In my nascent years of craft beer drinking, I cut my teeth on Stone Brewing.
In the spring of 2005, I was in San Diego and their brewery was one of, if not the, first brewery tours that I’d ever been on. I was 23. “Good beer” meant splurging on a generic Hefeweizen at a chain restaurant that had some sort of 2-for-1 appetizer deal going on. It was San Diego’s beer scene, and Stone in particular, that truly solidified my desire to drink (almost) exclusively beer that fell under that still-as-then-obscure definition of “craft.”
Their lineup hit two raw essentials for me. The Stone IPA was unlike any other beer I’d ever had before. Piney and bitter, it represented a level of beer geekery that I aspired to reach. In my mind, it was at the time a pinnacle of my beer drinking: this was both delicious, accessible (even on the East Coast), and affordable. On the other end, the Russian Imperial Stout, was a decadent dark beer that came in bombers and was somewhat of a treat. It was a slow drinker on a tired Sunday afternoon with football on the television in my dark, kind-of-crummy apartment.
Both beers are still great.
But every Summer therafter, I always southg out the special release anniversary beer by Stone. There was a beer that I always eagerly anticipated. There was Stone IPA; there was Ruination; there were all those and more. The special release was always big and bigger and different than any other Double IPA out. There was always a specialness to those releases. And they were all delicious. Last year’s Citracado IPA was no exception.
I don’t think a year has passed that I haven’t purchased an anniversary IPA since I began drinking Stone. It’s a tradition that likely won’t end. There’s too much history.
When I saw Hail to the Hop Thief, there was really no chance I was going to pass it up. Maybe I should have.
We’re talking a departure from the piney-ness we associated with West Coast hop-forward beers.”
The beer begins nicely enough with a deep golden hue, and a plethora of great hop notes right out of the gate. We’re talking a departure from the piney-ness we associated with West Coast hop-forward beers. Present were citrus notes and flowers. Upon opening, this felt like a beer I was going to love, but then something changed.
Somewhere in the middle of the beer, the magnum, pekko, and mosaic hop arrangement just kind of fell flat and disappeared. The beer finished boozy and too sweet, all malt, no bitterness. At 9.8%, it seemed big for the sake of being big. It tasted almost like an American barleywine, a style of beer I love. Hail to the Hop Thief just seemed to suffer from an identity crisis.
I get that not everything a brewery does is going to be a grand slam. And maybe my expectations for Stone’s anniversary releases are a bit too high; Maybe, too, I’m hanging on to the memories of a brewery that elevated not only the beer game, but influenced many of my drinking habits still to this day.
Stone is capable of making great beer. Even in these days of hyper-fresh and hyper-local beer, it’s not uncommon to have a Stone IPA outshine its competitors.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the beer to do it.