Yesterday, when I sampled a pour of Stone’s 18th Anniversary IPA, I thought there was a mistake: Nowhere on the label did the words “brewed with citrus juice” appear. I scanned the essay on the back of the bottle—a common Stone feature, typically written by co-founder Greg Koch—but it wasn’t there either. I jumped on the brewery’s website—nothing. What the heck is Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele up to?
In case you haven’t been following the evolution of Stone’s hoppy pursuits, here’s a primer: Mitch Steele seems to be squeezing an increasing amount of tropical, fruity flavors from new hop varieties. He’s pulled out the tropical notes of Citra for Stone RuinTen. Exercised Mosaic to paint Go-To IPA with notes of peach and passionfruit. Worked with a dizzying blend of Calypso, Nelson and Galaxy, and more, to make Enjoy-By IPA a leading example of the IPA’s new, fruity look. He’s a master of hops—he even wrote the book on them. In 18, he focused heavily on the tropical El Dorado variety. As for me, I’ve been a rabid fan of these releases, and have blogged and blogged about the alluring character of new hop varieties. Then I tasted 18.
Take away labels like “IPA” or “beer,” and 18 is a phenomenal beverage. Its aroma is a powerful blend of orange, ruby red grapefruit, lemon and pear. On the tongue, a bed of toffee-sweet malts underscores huge (emphasis, HUGE) fruit flavors, including the aforementioned varieties, with a dose of passionfruit for good measure. Yes, there’s bitterness, but even it can’t stand up to the lasting fruit cocktail wash, which sticks around endlessly on the tongue. I just took a whiff of the day-old empty bottle and it still smells like a fresh-squeezed drink you’d have with breakfast in Hawaii. Put this in front of a blindfolded taster and they’ll swear they’re drinking a strange, new fruit juice.
The question I’m leading up to: Is this too far?
If this release is any kind of foreshadowing—which I imagine it is, considering the master brewing it—is this the future of how fruity IPAs will become?
I’m not saying I don’t like 18—I really love it, but it gives me a weird feeling. I’m also not bashing new hop varieties (that would make me the biggest hypocrite around). I’m just baffled. I’ve tasted and loved some seriously fruity IPAs over the last few years. But now, I’m just sitting here questioning it all.
I think this is the IPA that finally broke my brain.