Stone Brewing has reached their milestone 20th Anniversary this summer. In the past 20 years, they have achieved a lot, and can take credit for being a big part of the current craft beer boom we are dead in the middle of. While their current core lineup has been tweaked and remixed, they have been presenting beer drinkers with a long list of interesting beers that seems to never end. While not every beer they have put on the shelf has been a home run, they have most definitely put out more hits than misses.
Being in fairly close proximity to Stone’s home base in Escondido has allowed me to try almost everything they have brewed, whether it be a bottled, wide release or a small pilot batch. Here is my attempt at ranking the 20 best beers from Stone in honor of their 20th Anniversary. As always, let me know the glaring omission.
1. Stone Enjoy By IPA – In late summer 2012, Stone blew my mind with a new imperial IPA. Keep in mind, Stone creates many Imperial IPAs. This however, was a game changer. Similar to what Alpine Beer Co was doing, and with a nod to Pliny The Elder, Stone had created an Imperial IPA that was A) light in body B) late-addition hopped to the gills C) scaled back on the finishing bitterness and D) designed to perish within a short window of time. I couldn’t get enough of this beer when it first came out, and luckily they figured out a formula in which they could scale this beer up for easier access. The tropical, juicy hop profile has me hooked. Many enthusiasts believe each batch has noticeable difference, personally I’ve never had a bad batch, and all have matched up the same. The Unfiltered and Tangerine variants are pretty damn delicious too. To this day, it still holds up against the trendiest and freshest IPAs on the market.
2. Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout – This is the first year that Stone broke away from the Anniversary Double IPA, and it worked out very well for them. This beer was a bit warm when fresh, but quickly leveled out into the silkiest, most delicious chocolate stout I’ve ever had in my life. Even the dorkiest dudes at the bottle share would never turn down a sip of this beer as it got older and older over the years. This beer aged so gracefully, as most Stone beers do. I am very thankful this got rebrewed this year and maintained its awesomeness.
3. Chris Banker / Stone / Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout – Over the past five years, many smaller breweries have been experimenting with the Mexican hot chocolate flavor profile, adding cinnamon, chillis and other spices to a chocolate or coffee forward stout to great fanfare. Decorated homebrewer Chris Banker entered his version of this new style in Stone’s annual American Homebrew Association Pro-Am contest and won. Besides having the beer scaled up and sent to the Great American Beer Festival, Stone brewed a limited bottle run and mixed it into their seasonal lineup. Instantly, this beer became a success to the point Stone decided to brew it again a year later as a winter seasonal. Stone still didn’t have a full grasp on how popular this beer would be on a national scale, and quickly blew through their inventory. They scrambled to brew a second run that winter. That’s just how tasty this beer is. At first, I felt the beer didn’t have the viscosity of a Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout or Perennial Abraxas, I have later changed my mind, and feel the alcohol and body of this beer is perfect, and lets you enjoy a few glasses rather than a few taster glasses.
4. Stone Russian Imperial Stout – Stone Russian Imperial Stout is the textbook example of a cellarable beer. It starts off a little rough and hoppy when fresh. From there beer smooths out within 6 months, hit’s it’s sweet spot at the 2 year mark, and where most strong ales begin dying a slow death, RIS remains graceful and drinkable for over 5 years. At the price point, this is a perfect beer to “play” with, if you feel like infusing it with other fun ingredients like coconut, mint or spices.
5. Aleman / Two Brothers / Stone DayMan Coffee IPA – When I first got wind of the concept of a Stone IPA with coffee added, I poo poo’d on it immediately. After my first bottle, I was happily wrong. This was an amazing harmonization of two completely different flavor profiles that worked. For those who would like to try to recreate this magic, I believe the trick was using blonde roasted coffee and cold steeping it, rather than traditionally hot brewing it. I will be grateful for the return of this beer.
6. Original Ruination – In my craft beer journey, I have realized my tastes have changed, and my palate has been more than broken in by all the wild flavors the world of beer has to offer. Beers that I thought were once boozy, are now tame, beers that I thought were palate crushers due to hops are now quite pleasant to me. I think that’s normal. I will never forget my first experience with Ruination IPA, which was like opening up a bag of citrusy sativa. Even though my love for the beer waned over time (mostly due to Enjoy By), I loved it back in the day, and is responsible for my love of hoppy beer.
7. Stone Smoked Porter w Vanilla Bean – Stone Smoked Porter wasn’t ever one of my favorite beers, or favorite porters for that matter, Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean is damned near perfect. It has the right sized body, the smoked malts are subtle, and the vanilla bean makes it so drinkable. This is one case where it might be better on tap than in bottle, either way, treat yo self!
8. Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA / Stone 11th Anniversary IPA – At this point, this is the only Black IPA that I would drink, as it’s only black in color not in flavor or aroma. It’s a dank and delicious hoppy beer that just so happens to have a dark appearance. Sadly, this wasn’t a big seller and was moved from year round to special release status.
9. Stone 10th Anniversary IPA – I have the fondest of memories of this beer. Before the term Triple IPA was in play, Stone released a 10% abv. monstrous double IPA. Because I hadn’t gained my sea legs, the first bottle got the best of me, as I drank it at the speed of a regular strength beer. It didn’t discourage me from returning to it. The beer was so hoppy and tropical with a substantial amount of malt to hold it all together. With hops found in every nook and crannie, bottles of this were still pretty drinkable a year or two after being bottled. Really looking forward to its return for the Encore series.
10. Stone Go To IPA – Over the last three years, many have tried their hand at brewing the highly hopped, highly aromatic beer that finishes under 5% abv, and have failed. Stone is one of the few that simply nailed the Session IPA. Bright, snappy, and seemingly full figured makes you scratch your head while drinking it.
11. Saison DuBUFF – I’ve been teased over the years for loving this beer, but I just don’t care. Dogfish Head, Victory and Stone collaborated on one of the most refreshing beers ever in Saison DuBUFF, taking a rustic saison base and adding copious amounts of herbs to it. Stone, Victory and Dogfish take turns brewing it, I snag it every time it returns.
12. w00tstout – Stone CEO Greg Koch teamed up with Fark.com Founder Drew Curtis and his tv star pal Wil Wheaton to brew Stone Frarking Wheaton w00tstout four years ago. The beer is a pretty hefty, complex imperial stout that drinks fine fresh and ages gracefully. They have released the fourth iteration this year. Each year, it quickly flies off the shelf due to its amazingness, although the fun collectible bottle doesn’t hurt either.
13. Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Black IPA – At the height of the Black IPA fad, Stone Brewing realized they had a good grasp on the “style.” Message boards and marketing departments all had their opinion on where this style originated, what it should be called instead of a Black IPA, and what defines the “style.” Stone had fun with this and as a friendly jab at the Cascadian Dark Ale moniker, brewed a Double Black IPA for their 15th Anniversary. Unlike 11th Anniversary/Sublimely Self Righteous, this beer had a bit more heft in the body, but still didn’t come across as a dark malty beer for the most part. I loved it, and continued to love it for a good six months as it maintained its amazing hop character.
14. Double Bastard – Not quite a barleywine, not quite a double IPA, Double Bastard may be the best American Strong Ale for a few reasons: It satisfies the craving for hops and malt. If aged right, it does turn into a hoppy barleywine, close to Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. It’s not something anyone should drink too much of in a session, it’s definitely something you should try once a year or cellar away now and again.
15. Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout – I loved this beer, I wish it would return one day, and wish there was enough for a bourbon barrel treatment. It was pretty much a liquid version of a dark chocolate peppermint patty. Of note, this was another Stone AHA Rally winner.
16. Ken Schmidt / Maui / Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter – This was a fun and tasty beer. At the time, Maui Brewing’s CoCoNuT Porter was at the peak of its popularity, and Ken Schmidt had a pretty substantial reputation for his Aloha Plenty home brew recipe. Together, magic was made. Because of the ingredients, there wasn’t a lot of beer made, and this flew off shelves quickly. Of note, this was another Stone AHA Rally winner.
17. Stone R & R Coconut IPA – Yet another Stone AHA Rally winning beer, and off of the tails of Dayman mania was R&R Coconut IPA. I found this beer to be super delicious. While some were critical as to a perceived lack of coconut, the beer was pretty damn good.
18. Stone IPA – This is the beer, along with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that got me deep into hoppy beer. Much more bitter than anything else I had ever tried at the time, I was awestruck by the flavor and aroma this beer presented. While the typical modern IPA is a bit different than Stone IPA, it’s not that much different and I would gladly crack a Stone IPA any day of the week.
19. Stone Suitable for Cave Aging aged in Bourbon Barrels – The base beer (Suitable for Cave Aging, an Imperial Smoked Porter) was a tribute to the late Danny Williams, who was a long time beer enthusiast, who worked behind the scenes each year at The Great American Beer Festival. Stone took the already amazing beer and aged in in Bourbon Barrels. The result was perfection, and something I would compare to a Firestone Walker Parabola or Bourbon County Stout. Let’s hope Stone has the recipe saved and they make it again, as this beer didn’t make it outside of special events and Southern California.
20. Arrogant Bastard Ale – This is one of the most iconic craft beers. This beer empowered a generation of drinkers who were often peer pressured into 30 packs of Miller Lite to not only show pride in drinking craft beer, but to open other people’s minds up to trying new flavors of beer. While some consider this to be a stepping stone beer, it still holds up like a classic record album, bitter, aromatic, food pairable, and still sparks a conversation.