Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA

Stone Brewing's ephemeral Tenth Anniversary double IPA has always been the gold standard for Stone Brewing's anniversary beers, the beer against which all other anniversary beers were measured.   It was an extreme beer, the uber-West Coast IPA.  There are probably message boards still discussing this beer and whether bottles of it are drinkable (they're not).  Stone's Escondidian Imperial Black IPA has eclipsed the Tenth Anniversary as the best anniversary beer Stone Brewing has created.

First, a note on the Escondidian name.  Escondidian is a play on Cascadian, a term started by Northwestern bloggers in an attempt to rename Black IPAs "Cascadian Dark Ales," and hijack the style and claim a bogus regional beer A.O.C., taking unwarranted credit for the Northwest.  (Examples of this inane, one-sided folly are here and here.)  Stone's Escondidian resoundingly reclaims Black IPAs for brewers and beer drinkers everywhere. 

Escondidian is a thick beer that poured black, smooth and slow.  The foam was dense and dark and rose from the black beer like some kind of unleashed cappuccino mousse, despite the deliberate pour. 

When I first tasted Escondidian I thought it a cross between a big porter and an IPA.  The two dominate tastes are the deep, roasted malts and sharp hops.  The forward hop bitterness quickly dispelled the porter angle.  I really picked up the New Zealand Sauvin hops, which appeared in the middle of the taste.  If you've had Alpine's Nelson IPA, you will recognize this distinct hop immediately.  The roasted malts imparted a sweet, dark chocolate flavor, and battled the hop bitterness to a draw throughout the middle and far into the beer's finish.   There is an overall sweetness in this beer that complements the hops. The chocolatey sweetness is necessary, and never becomes a distraction or filmy.  There are big flavors competing for your attention in this beer, but they are brought together in a wonderful balance.

This is a big beer, weighing in at 10.8% abv, but the alcohol is in the background and is not intrusive or dominant.  The scary part about this beer is that it's delicious and the alcohol doesn't serve as a drinking governor.   I enjoyed one bottle over the better part of an hour and only when I was done and my brain was half-addled did I realize the strength of Escondidian.   Usually, when I finish a beer as muscular as Escondidian, I am through for the evening, but when the bottle was drained I wanted more.  I'm glad I was at home and not at a pub.

Stone Brewing has reached a new high with its magnificent Escondidian. It has created not only a fantastic beer, but maybe the most drinkable "extreme" beer I have ever tasted.  Escondidian is a lofty benchmark for subsequent Stone anniversary ales.  In the future, when people discuss Stone's anniversary ales, they will speak in reverent tones of the Escondidian, while the 10th Anniversary Ale will fade into a pleasant memory.  Stone may not have invented the Black IPA, but it's now the style's standard bearer, not only with Escondidian, but with Sublimely Self Righteous, too.  Stone has not only ended the debate over the fatuously named Cascadian Dark Ale, it has crushed it in medieval fashion (don't mess with the gargoyles).   Cascadian Dark Ale is dead - long live Black IPA.

(I lifted the picture from Stone Brewing's website because the picture I took with my iPhone didn't do Escondidian justice.)


Anonymous said...

Sorry, while I love the Stone 15th Anniversary beer (one of the best beers I've ever tasted) I still like the term Cascadian Dark Ale for the style. Further, Black IPA is oxymoronic and while PNW brewers didn't invent the style, they've been at it longer than Stone.

Jay H. said...

I think "Cascadian" anything is totally provincial and lame & points to a general Northwest inferiority complex. But I too dug this beer.

Cary said...

Inferiority? Portland owns beer. Stone is awesome and marks the spot in SoCal and is one of the best, I love it. Along with many other breweries in the area. Provincial? When you have 50 breweries in one small city (Portland) you have the right to provincial, and create styles.