of the brewhouse balancing act that the style demands? Which of the ruinous hop-monsters will ravage your palate and have you asking for more? We sat down to taste all four Stone Double IPAs produced in 2012, and here is the blow-by-blow.
The Double IPA
Call them Imperial IPAs or call them Double IPAs, Stone Brewing may not have invented the style (Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing is generally credited for inventing the style at the original Blind Pig brewpub in San Diego), but they certainly popularized it first with many of their Anniversary Releases and then with the first commercial year-round brewed and bottled DIPA: Ruination. In the ten years since the introduction of Ruination IPA the DIPA style has become a must-brew for many craft breweries and the style’s popularity has hop-heads across the country clamoring for bigger and bolder hop-bombs.
Throughout the years Stone has released many special edition DIPAs to go along with their Ruination, but 2012 was a special year that has provided an exceptional bounty of the sticky treats. Not only did we see the introduction of the 10th Anniversary Ruination, there was the 16th Anniversary IPA and the experimental Enjoy By: 9.21.12 IPA released this month. We gathered a small tasting panel of hop-heads and hop-weary craft beer fans try all four side-by-side.
First up was the classic Ruination, one of the first commercial beers to break the 100 IBU threshold, and one of my all-time favorite beers. At “just” 7.7%ABV the beer is actually on the low-end alcohol content for popular DIPAs, but that doesn’t stop Stone from packing the bottle full of resinous and piney hops. The beer is a benchmark for the style, displaying the necessary balance between bitter-and-sweet that is so important in a Double IPA. As a brewer ups the amount of bittering hops in a beer he must also increase the amount of grain to balance the hop-flavor and to push the alcohol content past the 7.5%ABV threshold of a standard IPA, but residual unfermented sugars can easily make a malt-heavy beer cloyingly sweet. A great DIPA should have a drier-than-expected finish that lets the hop-bitterness take center stage. Ruination achieves this refreshing and crisp finish and pairs it with a pungent pine and citrus aroma. The result is a Double IPA that masterfully balances potency, pungency, and drinkability.
What I Thought
A classic. A nearly perfect beer that always has a place in my fridge.
What the Tasters Thought
The most surprising reaction was from the tasters who generally shy-away from IPAs and the bitterest of beers: they not only found the Ruination to be the most drinkable and balanced of the line-up, but they were surprised at how much they enjoyed the beer. The hop-heads among the tasters also all gave the ruination high marks, though one taster noted that he prefers IPAs that are more tropical fruit heavy and marked the Ruination down slightly for being so piney.
The anniversary edition of Stone’s Ruination is a big beer. The brew uses the same base ingredients that go in to Ruination, just more of them. The brewers uses enough malt to get to 10.8%ABV as well as considerably more hops, including dry-hopping with twice as much hops as standard Ruination. The addition of Citra hops brings that hop variety’s characteristic tropical fruit flavors to the Ruination 10th, and the result is a hugely aromatic brew that fills the whole room with the scent of hops when a glass is poured. The beer has a heavier body than the standard Ruination, and it washes over your palate with a layered hop-attack leaving a sharp bitter finish that seems to last forever. There is a notable alcohol burn that replaces the brief sweetness of the malts and begs you to take another sip. Not as drinkable as Ruination, but far more complex and challenging.
What I Thought
The bottle had been hidden in the back of my fridge since the beer’s initial release in June, and the 10 weeks in cold storage had not been kind. The beer was notably muted in flavor and aroma compared to the fresh bottles that I’d had (and oh, there were many of those.) This flavor-fade was a great example of why big hop beers should be consumed as fresh-as-possible, though this bottle was by no means bad. It was still extremely enjoyable.
What the Tasters Thought
The added depth of the hop flavors was appreciated by all of the tasters, though the potent brew trended to be too much for the more hop-cautious among them. The richer body was noted by multiple tasters as being an unexpected highlight of the beer, but the luscious hop aroma was everyone’s favorite aspect of the beer.
Enjoy By: 9.21.12
As a way to drive home the “best when fresh” aspect of nearly all beer, and especially IPAs, Stone has introduced this new limited edition DIPA with that begs to be consumed while still in its prime:
The concept is this: Stone Enjoy By IPA is meant NOT to last. That big bold date you see emblazoned on each glorious glass vessel? Yeah, it’s a mere 35 days after the beer is bottled, giving hop fiends exactly five weeks to find and enjoy this beer. (We’ll have kegs, too.)
Enjoy By is a departure for Stone for more than just the unique marketing and distribution challenges it represents, it also uses a lot of hops (even for Stone). No less than eleven different hop varieties go into the brewing of this intense beer (as a comparison Ruination has just two hop varieties, and famously hoppy Pliny the Elder uses three.) Brewmaster Mitch Steele provides insight into just how the hops were added to the DIPA:
Hopping, as might be expected, was over the top. First, the brew was mash hopped with Calypso, a beautiful fruity hop that we also used in our Stone 16th Anniversary IPA, after which we kettle hopped with a very small dose of Super Galena hop extract for bittering. Then, using a technique I’ve that some in homebrew circles call “hop bursting,” we loaded up very heavily on the flavor hops at the end of the boil and in the whirlpool. Simcoe, Delta, Target and Amarillo were used in the late kettle hop. Motueka, Citra, and Cascade were used for the whirlpool hop. As you can clearly tell, this beer was super hoppy even before we dry-hopped it, but then we went for it…dry-hopping with 1lb per barrel EACH of New Zealand Nelson Sauvin and Australian Galaxy.
The result is a veritable jungle of hop flavors and aromas in your glass. The beer attempts to transcend “hoppy” and it mostly succeeds in providing an experience that even the most jaded and lupulin-resistant hop-head can enjoy.
What I Thought
My first glass of Enjoy By was a pretty eye-opening experience. I wasn’t fully prepared for the ride that the beer would take me on, and it left my head spinning a little bit.
Hoppy is an understatement when describing this beer, and every sip seems to provide a different flavor or provoke a different memory. It is borderline too much. Not too bitter, the beer is a modest (for Stone) 88 IBU, but just too intense and wild. This is an amazing and special beer, but after a couple of glasses of it I’m still not sure how much I like it. Luckily I’ve got one more bottle squirreled away and 23 days left to drink it and make up my mind.
What the Tasters Thought
One of the tasters heads exploded in a flowery green burst of hop bitterness. Everyone else thought the beer was a potent elixir that could satisfy even the most hop-hungry and bitter among us. Everyone seemed to pick-out a different herbal or vegetal note from the tangle of hop aromas with passion fruit, bell pepper, and mint all being mentioned. Enjoy By was the over-all favorite of a couple of the tasters one of whom was plotting how he could score a whole keg of the brew.
Stone 16th Anniversary
The final beer of the tasting, the 16th Anniversary Ale, was also the biggest departure from the standard DIPA formula; even the Enjoy By with its wacky hopping schedule and methods wasn’t as unique. The commemorative beer is a departure in two main ways: the grain-bill includes a portion of spicy rye and there is a flavoring addition of lemon verbena and lemon oil. The result is a complex DIPA that balances an assertive malt character with pungent hops and a distinct herbal flavor. Five hop varieties are used in the 85 IBUs and a 10%ABV ale that Brewmaster Mitch Steele calls “Perfect for a Southern California summer,” and we agree with him!
What I Thought
If the Enjoy By is a cacophonous rock band turned up to 11 then the 16th Anniversary is a fusion jazz band sitting in a groove that is both comfortable and unlike anything else. A Double IPA in name and in style the beer’s use of unconventional grains and herbs is a refreshing change of pace from the trend of brewers differentiating their DIPAs with more hops. I flat-out love this beer and will be snatching up bottles of it wherever I see it. The amped-up citrus flavor melds with the spicy rye and the intensely fruity hops to make a beer that hits all the right notes for me and remains drinkable enough that I can hoard a whole bomber to myself. Five stars and one of the best new beers of 2012.
What the Tasters Thought
Everybody loved this one, though nobody was as high on it as I was. Mint, herbs, pine needles, peaches, mangos, and thyme were all picked out of the complex and layered flavor profile by the tasters, and a couple of tasters drew comparisons between the 16th Anniversary Ale and the Stone collaboration Saison du BUFF. While the Saison doesn’t use lemon verbena, it does use lemon thyme and both beers exhibit a fresh green herbaceousness.
A Symphony of Hops and Malt
It is a good time for hop-heads and Double IPA fans. It seems like every major brewery is producing a superlative DIPA, and with a little experimentation you can find a DIPA to fit any palate. Stone Brewing helped develop the style and they are still producing some of the finest examples of the style’s breadth. From the unadulterated hop-assault of Enjoy By to the unique and inventive 16th Anniversary Ale Stone has a DIPA for every occasion and taste. But in this Face-Off only one beer can hold the title of Victor!
We tried some amazing limited edition Stone DIPAs, one of which, the Enjoy By, is extremely hard to get your hands on so it may come as a bit of a surprise to you that our pick is actually the easily available year-round Stone Ruination!
Not only is it the most approachable of the beers, scoring very high even with tasters who don’t usually go for hop-heavy beers, it is also the best example of that magical balancing act that great DIPAs demonstrate. The craft beer climate might have threatened to leave Ruination behind, but the flagship DIPA remains one of the most intense and flavorful beers that Stone makes. Newly available in 4-packs Ruination is easy to find and remarkably refreshing. It makes for a wonderful gateway into the world of hop-bomb DIPAs, and a reminder of one of the brewing triumphs that put Stone Brewing on the map 10 years ago. If it has been a while since you’ve cracked open one of the piney and resinous monsters you should really have a fresh glass and remind yourself how excellent of a beer it is!
A Few More to Try
Craving some hoppy-delicious Double IPAs after reading that? Here is a quick rundown of a few other favorites of ours in case you can’t get your hand on those limited release Stone beers.
- Firestone Walker Double Jack – Eight hop varieties give this DIPA a deep complexity that dominated with tangerine and sweet malts.
- Russian River Pliny the Elder – A classic example of the best of DIPAs, this is a pungent, floral, and bitter beer that rewards a contemplative consumption.
- Oskar Blues Deviant Dales – A 16oz can of hop-glory; enjoy the perfume of this copper-colored ale as it fills the room whenever you crack-open a can.
- Golden Road Wolf Among Weeds – The first seasonal IPA release from the LA brewery, “The Wolf” is a triumph of malt-and-hop balance that demonstrates that Golden Road can make hop-heads happy.
Are you a fan of Double IPAs? What’s your favorite DIPA out there?