I occasionally receive beers via FedEx from Stone Brewing. As with boxes that say “Deschutes” or “Laphroaig” or “Durant Vineyards” on them, I grin like, well, a Fool when they arrive. I’ve been drinking and enjoying Stone beers ever since they first went into wider distribution and sold them for the last 18 years. These are beers I know, trust, depend on, and they have only very rarely fallen short of their own impossibly lofty standard.
And, sometimes, they beat the living hell out of even that standard.
I’m gonna get right to the heart of the matter in this post…
Stone Brewing “Ruin Ten” Triple IPA is easily, adamantly, certainly one of the five best beers I have ever tasted.
Over just the past ten years, I’ve averaged tasting – NOT “drinking“, which is the consumption of an entire quantity of beer, anything from a three-ounce sample to a full pint, but a one-ounce sample pour, intended only to let the sampler taste the beer for evaluation – about 1,000 beers or more a year. (In 2011, I actually kept a running count and it wound up being 1,436.) This was part of my job as a beverage buyer and I was forced to be judicious about it because no human can actually consume a full pour of that many beers; you’d wind up dead or with your liver in a small sidecar that rolls down the street next to you. My rather freakish, savant-like sense-memory dictates that I can remember almost any beverage I ever tasted if I hear the name and/or see the label. This is NOT the blessing you might think, as I’ve tasted an effin’ ocean of beers, wines, and booze that I would much rather forget, but it does make the great stuff easier to single out, remember, and find again for my own drinking pleasure.
So, when I say this about some beverage, there’s some oomph behind that statement and I do not say it often or lightly. But, as with Deschutes “The Abyss” or Peter Lehmann “Stonewell” Shiraz or Laphroaig’s new “Lore” Single Malt Scotch, setting Ruin Ten into perspective took about five seconds and one sip.
I fought against the whole idea of the Triple IPA. Like a lot of people, I was sick of the Hops Arms Race, that continual pushing to see how many IBUs can be crammed into one can or bottle or glass. I have frequently likened the whole idea to those “test of manhood” idiocies like daring your frat buddy to chug a bottle of Tabasco or eat a scorpion. But a handful of breweries – and ONLY a tiny handful! – have convinced me that a great brewer can make the style work. Adam Robbings at Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews did it with his “Blimey, That’s Bitter!” Triple and a smattering of others – notably Green Flash, Boneyard, Hoppin’ Frog, Lawson’s, Renegade, and Triple C Brewing – have turned the trick nicely, but only Reuben’s and Stone have managed to turn the Triple into a beer that rises above its own stylistic parameters and into the realm of a truly great, world-class beverage, by any definition.
What makes the difference is childishly simple: Balance. Less astute brewers buy into that frat-boy nonsense and simply jack up the hops while more or less ignoring the basic ale on which they’re saddled up. I would never single out any brewery for negative criticism (well, okay, Anheuser Busch) but I’ve tasted a dozen or so Triples, now, that amounted to epic fails: just bitter and that’s it.
But Stone, despite their well-deserved reputation for brutal ales that challenge the drinker, has always, unfailingly, built their beers to be consumed and enjoyed. They have a bedrock understanding of that basic principle of brewing that says that hops and malts are both there for sound reasons and the lack of enough of either element quickly renders beers deadly ordinary or even undrinkable. Ruin Ten is built like a naval aircraft carrier: a finely balanced superstructure of caramel and biscuit-soaked malts that amply support and highlight the tsunami of hoppy splendor that launches from that firm foundation, right onto your unsuspecting tongue. Magnum, Centennial, and Citra hops are in play, here, dry-hopped at a full five pounds per barrel! The Citra fires volleys of its hallmark tangerine and orange and lemon and pink grapefruit, while the Centennial shows the spice, jasmine, honeysuckle, and lime flavors, all of which plays beautifully off the more neutral bitterness of the Magnum. Without that buttress of malts to rein in all this resiny excess, this beer would be like licking an extremely complex pine tree. With them…it’s absolutely sublime. The complexity recalls the most interesting and involved DIPA I’ve yet found, Ninkasi’s classic “Tricerahops”, but Ruin Ten pushes past that more genteel flavor profile into Unknown Territory, and pulls it off like Charlie Parker playing “Cherokee”.
Ruin Ten Triple IPA is one of the best beers I’ve tasted in my 45 years as a beer lover and student of beverages and anyone who loves the whole aesthetic of the American IPA skips this one at the peril of their entire Experience. The easiest 100+ Points I’ve given in years.
No less of an Achievement – just in a little different direction – is the Stone Mocha IPA. Yes, that is exactly what it is: a DIPA with coffee and chocolate. Okay, the chocolate is actually cocoa but it shows up as a lovely, creamy, mellow background flavor that produces the same comfortable pleasure as that first cuppa hot chocolate on a cold day, offset beautifully by a cold-brew coffee that gives it an edge that drags the cocoa back from preciousness and turns this beer into a genuine rock star. Somehow, atop all this bell-clear mocha flavor, they’ve packed in a whoppin’ 80 IBUs that deliver the resins with both hands and a shovel. The frisson of the mocha backbone and the spicy, citrusy tang of the Cascade, Citra, and Amarillo hops is startling and then addicting. This is a beer that I could drink repeatedly and, given a few family events coming up this summer, I probably will. The idea of a coffee IPA is not exactly new. We American beer geek types love us some coffee in our ales but it’s usually reserved for Stouts and Porters and beers that at least suggest the dark brown character assigned to coffee and chocolate. Only two brewers I know have successfully pulled it off: Fort George, with its classic “Java The Hop” and “White Stout”, and now Stone, which is the equal of those two Astoria landmarks. It may take you a sip or two, when you taste this, to get your brain to adjust to these traditionally Stout-ish flavors emanating from a liquid that is adamantly clear and golden. It did for me and I was already well-informed by the Fort George stuff. Once that little switch is tripped, though, this beer is an absolute adventure; a Walk On The Wild Side that delivers drinking jollies by the barrowful. 95 Points
Stone Citrusy Wit is maybe less of a safari than either of these other two beers but no less an Occasion. You’ve been here, in citrusy wheat ale territory, before, maybe even frequently. Wheat ales, made from the traditional German template, show elements of lemon and tangerine naturally, along with a mild peppery stratum and a lovely, grainy chewiness. All that is here but Stone brewmaster, Mitch Steele, Pumps Up The Volume with an artful blend of Centennial, Amarillo, and Mandarina Bavaria hops, with the bitterness and heft laid on by a dose of dry-hopped Magnums. The seldom-seen Mandarina shows brilliant but subtle notes of what its name implies – Mandarin oranges, with other citrus notes – amped up by actual infusion of kaffir lime leaves, coriander, and tangerine peel. The net effect is a brilliant freshness and clarity, with grace notes galore: honeydew melon, spruce tips, lemon curd, cucumber, kiwi, and nutmeg. The crispness factor is off the charts and the mildly acidic finish gives the beer a bright, palate-cleansing freshness that screams out for green salads, seafood, cold pasta salad, and Asian rice dishes. For its massive food potential, though, this is not at all dependent on food for its effect. Just sippin’ it on a hot day, this summer, is going to be Epic. In typical Stone style, every element of this gorgeous ale is in lovely balance and it just begs you to have another…and, at just 5.3% ABV…you can! 95 Points
Just to sum up: Stone Rocks!…as always.