In the past several weeks, Stone Brewing Co. has announced the death of several of the brewery's most beloved ales. Here, we remember the beers that were.
Stone Levitation, 12 Levitation Amber Ale was a rebel throughout its life, proudly defying the notions that low-alcohol beers lack flavor and depth or that every Stone beer be tongue-blastingly bitter. The plucky, 4.4 percent ABV brew beat the odds for many years, but alas, changing tastes on the part of consumers led to declining sales and Levitation's last bottling occurred in late February. Its ability to pack flavor into a low-gravity format is survived by distant relative, Stone Go To IPA.
Stone Sublimely Self Righteous, 7 Born in 2007 as Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Sublimely Self Righteous was surrounded its entire life by controversy that stemmed mainly from what to call it. Was it a black IPA? A Cascadian Dark Ale? An American Black Ale? A hoppy porter? While drinkers never could decide on SSR's style, most were in agreement that it delivered 90 IBUs of resinous, American-style hoppiness in a deliciously roasty and deliciously dark package. Sublimely Self Righteous' final run will take place in April, but its spirit will live on in periodic releases of future Stone brew, Enjoy By Black IPA.
Stone Pale Ale, 18 Born in 1996 within the humble Solana Beach condo of Stone co-founder Greg Koch, Stone Pale Ale was the beer that would make a brewery. Fuller-bodied and much hoppier than most pales at the time, the assertive brew got Koch laughed out of a number of accounts when he was first trying to get it to market. But through it all, Stone's founders believed in their Pale Ale, and the beer eventually helped build their brewery into an international success. Nothing is forever, though, and when those same founders found that Stone Pale Ale wasn't hitting palates with the same poignancy it once did, they endeavored to update it. Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele crafted an updated version of Stone Pale Ale -- dubbed Stone Pale Ale 2.0 -- and the original got the axe. And just when it was old enough to vote.
Stone Ruination IPA, 12 Stone's "liquid poem to the glory of the hop" was long considered a test for fledgeling hopheads -- if you could survive the imperial IPA's bitter assault upon your taste buds, you were in. But increases in the number of high alpha-acid hops available to brewers, the development of new brewing techniques for extracting hop flavor and bitterness, and changes in the levels of bitterness the average craft beer drinker can handle led brewers to realize Ruination was no longer that ruinous. Ruination is survived by RuinTen IPA, first brewed for Ruination's tenth birthday, and will be reborn with new ingredients and techniques in the form of Ruination 2.0.
There's also one birth announcement: Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA. First brewed in 2011, this collaboration between Bryan Baird of Baird Brewing Company in Numazu, Japan; Toshi Ishii of Ishii Brewing Co. in Tamuning, Guam; and Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele was originally created and sold to raise funds -- totaling, in the end, $64,000 -- for Japanese tsunami relief. The new batch, which premiered in March, is similar to the original in that it's fermented with Sencha, a variety of whole-leaf Japanese green tea. The difference is in the hop bill, which Steele says was changed due to hop availabilities and creative nature of collaboration. The original beer's now very rare New Zealand-grown Pacifica hops were swapped for Helga hops from Australia. Other than that, the recipe was exactly the same; improved brewing and fermentation processes as well as differences in malt enzyme strength and yeast efficiency led to an increase in alcohol content, from 9.2 percent to 10.1 percent ABV.
The result is a golden-hued and almost clear brew with a soapy white head. The aroma certainly has some green tea in it, eliciting an array of other fragrances: white grapes, soil, cilantro, lime. Tons of complexity. The flavor displays the same enticing blend of fruity tea leaves and wet earth alongside peppery and herbal hops. It's a very green flavor, full of grass and tea leaves and dill, that remains impressively delicate, displaying almost none of the prodigious alcohol content. Mazel tov, Stone.