Stone – On the shelves

A few months ago Greg Koch decided to take a sabbatical. So that means I can talk bad about him because he won’t see it. Just kidding of course.

I’ve met Greg Koch a few times. The first time was during a Baltimore Beer Week event at The Alewife. Greg spoke to the crowd about his beers, and was taking selfies with everyone that wanted one. Back then Greg was known for his Stone face in selfies. Since then he has been fostering the growth of his beard and continuing being one of the most idealistic figures in craft beer.

While he was preparing for his four-month leave he altered the company’s bylaws so that it was not possible for Stone Brewing Company to be sold or taken over by anyone. This may have been more of a response to the recent sale of Boulevard to Duvel than an action out of need. But it was still a powerful statement.

Of course while he was away he left the brewery in very capable hands. One person in particular is their now famous brewmaster Mitch Steele. Mitch Steele’s fame in the brewing industry is now approaching the level of Stone’s face, Greg Koch. And for good reason, Stone has been pumping out new beer after new beer recently, and they are great.

Here are a few new Stone Beers you can likely find on the shelves (or taps) now that are really worth checking out.

2013_MattsBurningRosids_photo-WEBMatt’s Burning Rosids – This beer was a memorial to Matt Courtright. Matt died in a forklift accident while working as a brewer for Stone. Matt’s story is a pretty incredible one, and if you get the opportunity click the link at the beginning of this segment to learn more.

This beer was a recipe that he had developed with fellow brewer Brian Bishop just prior to his passing. Matt’s Burning Rosids is an Imperial Cherrywood-Smoked Saison. I’ve been forcing myself to drink smoked beers over the past year or so. I used to not like them, but I wanted to learn to appreciate them, so I force myself to try them. In this experiment I’ve learned a lot about what I like and don’t like in a smoked beer.

One of the most important factors to me no matter what the style is balance. That’s where a lot of smoked beers fall short. They tend to be dominated by smoke and the malts just can’t stand up. Forget hops when you make a smoked beer, they tend to get lost. This beer has balance that many look for. The smoke is present, but doesn’t dominate the beer. It is a very pleasant beer.

The only thing I didn’t love about this beer is the yeast. This is a pretty standard Belgian strain that Stone uses, and I just didn’t love it in this beer. That aside it was wonderful. Also note Stone is also donating $100,000 to two non-profit’s that Matt supported as well as The Matt Courtright Memorial Brewing Scholarship, all because of the proceeds from this beer.

Pairs well with Cabot Catamount Hills Cheddar, Winchester Farms Gouda, New York-style cheesecake, and Brie wrapped with Serrano ham.

RateBeer: 93
BeerAdvocate: 85

2014_StoneOG_800_webOld Guardian – This is a real American Barleywine. Which basically means a lot of everything. Big malts, big hops, big flavor. Every year Stone changes this beer a little.

This year’s rendition brings a reasonably big change to the hops bill. Nugget hops is now the dominant bittering hop replacing Magnum and the whirlpool hop CTZ has been replaced with Cascade for some pine and citrus notes.

If you want a beer that’s basically a really big malty Imperial IPA pick one up and drink it now. Or try sitting on a bottle for a few years to get a more complex sweet brew. Just remember the hops will fade, but this has a lot of hops so you might need to wait a while.

Pairs well with Gorgonzola, Maytag Blue, Fig Newtons, and Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with Blue Cheese.

RateBeer: 99
BeerAdvocate: 89 (The Bros 91)

GoToIPA_Hero_WebGo To IPA – This one makes me feel like I just pulled the best Chance card while playing Monopoly. But Go To IPA isn’t playing games. It’s serious in its attempts to deliver big IPA taste with a more sessionable package. Using a hop bursting technique, Mitch Steele is able to create big hop flavor without the bitterness. Which is a good thing since there isn’t a lot of malt to balance that bitterness, and at 4.5% you can watch an entire baseball game and not worry about embarrassing yourself by streaking across the field in a drunken stupor. Or at least it will take quite a few more of these before embarrassing yourself.

This is a great everyday kind of beer. Its only 135 calories. So if you’re having 4 of these in a “session” instead of Miller Lite for example, if you skip the 1oz of peanuts you might snack on, it would be the same amount of calories. The biggest difference being the Stone Go To IPA is really really good.

Pairs well with extra sharp Vermont Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Carrot cake, and Oysters on the half shell.

RateBeer: 97
BeerAdvocate: 90 (The Bros 90)

enjoy_bottle_420_1Enjoy By 04.20.14 – Stone has always been very particular about the freshness of their hoppy beers. If you see a Stone IPA in the store that is past its Enjoy By date call them and Stone will have those beers replaced pronto. This beer is one where the Enjoy By date is very easy to find. Since it is painted in a very large font across the front of each bottle. And there is a very good reason for this.

When Stone started to experiment with hop bursting,  it was even more evident that you needed to enjoy those beer fresh to be able to taste the wondrous hop profile that hop bursting provides. So with Enjoy By each release bears the date of its expiration boldly, and it is shipped in limited quantities to limited markets with each release. And when this beer is bottled and released it is rush shipped to its destination markets. You don’t have much time left to grab this one, so get out there.

Pairs well with extra aged Cheddar, Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue, Peach Cobbler, Guacamole, and Thai drunken noodles.

RateBeer: 100
BeerAdvocate: 98 (The Bros 98)

2014_irs_bottle_WEBImperial Russian Stout – A yearly classic from Stone around tax day. Get it- Imperial Russian Stout (IRS)? This was one of the first Russian Imperial Stouts I ever had, and it is one of the best. This is a beer you’ll want to serve at about 50°-55°F to get the most out of it. If you store this in a refrigerator, just pull it out about 30 minutes before opening.

Pour this dark rich masterpiece into a snifter or tulip and enjoy the rich coffee and cocoa smells. If you search hard enough you might be able to get some fruit or even a bit of the hops. When you taste this low viscosity treat you will get more of the same flavors with the fruit coming forward a little more than in the nose, and a touch of anise. This beer has changed very little since its inception, and that’s a good thing.

Pairs well with Roquefort, aged Gouda, brownies, tiramisu, pecans and/or walnuts, and coffee rubbed lamb chops.

RateBeer: 100
BeerAdvocate: 97 (The Bros 93)

So while I love to promote local beer, even the brewers of the fine local beers you find drink and love what Mitch Steele is doing at Stone. While I want you to support local breweries that doesn’t mean you need to ignore the awesomeness that arrives from San Diego County.