Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Different Shade Of Pale

Stone Brewing is upending its longstanding list of core beers by retiring four beers.  It is no shock that Stone is stopping production of Levitation, an amber ale, and Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA, originally brewed as Stone's eleventh anniversary beer. The reason cited for the retirement of these two beers was lack of sales, which reflect my buying habits.  I have never tried Levitation, and it has been years since I have bought a Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA.  Stone is replacing Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA with a regular, periodic release, Stone Enjoy By Black IPA, which I can't wait to try, and that I imagine will far out sell Self-Righteous.

The bigger shakeups are the retirement of Stone Pale Ale and Ruination IPA. I am not going to discuss Ruination in this post, other than to note its unfortunate demise, as this beer deserves its own obituary.  Stone is not technically discontinuing Stone Pale Ale, but changing its recipe, which Stone is (tentatively) calling Pale Ale 2.0.  The original Pale Ale is darker and maltier than most pale ales, and much hoppier than a traditional English pale ale.  Stone made a video tribute to Pale Ale:

The video does not directly address the new pale ale and what Stone expects from it.  My guess is that Pale Ale 2.0 will be intensely hopped, less malty, and lighter than Pale Ale.  I am thinking it will resemble the new citrus-focused, hop forward pale ales from Ballast Point and AleSmith, Grunion and San Diego Pale Ale .394, respectively.  These new pale ales, like the original Stone Pale Ale, won't be confused with a traditional pale ale, and are hopped as much as an IPA, without the higher abv.  The new pale ales are more robust than the hoppy but thin session IPAs, which have grown into a new style over the past two years.

Stone, with these bold moves, proves again that it is not afraid to take risks.  It is a business, and these three beers were lagging in terms of sales.  I think it's good that Stone is putting new life into its Pale Ale, and if I am right that 2.0 will be more like Grunion or .394, Stone will sell a bunch of it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Heartland Duo

I traveled across America's Heartland last week and sampled a couple of excellent beers.  Bell's Brewing's Two Hearted Ale, an IPA, was a gem I found on tap at a hotel restaurant.  Two Hearts is subtle and flavorful, with more complexity than most IPAs, but it still has enough bitterness to satisfy someone craving hops.  This beer is now available in California, but old dates on the bottles I have seen have prevented me from buying it.  Now that I have tried it and know how good it is, I'll keep my looking for recently brewed batches of Two Hearted Ale. 

I had dinner at the Cleveland outpost of Fat Head's Brewery and Saloon and enjoyed its Head Hunter IPA.  This is a classic, big-hopped West Coast IPA, and a superb beer.  Nothing in Fat Head's is subtle, and Head Hunter is hopped bigger than many DIPAs, while still remaining balanced.   Fat Head's food choices are a Californian's stereotypic expectations of a Midwestern restaurant - huge, unhealthy portions of awesomeness.  I tried the Head Banger, a sort of sandwich with 8 oz of banger sausage, topped with a fried egg, bacon, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar.  No, I'm not telling my cardiologist, I'll just drink more beer over the next few weeks to thin my arteries.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Brown is the New IPA

I made a New Year's commitment - not a resolution, just a commitment - to try more styles than IPA.   Too often I default to IPAs, and therefore miss out on good beers.  Two months into the year and I give my diversity effort a "C" letter grade, it is hard to shake my IPA affliction.   So far this year, though, I have gained a new appreciation for brown ales.  It is a style that gets an unfair reputation, due in large part to style giant Newcastle Brown Ale.  Newcy Brown is bland and simple, but it is more harmless than horrible, and I would choose it over most other macro beers.   It is nothing compared to two local brown ales.

Two San Diego breweries, Culture Brewing and New English, make fantastic brown ales.   Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room opened last November and has given me the opportunity to try several of its beers.  I, of course, started with Mosaic IPA and then tried Keystone IPA (which is Mosaic IPA with added grapefruit).  I soon found I liked Culture's Pale Ale better then its IPAs, but then I tasted its American Brown Ale, and it is now my favorite Culture beer.  Culture's American Brown Ale is the antithesis of bland.  Its deep, smoke tinged malt flavors are countered and perked up by a strong hop kick in the finish.  This bold, spicy beer is only 6% abv and does not exhaust your palate, which to me is a by-product of too many malt-centric beers.  (Culture's website lists American Brown Ale and Brown Ale, and I am writing about the American Brown Ale.)

New English's Brewers Special Brown Ale is similar to Culture's American Brown Ale.  It has a strong dose of hops to complement and ease the impact of the initial heavy, bready malts.  It has a warmth and richness that seem right for what passes as winter in San Diego.  Brewers Special Brown Ale is a drinkable beer, and at 6.6% abv, not a boozer. 

I like Culture's and New English's approach to brown ales.  They don't add chocolate or coffee to give their ales enhanced "brown" character, they instead rely on roasted malts, biting hops, and brewing skill.  Culture's American Brown Ale is usually available on draft at Culture's Ocean Beach tasting room, and New English bottles Brewers Special Brown Ale, but it can be hard to find, unfortunately.