With new breweries popping up all over the country, it becomes harder for a single brewer to stand out. After a while, there's nothing exciting about a regular porter or IPA. A unique story or unique ingredient can help move merchandise.
"Gimmick" may seem like a derogatory term, but depending on your perspective it could also refer to good marketing. I have both an appreciation and a healthy skepticism of beer gimmicks. The writer in me likes a clever turn of phrase. The beer drinker in me hopes that the product matches the story.
I recently reviewed two beers that might be considered gimmicky. Both were brewed by California's Stone Brewery; one was brewed in collaboration with New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company. The two are among my favorite breweries, which warrants giving the gimmicks a chance.
The better of the two is Stone R&R Coconut IPA. This beer is technically a collaboration, too, brewed with San Diego homebrewers Robert Masterson and Ryan Reschan. Earlier this year, Masterson and Reschan entered Stone's homebrew competition and won. Stone recently released their winning recipe to the public.
Coconut is not a traditional ingredient in IPA, but here we are. A whopping 280 pounds of lightly toasted coconut are added to a base IPA of 7.7 percent alcohol by volume and 90 IBUs (international bitterness units). Six hop varities -- Centennial, Amarillo, Calypso, Simcoe, Belma, and Australian Helga -- were used.
The beer pours a bright orange into a tulip glass. It smells hoppy and familiar, a nose stuffed with grapefruit that is typically Stone. I don't get coconut in the aroma.
The first sip is all IPA, but then the coconut rushes in. It's a pleasant burst in the middle, showing itself before the hops take over. This is a strong IPA, fittingly bitter, but the coconut provides a pleasant twist. I really, really like it.
The next beer is a gimmick based on an entirely different kind of ingredient. Hops are a beer standard, but the Cluster hop fell out of fashion some time ago. With bright, lemony hops all the rage, the sturdy Cluster has taken a back seat.
Beer geeks of a certain generation will be interested to know that Cluster was used in Ballantine Brewery's first IPA recipe. In a lighthearted press release, Stone and Smuttynose agree that "Cluster's Last Stand" is as good of a pun-inspired name for a beer as any. The beer doesn't pretend to be the best possible product these two great breweries can make.
I pour the beer into a tulip glass and smell pine and dark earth; no big waves of orange or melon.
There isn't a lot a lot of citrus in the taste, either. It's bitter, weighing in at 62 IBUs and 8.4 perceent ABV. The beer finishes damp. Is that a thing? This is not my favorite IPA. Better to seek out an old standby from either brewery.