IT ISN’T OFTEN that one feels tempted to really gulp an American IPA. Mostly bristly and confrontational, they’re known to enjoy knocking tastebuds about to show their strength. But Stone’s IPA is something else–powerful and richly flavored, yes, but also luscious and self-contained enough to reward a deep draught without sprouting hackles halfway down the gullet. First released in 1997 (shortly after the brewery itself launched in ’96), Stone’s IPA was among the first of its kind to be brewed year-round in the West Coast craft revolution. And though it arrived quite early in Stone’s perpetual adolescence, all its pieces fit together just about perfectly right from the start.
The pour is a vibrant honey-comb of yellows and gold, progressively darker from bottom to top where it meets the rich froth of head proud enough to resemble a Belgian golden ale. Lacing is excellent, and though the head does soon subside it leaves a tenacious layer behind that softens each sip. The aroma is equally prepossessing, clearly but not garishly showing off high-alpha acid hops–Chinook and Magnum, citric and piney–while gentler Cascade blends with a small quotient of crystal malts to impart a creamy and almost peachy foundation.
Despite coming in at 77 IBU, Stone’s IPA is unexpectedly balanced, juicy and almost sweet long before the stemmy hops make their play. Carbonation is medium high and consistent throughout, fitting into the profile with a native ease like those early summer days when temperatures are so clement as to be perfectly unremarkable. Aside from that scoop of crystal malt (a bit over 5% of the grain bill, possibly the beer’s ‘secret weapon’), the IPA’s body has just enough pale malt to keep everything moving along without getting in the way. A low mash temp (thus high fermentability) combined with fairly high attenuation yields a 6.9% ABV and sneakily dry finish with solid spiciness. The head and aftertaste both have a suggestion of hard water, leaving a tingling clarity on the palate but no residuals.
This is one of few Stone beers not to ooze braggadocio through its name, instead bearing the simplest of monikers: IPA. The beer itself is similarly forthright, highly articulate but none too complicated–clear, illuminated, and inspired. A Stone cold classic.
Served: 12 oz bottle (best by 8/05/13)