Stone Takes a Risk, Comes up Big

Jeffrey Wiser, May 18, 2015

I should just start by saying that I’m not a big fan of Stone Brewing’s beers. Never really have been. For some reason, they all pretty much taste the same to me. At least most of the core beers do. Sure, there are the Enjoy By beers and some other special releases that break the mold, but by and large, I got kind of the same vibe from all of them, and I didn’t especially like it. There is a reason for this, but I won’t go into it here (hit me up on twitter if you want to talk about it). 

Living in Southern California, Stone is an institution. They were pioneers in the craft brew market place and have arguably done as good of a job as anyone in the country at expanding their reach while maintaining their product. They’re brilliant marketers who work hard to keep the identity of their brand at the forefront of an ever-expanding craft beer explosion. Even with all of the good beer coming out of San Diego, signs of life in Los Angeles and world class stuff from NorCal, Stone still has a solid grasp on its loyal customers, and deservingly so.

So when you show up at a house party and poo-poo the Stone beer in the fridge and grab something else, people are going to look at you funny. Some of them, especially those who casually enjoy the craft scene, wonder what the hell your problem is when they spent good money on a sixer of Stone Pale Ale. If you try to explain, you come off sounding like one of two people: either a dick who thinks his beer is better than everyone else’s, or an elitist snob who thinks that… Ok, it’s the same person: a snobby, elitist dick who thinks his beer is better than any possible alternative. It’s a bad look, trust me. 

And with Stone’s reputation, they get a pretty long leash with the consumer. The casual drinker is going to assume that the beer is good just because of the name on the label, but even as a more critical drinker, I like to circle back to their stuff every now and then. And it wasn’t all that long ago that they announced the end of a tradition by killing off their classic DIPA, Ruination. As Stone put it, it was time to update their traditional offering to better reflect the current state of IPA’s. In a blog post, this excerpt stood out when they were asked why they had decided to revamp Ruination: 

  • A far smaller number of high alpha-acid hops were available compared to present day.
  • Myriad brewing techniques for extracting hop flavor and bitterness had yet to be invented.
  • Our palates were less used to onslaughts of lupulin and we felt like we’d maxed out the IBU possibilities.
  • The tastes of craft beer drinkers, like ours, hadn’t yet been turned up to 11 (something Stone Ruination IPA did for many of our fans).

And that makes sense. In an era of new practices, new ingredients and new marketing, consumer taste will forever be an evolving thing. Honestly, it had been quite a while since I’d had a Ruination and I was kind of intrigued to find out how this whole rebuild of a modern classic would go. Surely this was risky territory for Stone – they had an opportunity to improve a product, yes, but they were also running the risk of turning off a loyal cliental base. 

So how’d they do? I’m glad you asked.

  • Appearance: a sort of brilliant orange amber (3.5)
  • Smell: light on the nose, but signs of citrus and pine from the hops (3)
  • Taste: grapefruit citrus up front, balanced by some malt, then a big finish of bitter floral pine (4)
  • Mouthfeel: medium-full bodied, easy up front, malt takes over mid-palate, then a big, robust, dry finish of hops that'll leave the hop-lover seeking more (4.5)
  • Overall: actually really nice, not overly heavy on the citrus flavors, some good pine notes. Not of the tropical variety but more of a true IPA for me (4)

This beer did not taste much like the similar stone beers I had noted previously. It wasn’t of the juicy citrus variety that some of the Enjoy By’s have been either. Instead, it was more traditional, more classic and reminiscent of what I remember from the original. The beer really maintains the more original identity of an IPA, airing on the side of floral pine than on the tart citrus. While citra hops have really carved out a big foothold in the IPA scene in the last few years, this was more of an homage to traditional IPA practices with some new wrinkles mixed in. The dry-hopping was a nice touch and there is some citrus in the beer, especially up front, before it gives way to the big, dry, bold, bitter finish. It also maintains a nice balance, something that some modern hop monster have somewhat eschewed.

If you can’t tell, I liked this beer. It was a big risk for a brewery with a big reputation to uphold, but that reputation came from pushing the boundaries in the first place and being aggressive in the marketplace. Stone has stuck to its roots with this tricky revamp of Ruination and I think it’s safe to say that Ruination 2.0 won’t turn anybody away from Stone. In fact, it may have turned me into a fan, or at least into someone willing to give a few more beers a try.