Stone Brewing knows how to crank up the hype machine. The buzz for their latest offering, an IPA meant to be consumed no more than a few weeks after shipping, was palpable. If you follow any craft beer fans or industry folks on Twitter, you were well aware the beer was coming.
So what's the big deal? The IPA, which Stone describes as "devastatingly fresh", was intentionally brewed not to last. Like with other big, floral IPAs, freshness is crucial to getting the most flavor and smell out of the aromatic hops used to brew the beer. Stone bottled this beer on Nov. 16. It was shipped to Massachusetts on Nov. 20, and Stone asks that you consume it by Dec. 21. If you get the beer earlier, by all means dig in.
There are times when a wildly-hyped beer fails to live up to expectations. This is not one of those times. Lucky enough to secure a bottle at one of my favorite local beer stores earlier this week, I cracked mine open two days later.
Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA pours a light golden color with very little head. Streams of tiny bubbles burrow their way to the top of the glass, but the beer does not appear to be overly carbonated. I didn't need to stick my nose in the glass to pick up this brew's massive hop aroma, because seconds after pouring the smell seems to fill the room. I'm engulfed in hops.
In the video below, Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele explains that very few bittering hops were used in this beer. That's a departure from the usual Stone IPAs. Instead, the beer is massively dry-hopped, and flavoring hops dominate the brew. Here's the complete hops bill:
Calypso during the mash; Super Galena hop extract for bittering; Simcoe, Delta, Target, and Amarillo for flavor; Motueka, Citra, and Cascade for aroma; Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy for dry hopping
Wonderful notes of grapefruit, lemon, pine, orange, and fresh cut grass waft up from the glass. This is my favorite beer smell, and I'd be hard-pressed to recall more than five or six beers that have produced it this well. I could sit here and smell this beer all day.
Fresh fruit smells lead directly to fresh taste. The stats are massive: 9.4 percent ABV and 88 IBUs, but the lack of bittering hops is evident and makes for a very drinkable product. This beer goes down smooth, and the aftertaste fails to produce even the slightest pucker.
I can't help but compare this beer to the Alchemist's Heady Topper and to Double Galaxy, Society and Solitude No. 4, and some of my favorite IPAs from Hill Farmstead. The entire business model of those two brewers is based around serving their beer devastatingly fresh and close to the source. With this beer Stone is, however briefly, emulating that model, and with great success. I wish they made more of this, but the troubling logistics of shipping fresh beer all over the country are obvious. Unless you print "enjoy by" in big, bold letters on the bottle, beer is likely to sit on shelves for too long and lose its freshness. If you've ever had a bad IPA, one that's gone malty and stale, you know just what happens.
As you might expected, Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA has flown off the shelves. But that doesn't mean you can't get your hands on some. Poe's Tip Tap Room and its sister restaurant The Rattlesnake are tapping this beer Thursday night. Several other area bars have done the same. And you just might find 22-ounce bottles on some store shelves if you keep digging.
Have you tried this yet? Leave a comment below. Include the hashtags #EnjoyBy and #MA in your tweets to let Stone know you're enjoying the beer in the state. Cheers.