Last Friday, Stone Brewing Company from Escondido, Calif. sold their first beer in Galesburg, Ill. Stone, known for their aggressive, full flavor (typically extremely hoppy) beer, is the 14th largest craft brewery according to 2010 sales volume. The emergence into new markets, such as central Illinois and soon to be Missouri, has fueled them to 42 percent growth in the first quarter of this year. While other breweries such as Dogfish Head, Great Divide, Allagash and Avery are reducing their distribution to keep up with demand in their main markets, Stone is continuing to expand and remains confident they can keep production up with the increasing demand. It appears that Stone is using their aggressive beer style towards aggressive growth and increased distribution
Stone Levitation Ale (American Red Ale, 4.4 percent abv): This red ale is probably the least-Stone beer that Stone produces. Known for their aggressive, bold and flavorful beers, a 4.4 percent red ale does not seem to fit that mold; but Stone certainly puts into own flavor on a traditionally conservative style. The beer looks muddy or rusty red colored, perfectly clear with a thin head. Hops dominate the smell. Lots of citrus with not much else comes through on the nose. The taste starts with light malt, almost biscuit and hints of caramel, but then the citrus hops take over. The hops provide a little bitterness, but also a bit of a burned flavor, which is not pleasant or fitting for the style of beer. Nevertheless, this is still a light-bodied, drinkable beer, but still flavorful and mighty hoppy even though the slight burnt bitterness is a little off-putting.
Stone Ruination IPA (Imperial IPA, 7.7 percent abv): This classic west-coast style IPA pours a light orange to copper, perfectly clear again with a thin head that leaves lacing down the side of the glass. Hops dominate the aroma. Citrus and grapefruit over fresh, dank, earthy hops. A hint of pilsner malt is detectable but the aroma is all about the hops. The taste is also all hops; bitter, refreshing hops and the most grapefruit I’ve tasted in any beer, which is really impressive. There is just a hint of a malt backbone to attempt to balance out the hop assault, but the pilsner malt comes up far short. Fans of hops will love the bitter, grapefruit hop flavor in this beer. The beer truly is a “liquid poem to the glory of the hop,” as the six-pack holder proclaims.
Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale (American Strong Ale, 7.2 percent abv): This cult favorite craft beer has one of the best labels on any bottle. Like the others, it is perfectly clear, reddish brown in color with a big off-white to yellow head. The smell is very complex and, again, hoppy. Fruitiness from the hops is present, as well as a little bit of sweet and caramel malt. The beer is medium bodied and as complex as the aroma. Unlike the others, there is considerable sweetness from the malt, particularly caramel, similar to a barleywine. But hops again steal the show. Significant bitterness is paired with citrus flavors. The malt and hops seems to meld together creating a fruity orange and cherry flavor. While the beer is “only” 7.2 percent, the complexity and strong hop flavor lends it a slow-sipper status. Like the bottle explains, this beer is not for the faint of heart as it can be too much for some. I suggest you take the challenge though.