ALREADY RENOWNED for a slew of punchy ales–often amber or darker, comfortably 7-10% ABV–Stone took a left turn in 2002 with Levitation Ale, their first explicit attempt at a session-appropriate beer. But not a small one. Stone doesn’t “do” small. Indeed, the only thing subdued about Levitation is its 4.4% ABV; in all other respects it aspires to walk amongst its Arrogant brethren. Even the name reminds us of Stone’s aloofness, even if they have stooped to the mortal plane of sub-5% brewing. In other words, Levitation Ale is Stone’s modern, West Coast riposte to the English ESB.
Levitation starts strong with a simply marvelous pour–a rusty copper color enlivened by a strong stream of bubbles and a nicely foaming, slightly tanned head with some mineral sparkle. Lacing remains very strong throughout as well, almost rivaling a nitro stout for overall foam performance in the sub-5% category. Magnum, Citrus, Simcoe, and (especially) Amarillo hops deliver a high-octane flurry of citrus, florals, and slightly tropical aromas atop a medium toasty grain bed. Potent but still refreshing and clean. For such a dark amber Levitation is not very thick on the palate, having cut back on the crystal malts so characteristic of amber ales. The body is decidedly bigger than most beers of such modest strength, but still more crisp than chewy, and thus freed of heavier malting or higher ABVs Levitation’s 45 IBUs are on full display. With Imperial IPAs and brawny strong ales regularly topping 80 IBUs these days, Levitation is a welcome reminder that bigger is not always better. Nor will bigger always actually even seem bigger, for that matter. Context is critical.
Levitation’s unabashedly hop-forward character will be too aggressive for some, and they’ll have a good point. For all its refreshing, no-nonsense clarity Levitation is not primarily concerned with balance. Yet overall one could ask little more of a West Coast session ale. Or two–since that’s the point, isn’t it?
Served: 12 oz bottle best by July 31, 2013*
* – Stone’s ‘best-by’ dates are generally 90 days from bottling and are always worth heeding. But if their most mild ale can still impress a month-plus later then perhaps one needn’t be perfectly strict in observing them.