Stone Brewing’s 20th anniversary year should have been one its finest. It underwent two major expansions, opening breweries in Richmond, Va. in February and Berlin in August. Renovations began on a 10,000-square-foot facility in Napa that will eventually run a 10-barrel pilot system and ground was broken on a 99-room hotel across the street from its Escondido home.
Everything looks great, right? Right? Not quite. For Stone, Newton’s third law might as well be called Murphy’s Law. Following the 2015 announcement that Stone co-founder Greg Koch would step down as CEO, longtime brewmaster Mitch Steele announced he would leave the brewery in June. Information leaked out over the summer that Koch accepted $90 million in private equity cash, punching a hole in Stone’s anti-acquisition, anti-sellout hull. If that was not enough, just a month after taking over the brewery, new CEO Dominic Engels shook the craft beer industry by laying off 5% of his workforce in a restructuring.
No one can dispute Stone’s impact on craft brewing. It distributes to 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, and increased production by more than 200,000 barrels between 2010 and 2015. The optics of expansion and taking private money while laying off staff are one thing. What might be worse is the exposure of the once indefatigable Stone’s mortality. As Jason Notte wrote for Marketwatch.com:
If anything, it all begrudgingly recognizes that the players in all tiers of the beer industry have found themselves in the same predicament: Running a business in an environment where constant growth isn’t a given and where big decisions are often followed by unintended fallout.
In light of all that, Stone still produced solid product last year. Its 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA was well received by beer drinkers, earning 91 from BeerAdvocate members, and Xocoveza had stout drinkers panting and drooling (the Bros at BeerAdvocate gave it a perfect 100). It’s Enjoy By… IPAs get better and better, while its IPAs remain reliable choices at grocery or the bar.
I’m a sucker for a collaboration beer.”
And, despite all of the drama, it continues to collaborate with other brewers. I’m a sucker for a collaboration beer. Even when I suspect that I will not like it, I will still pick up a bottle or order it just to see what happens when two brewers get together.
My all-time favorite collab was a Black Strap Milk Stout brewed by NOLA Brewing and New Belgium back in 2013. The creamy stout was blended with chicory and molasses, and I could not drink enough of it during my 2014 trip to New Orleans. Conversely, I still gag when I think about how awful Infinium, the Samuel Adams-Weihenstephan joint brew from 2010, tasted.
Stone’s history of collaborations is well documented. One of my favorites is the annual production of Saison Du BUFF, a beer that rotates annually between Stone, Dogfish Head, and Victory. It’s an above average saison with an appealing herbal flavor profile. In the past, it has partnered with well-known brewers like Ninkasi and Sierra Nevada, and lesser known names like Monkey Paw and Bale Breaker. This year brings collaborations with The Bruery, Baladin and Alesmith.
Take a big sniff and you are hit by hints of mint and grass.”
It’s an odd beer upfront. Take a big sniff and you are hit by hints of mint and grass. Naturally, you will sniff again, because you will not believe your nose. This time you will pick up candied citrus and more of the fruit promised by the blend of Mandarina Bavaria, Mosaic, and Motueka hops.
Sip and hold it in your mouth for a second. It’s a thicker, heavier beer with flavors of citrus and pepper. Swallow and notice that it coats your mouth. The feel is not creamy so much as it clings. The malt sweetness you would expect in this sort of beer is nonexistent, as the wheat tempers the caramel or sticky sweet ordinarily found at the end of this sort of ale. The wheat also contributes to the body and texture of the beer.
It also contributes to the heft. Megawheat, which tips in at 8.4% alcohol by volume, is a heavy beer that sits in your stomach like a heavyweight stout or porter almost to the point where you feel bloated after a pint.
In almost every way, the Stone/Odell/Marble Megawheat Double IPA is an above-average beer, but if you plan to drink more than one beer during the course of your dinner/trip to the bar/reckless binge, reserve this one for the end.