Saturday, May 26, 2012

028. Stone 14 Emperial IPA

From the people who bring us Arrogant Bastard comes this brew with an attitude: Stone 14 Emperial IPA. There was some satisfaction to be found in this bottle, but few surprises. This is an IPA: Imperial Pale Ale -- the kind made with stronger hops and a higher alcohol content so it would better survive the long arduous trip beteen England her colonies in India (you did read that article I mentioned last week from Seattle Weekly about the differences between pale ales and IPAs, right?).

An IPA with all British ingredients,
including a different malt and
brewers salts.
I need to be up front and tell you that I've had this beer in storage for a while now, so perhaps this review is unfair (and possibly irrelevant, as this was an anniversary brew that is no longer available -- but I popped the top, so I might as well muster the energy to continue. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. This beer is marked with a production date of June 2010, but beneath it there is the admonishment to "CONSUME FRESH or age in the hull of a seafaring vessel for a year or more." Since this was safely tucked in a box behind my bar (out of the light and never too hot nor too cold), I don't feel like a churlish lout for drinking it in May 2012.

And, my worries aside, I don't think this beer fared ill from its long storage. When I opened it the brew smelled fresh and -- even at armslength -- pungent and alive with aroma that announced its presence. I could definitely smell the hops and, of course, I worried that I was headed toward some Hops Whore's orgasmic experience... but that was not the case.

Yes, the hops are there -- and in abundance, but they seem to be working together to release strong citrus notes with what I think might be a hint of wildflowers in the end -- that would be in both aroma and taste. Some might call this an earthy tone, but not me. Earthy -- to me -- implies a stronger body than I'm getting here. This is definitely lighter and makes me think of that field where Julie Andrews was singing to those hills.

Colorwise, this is a nice beer with a sort of yellow/amber/honey color. The head was very impressive: birght white and thick with a foamy white appearance that could really give many a British beer a run for its money.

The Sweet Spot
This beer has a high alcohol content: 8.9% (that's what it says on the bottle, but some online sources cite it at 8.3%). As such, the warmer it gets, the more bitter it gets. I was halfway through the bottle (a healthy 1 pt 6 oz) and had to put it back in the refrigerator to re-chill it. I found the sweet spot for this beer is between 45 - 55 degrees.

NOTE: If you ever encounter an IPA that's too bitter to drink (and you're too selfish to share or too cheap to toss it), chill it in the freezer until it's around 35 - 38 degrees and you'll find that most of the bittnerness will subside enough to make it drinkable. The flavor you get will be based more on the other elements in the beer, particularly the citrus and flowers you might find suggested by the hops. (Yes, I over-chilled this glass in the freezer, but it wamed up with no discernable damage to the flavor or aroma).

Even with the ale properly re-chilled, the hops bitterness grew on my tongue as I continued to drink it. This is an unfortunate byproduct of all IPA's and hop-heavy beers that I've encountered thus far.

From the Label:
"We went to England this past spring as self-styled “IPA Hunters” on a mission to learn more about the confusing and often contradictory history of India Pale Ale – to look for some certainty where those before us have found mostly mystery and mercantilism. While our success in this pursuit is open to debate, there can be no question that we returned home inspired by the ghosts of Burton and by the experience of poring over 150-year old brewer’s logs handwritten in (India?) ink. Stone Brewing Co., after all, traces its lineage back to the British Empire’s brewing history: we make ales, and all of our original offerings used traditional British styles as a jumping-off point. If this seems a roundabout way of letting you know that, yes, we are in fact brewing another IPA to mark our Anniversary, well, so be it.

This one however, promises to be different! From the imported white malt to the “Burtonised” water to the rare yeast strain to the most pungent hops Kent has to offer, we used all British ingredients to brew our “Emperial” IPA.* While we may have brewed Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA with our own distinctively modern, San Diego-style touch, what good is history if you can’t rewrite it to suit your tastes?

In this case, our tastes called for highly intemperate quantities of Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops, bestowing upon this dry-bodied ale a powerfully spicy, earthy aroma. On the palate, peppery hops assert themselves early and often, with malt sweetness making a brief appearance before being beaten back by a long, complex, and decisively bitter finish. What better way to contemplate the fate of empires past, present, and future?

*Um, except for our filtered Colorado River water, of course."

Closing Time
By the way, I don't recall where I got it or what I paid. I suspect it was at Spec's Liquor or Central Market here in Houston, and I think I paid between $6 - $9 for it. Since this was a limited release from the Stone Brewing Co., I guess that really doesn't matter, does it? And is there a hint of orange in there? As the bitterness grew, I thought I detected a taste (almost an under-taste) of orange zest. Not the orange itself, but the zest.

Or maybe I've been watching too mutch Food Network.

I also got more of the yeast (or as some people call it, the biscuit taste) the more I drank. I also got a bit of a buzz. After all, this is a 22-ounce bottle with 8.9% ABV. That ain't too shabby to polish off on my own as I'm typing this up (Rule #2: Write while you drink but edit while you're sober). As IPAs go, I kind of liked this one. It wasn't so strong that I couldn't appreciate what they were trying to do (those guys at Stone seem to know what they're doing). Even if this were available year-round, it wouldn't make my favorite's list -- but I suspect I would be in the minority. I think fans of strong IPAs would enjoy this a lot more than I do.

In short, this is a good IPA. I just don't happen to care a lot for IPAs.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Golden yellow
Aroma: Strong scent of hops -- and I mean strong
Hops: Strong but not abusive -- hints of citrus and other wild florals
Head: Strong, white and foamy
Lace: Ssaturnal (i.e. strong rings around the glass)
Carbonation: Medium/Strong
Temprature Sweet Spot: Keep under 55 degrees!
ABV: 8.3% or 8.9%
My Ratings:
  As an IPA 8 out of 10
  As a beer I like 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The fine fellows over at the Beer Advocate had nice things to say about this hops-heavy brew:

Info from the Brewer's blog is really interesting, by the way. This beer has all British ingredients (which is very different for this brewer). I suggest watching the short video at their site for more info about this:

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