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Whenever you decide to open it, there will be a great beer in that bottle. You can tell that because it says “Stone” on the label.

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TPFQuickly now, because I’ve been so swamped that I had to wait until now to post this and that leaves you short of time…Let me just say this, right off the bat:

That whole thing about “born-on” dates and “Enjoy By” and numbers like that you find on consumer products? Those are not laws, nor are they death sentences. Some of the more bone-headed young HopHead fanatics routinely sell this idea that, if a beer is more than ten days-two weeks out of the vat by the time it gets to you – roughly the time it would take for the beer to be stabilized, bottled, labeled, packed, shipped, checked in at the distributor, entered into their system, orders taken, cases loaded, deliveries made, and ready for sale – it’s no longer any good because “the hops have faded”. My standard answer for yoyos like this has always been, “Then buy your IPA at your local brewery, out of the taproom, and stop buying packaged beers that just encourage you to reveal your ignorance.

Folks, I absolutely promise you that, if you drink Stone “Enjoy By 5.30.16” on May 31st, June 2nd, June 12th, or probably for a while after than, you will still “enjoy” it, if you’re not one of these pedantic Hop-freak fools who can only understand a beer one very narrow way.

stone-enjoy-by-5.30.16-tangerineJust in time for summer, this year, and even during this past winter, I’ve noticed citrus-infused IPAs hitting the market. The reason is basic and totally valid: citrus being one of the primary hops flavors, infusing a big hoppy ale with lemons or limes or tangerines or even the very popular grapefruit and the trendy blood orange follows the same exact principle that Deschutes uses in making its classic Imperial Stout, “The Abyss”. Deschutes doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with its added flavors in that mammoth beast. They simply identify the native flavors from the malts and pump up the volume. Licorice, chocolate, vanilla beans, molasses, cherry bark – all these are present naturally and are enhanced by the judicious use of each to shape the flavor profile. There has been a spate of tangerine ales, lately, and when played off a hops roster that includes cirtusy flowers, the infusion can create a wonderful, seamless continuity in the flavors that harmonizes perfectly. I tasted a locally-made tangerine ale in Seattle last week and it was wonderful, refreshing, and an absolute slam dunk  for summer drinking.

“Enjoy By” Tangerine IPA is better.

Now, given what I just said, you can see the problem: If we MUST “enjoy by” May 30th, there goes yer summer pleasure. And, since Stone gave us those parameters, 99% of us are going to have these babies polished off by the end of May. Not me. I firmly intend to keep a couple around for several months after, not just to be perverse (although I do get a kick out of that) but also because of a little experiment I did about two years ago.

tangerine-IPAIn the warehouse at my company, I found a case of 21st Amendment “Brew Free or Die” IPA that was eleven months old. I naturally assumed that it would be gone but I took a six-pack home and chilled it and opened one the next night. Now, remember: this beer, this IPA(!), is 342 days old. It is not “fresh” by any measure. I tasted it…and was floored. It was flavorful, smooth, nicely integrated, and totally different. It was no longer anything like an IPA. Yes, the hops had faded; faded more or less altogether, in fact. And the malts had come to the fore in a virtual cascade of caramel, grains, cookies, cereal, tree fruit, and florals. I went back and brought the rest of the case home and drank it over about three months. By just forgetting all my preconceptions about hops freshness and “drinking window” and all that effluvia, I was able to drink a very enjoyable beer and not waste the price of a case.

53016StoneYes, doing this is a crap-shoot and I’m not suggesting for a moment that you keep any of the “Enjoy By” ales around for six, nine, eleven months. But the point remains the same: If you can get your head out of your backside about freshness and be willing to accept whatever a past-its-date beer may have become strictly on its own merits as a beer, you may enjoy what’s there quite a bit. But it’s YOUR decision. All that said, you’re crazy if you look at a bottle of this lovely tangerine IPA on June 6th and decide to pour it down the sink. If you do, what you’re going to miss is a gorgeous, creamy, mellow backbone of subtle malts that frame a tangy, juicy, resiny mouthful of big, fresh tangerines, pink grapefruit, lime zest, lemongrass, guava, and mango. It’s light but nicely chewy and chills beautifully, without closing up and muting its crispness or range. It finishes nicely dry, so the suspicion of sweetness on the front of palate never becomes overbearing or cloying. This is, after all, the exact same recipe as all of the “Enjoy By” ales, the only difference being the tangerine flavor and the batching.

TangBlood

Tangerines (L) and Blood Oranges: Same Family, Very Distant Cousins

The early winners in the clubhouse for Fruits Most Used For Beer Infusion of 2016 are tangerine and blood orange and both were used by the same logic: they’re enough like a standard orange flavoring to give that fresh, friendly, familiar character but slightly different, so they don’t become boring. Stone, as with all their beers, reaches deep into their vast, world-class beer savvy to produce an ale that rises well above the crowd and deliver vast drinking pleasure that will not – trust me on this – suddenly snap off like a light switch at midnight on may 30th. If you see this terrific new ale on the shelves, even after May 25th, BUY THE STUFF, take it home, chill it – and you chill out – and drink it when you’re ready. Whenever you decide to open it, there will be a great beer in that bottle. You can tell that because it says “Stone” on the label.  94 Points

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Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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