This July, the first Stone beers were brewed in their new Richmond, Virginia facility which is capable of producing 600,000 barrels. Immediately, we began wondering if they would be able to flawlessly reproduce their San Diego beers thousands of miles away.
Friend Jordan Greenberg of MLB Network Radio helped spur this taste test of the two versions by sending me some East Coast Stone IPA last week. I supplemented by buying some Stone IPA in Fresno California. The California beer was a bit fresher, but not by much -- the East Coast beer was brewed on 8/29 and the West Coast version on 9/16.
That amazing ability to get fresh beer on both coasts at the same time is entirely the point, and so this taste test is not actually designed to be crtical to the entire enterprise. The question is merely: are they different? And how different?
The answer is: 1) definitely and 2) dunno.
Let's run through this like they do in professional spaces, by looking at the five aspects of beer for each beer. I asked my wife to fill two tasters for me and my brother in law without telling which was which. You can now know which was which because it helps with the first aspect of beer -- Appearance. "West is East" said my wife, meaning the Kona taster on the left was the Richmond Stone IPA.
Richmond: Clear, golden, fizzy.
San Diego: Same, but does it look just the slightest bit more orange?
Richmond: Lemon, citrus, maybe some pine resin?
San Diego: Lemon and citrus too, but instead of pine, more malt, or softer pine, possibly.
Richmond: Bright, aromatic citrus in the nose, finishing with a lemon bitter end.
San Diego: Smoother and fruitier at the beginning, smooth resin, finishing with same lemon bitter end.
Richmond: Fizzy and sharp.
San Diego: Mellower in the middle before finishing fizzy and sharp.
Of course these beers are very similar. The main thrust of the beer is a citrus -- grapefruit or lemon -- hop bomb put up against a West Coast malt character. It's hard to say they are very different because both beers bear this description, and you wouldn't do a double-take if you were served the Richmond version on the West Coast.
And perhaps there's very little difference at all, since the entire enterprise primes the drinker to believe there is a difference. Being primed, perhaps I dug deeper than I should have. Evidence of this comes from the fact that my brother in law and Mr. Greenberg and I shared notes, and we all had different summations. "West Coast was hoppier, I like East Coast better," said my brother in law, "East Coast smoother and less hoppy, I enjoyed it more" tweeted Greenberg.
I myself prefered the West Coast version more. I found the mouthfeel more mellow, and the taste profile longer and richer. The East Coast beer was fizzier, sharper, and perhaps more bitter -- but also perhaps only rendered more bitter because the taste was shorter. The West Coast version had a smooth respite in the middle, perhaps more resin and malt, that separated the early aromatics from the bitter finish.
My short notes would probably just say East Coast was hoppier and West Coast maltier, but I don't think that really captures the essence of the difference. If I had to guess to what made the two beers turn out slightly different, I would say that perhaps the water situations in two places created contrasting mouthfeels. Water has been pointed to as part of the San Diego brilliance, and we know that North East IPAs often treat their water with certain minerals in order to achieve their signature mouthfeel, so this doesn't seem like a stretch.
I return to the shortest version of this review. These beers definitely seem different. How different? You'll have to try the Stone IPA Challenge to find out for yourself.