Stone, 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

Stone Brewing Co.
Grade: B+

This beer was brewed in keeping with the traditions of England, from which the style "India Pale Ale" originated. In the past decade however, American breweries have adopted the style as their own and taken it to unthinkable heights (led by breweries like Stone). Now to mark their 14th anniversary, Stone has decided to step back and honor the style that made them famous. Sort of.

This beer is brewed with almost exclusively English ingredients, from the malt to the hops, even the strain of yeast used to ferment it. However, the quantities of each of those ingredients are a little different. In fact, most English brewers that looked at the ingredient bill for this beer would think they were making four batches of beer, not one. But, so it goes with Stone. They draw a line in the sand and are usually the first ones to step over it. Did they score again? Depends on how you look at it.

A fluffy white head floats on top of a slightly cloudy, straw colored beer. There are some notes of citrus in the nose, but pine and spice seem to be the more dominant hop aromas. Bready malt characteristics are there too, but the hops and a bit of candy-like sweetness are prevalent.

The mouthfeel is quite full, and the carbonation is low. There is an immediate slam of bitterness when you take a sip, tons of earth, spice, and pine linger in the flavor. There is some alcohol related sweetness, and it seems to be carried by the bigger mouthfeel of the beer. The hops are doing a fairly good job balancing the sweetness, but it's not what I would call a "balanced" beer. Like two guitarists battling it out onstage to see who can play the loudest, the hops and the malts have been drastically ramped up here.

Americans have established a kind of benchmark for IPAs, and I don't think it's unfair to say that West Coast IPAs are that benchmark. Those are the kinds of beers that all other IPAs are judged against, and Stone has brewed more than a few of those benchmark beers. They are certainly known as an IPA brewer, but for them to dial it back and approach this style from a very different perspective, and very English perspective, is unusual. While I am perfectly happy with West Coast style IPAs, I must admit that sometimes I wonder if the style can be taken in other directions. And sometimes it's as simple as taking it back to basics. Stone went old school, using only traditional ingredients and came up with flavors that had been largely forgotten. Granted, they "imperialized" the recipe quite a bit, but then again, they wouldn't be Stone if they hadn't.