My beer store has been with me for several years now. That's perhaps an odd way to phrase it, but it's how it feels to me.
When I first moved to Philadelphia, we met for the first time. My beer store was there to help me find a gift for the people kind enough to let me sleep on their couch. As a recent graduate, it was a thrill to be staying in a real house belonging to my real friends. I still felt like a kid playing at being a grown-up, bringing a six-pack that, cheap as it was, cost me an all-too-significant percentage of my bank account. Still, I'd been told that when one crashed on a couch, one brought beer, and that's just the way the world works. I couldn't have boarded the bus to Philadelphia without a ticket, and I couldn't show up to my friends' house sans beer. My beer store was there to provide that.
It was hard to trust my beer store at first. I'd grown used to parties full of free beer in college, and the fact that I'd have to pay for every beer I wanted to drink was one of the transitions to adulthood that was more difficult to accept.
When I got a job after a few weeks in Philadelphia, back before I was versed in the ways of good beer, my beer store was there to sell me my old fruity favorites of Blue Moon and Magic Hat #9. It was a happy time, and I can't say I didn't enjoy those beers, though my tastes are different now.
I have a clear memory of walking the two blocks to the store the day I found out about the job, reveling in the knowledge that I could buy a couple sixers and not wonder if the expenditure would cut into my budget for things like "food" and "clothes that don't have all of the holes in them". That memory is a brief moment of clarity, one of those memories where one remembers not only where one was and what one was doing, but also how one felt and what one was thinking about in that moment. I remember the first sip of #9 I took that evening, sitting in my friends' outrageously awesome solarium on a crisp fall day, thinking that maybe being an adult wasn't the worst thing in the world.
When I'd been working for a few months and realized that I'd reached a point where my bank account still had money in it at the end of each month, a point where "discretionary spending" was a term I could use when talking about my own budget, I found that my beer store had new delights to show me. I had been acquainted with some of the local offerings from Magic Hat and Victory, but there was so much more out there! I could take a flyer on a sixer of something I'd never heard of and not feel like a financial wastrel if it turned out poorly. That was a key moment in my beer appreciation history, because there's nothing like picking out a new, untasted beer and finding it delicious.
My beer store, which had been perceived as a repository for run-of-the-mill options such as Blue Moon and Yuengling, now became a vast, unexplored vista of beers, with something new to show me every time I visited.
Our good times had to darken sometime, though, and as it happens, I eventually lost that job. My beer store was still there to sell me Yuengling and PBR for a pittance, understanding that I might not be able to contribute so much financially to the relationship for a while. It was difficult at times, more so because I'd had a taste of the best that my beer store had to offer before being cast out of Eden, so to speak.
Luckily, the low times passed soon enough, and today I can say that not only am I once again a productive member of the workforce, but I'm also fortunate enough to still be a regular customer at the same beer store I walked into four years ago on my first day as a resident of Philadelphia.
Having a long-term relationship with my beer store has benefits -- the friendly proprietors now know me well, and there are times where I can barely get through the door before being greeted with news of a newly available IPA. I was hunting for a bottle of Stone's RuinTen recently, and when I asked about it, the response came that there were just a few bottles, of which I might be lucky enough to get one. I was handed a large bottle in a paper bag and told to pay the cashier, though the whole transaction was shrouded in whispers and secrecy. I briefly wondered if one of the other patrons was an undercover cop before realizing that I was not, in fact, doing anything illegal.
That said, RuinTen is good enough that it'd be worth at least a misdemeanor to obtain it. It's a joy from start to finish--even just taking the bottle out of the paper bag was a pleasure, as it has a very attractive painted-on label, as seen here in a slightly blurry, not-quite-sober photograph courtesy of yours truly:
Overall, RuinTen is one of the more balanced heavier IPAs I've had -- from the aroma, you get light pine, citrus, floral, and peppery scents in turn, along with deeper earthy and herbal aromas. The flavor is just the same -- rather than pick one flavor to dominate, they just decided to go with all of the flavors. It's as if they took all the best features of my favorite IPAs and combined them into one fantastic brew. It has a floral, citrusy initial flavor reminiscent of Firestone Walker's Double Jack, but with more maltiness (without being too sweet) and a deeply, deeply bitter finish. If you've had their Ruination, the finish will be familiar, but be warned -- this beer has twice the hops of Ruination and it shows throughout, from the aroma to the hop flavor up front to the insanely bitter ending.
The beer is described by Stone as "a stage dive into a mosh pit of hops", and I can't disagree with that. This beer is positively phenomenal. I suppose there may be better beers than RuinTen out there, but if there are, I haven't had them yet. I'll be buying for this beer as often as I can find it, and, well, I can tell you one place that I'll make sure to look often. My beer store, there through good times and bad, just keeps coming up with new ways to add happiness to my life.
Stone RuinTen IPA