Brew Review

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA

​​Beer: 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Black IPA
ABV: 10.8 percent

I wasn't kidding when I said black IPAs were everywhere. Adding to this growing group of uncooperatively-colored and hoppy brew, Stone Brewing Co. recently released their Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA to celebrate 15 years in business.

This isn't Stone's first rodeo -- the Escondido-based brewery has been making a black IPA called Sublimely Self-Righteous since 2009 (which, interestingly, premiered two years prior as their 11th anniversary ale). Stone 15th, however, is a different beast, packed with more IBUs and an additional two percent of alcohol. In homage to their location, Stone calls this new example of the style an Escondidian Black IPA.

Each bottle displays a soliloquy about the struggle of craft beer against bland macro flavors written by Greg Koch, Stone's proselytizing CEO, as well as brewmaster Steve Wagner. It's actually pretty inspiring. 

An excerpt: "Yes, chances are if you are holding this bottle, you understand these things to be true about the world of brewing. You also likely understand the importance of our fight at Stone against accepted 'norms' over the last 15 years. We believed that America was ready to embrace things made with artistry and passion. You have spoken. Your response has been clear. We are not merely consumers to be spoon-fed whatever commodities need to be unloaded for a profit." 

Huzzah! Stone for president!

Darker than most stouts, Stone 15th is black as black gets, with a small cap of silky foam the color of cocoa powder. The air above is thick with resinous hops that lend notes of bitter grapefruit peel, pine needles and grass. A placid background of dark chocolate and anise reminds you of the presence of roasted malt.

The oily, lip-smacking flavor is equally hop-riddled, though here you get definite occurrences of tropical pineapple and JuicyFruit along with the grapefruit and grass. The malt does its best to provide a background of burnt toast and cocoa nibs, but it buckles under the weight of the sticky hops. Equally unavoidable is the alcohol content -- while the beer's supple body swoops across the tongue, flammable-feeling fumes fill the nose.

Even after 15 years, Stone continues to put out beers that challenge traditional notions of style. Their take on a black IPA is unique, with the fruity, tropical hops contrasting the black malt in ways not found in other examples. The malt seems to lend more color than flavor, and I could use a bit more roast, but there's no denying Stone makes a damn fine ale. Here's to 15 more.

Food pairing suggestions:
The blend of tropical and roast in Stone 15th should work well with a similar blend in food. Try this beer next to a burger topped with grilled pineapple. While the darkened malts in the beer link with the caramelized beef, the tropical notes found in the hops mirror the sweet pineapple while taming some of the dish's savory qualities. 

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized authority on beer. 

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