The reformulated Stone Brewing Co. beers have hit the street; how do they stack up to the classics they replaced?
Two of the new takes on Stone's year-round beers are now available in bottles and on draft, and the craft brewery has introduced a new member of its Arrogant Bastard family. Let's take a look at how these redux brews stack up to their classic counterparts and how they fit into the fast-moving craft beer scene as a whole.
Stone Pale Ale 2.0
Making sweeping changes to one of the original recipes that helped put the brewery on the craft beer map was a big surprise for many. The classic Stone Pale Ale was a standout example of the American pale ale style that actually displayed a distinctive malt character under all those hops. It may not have been the flashiest craft brew on the tap list, but it was a stalwart.
Stone Pale Ale 2.0 is a complete departure. The rich, caramel backbone of the original has been replaced by a dry and subdued malt presence, and the classic pine-and-citrus hop character has morphed into a more modern profile that's tropical and complex. The new beer has a higher perceived bitterness, but the lighter body keeps it plenty drinkable.
With the increasing popularity of the "session IPA" — a style which many beer taxonomists are quick to point out is just another name for an American pale ale — and the popularity of Stone's entry into the fad with Go To IPA, many questioned the need for both a pale ale and a SIPA in the brewery's lineup. Pale Ale 2.0 and Go To IPA are actually very complementary. The session IPA is both lighter and more bitter than the Pale, and the latter is a great alternative for drinkers who are put off by the extremely light body Go To.
While the original Stone beer being put to pasture was a little sad, the news that the brewery would also reformulate its ground-breaking Ruination was met with cries of anguish from the double IPA's many devoted fans. Ruination was a resinous hop assault that still managed to display the floral and fruity subtleties of American hop varieties for those who could get past the initial tongue-pummeling. Why would Stone mess with what might be the most perfect beer in its catalog?
The hop market and advancements in craft brewing drove the reformulation, and the new Ruination uses more modern hop varieties and some of the techniques that Stone has developed to shoehorn the most hop flavor into a brew. The results are actually not that big a departure from the original recipe.
Ruination 2.0 is still a sustained hop assault on your palate that starts with a staggering punch of resinous hop flavor before taking your tongue on a ride through a myriad of fruit flavors and ending in a long-lingering bitter finish. It's different than the original, to be sure, but the changes are subtle and probably will be forgotten by the end of the glass.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard
The final new Stone Beer isn't a reformulation as much as a realization of what an old beer should have been. Stone removed the Oaked Arrogant Bastard variation from its year-round offerings late last year, and the new Bourbon Barrel Aged version of the signature American Stone Ale has stepped into the family of boastful brews. And it is the rare beer that can actually live up to the hype (even Stone's infamously hyperbolic marketing copy).
The new Pale Ale is a bit underwhelming, but it's an understandable departure from the classic, and the new Ruination is in the vein of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," but this new member of the Bastard lineup is going to blow the minds of bourbon-beer fans.
It has the deep caramel malt character and aggressive hop bitterness of classic Arrogant Bastard, but instead of the subtle oak quality of the discontinued Oaked variant or the overwhelming booze-hit of so many bourbon barrel aged brews, Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard has balance. There is an intense barrel character but only a hint of whiskey heat. You can actually taste the char and the wood and the malt and the hops. The brew is a shade under 8% alcohol, which is quite low for a bourbon barrel aged beer, but this means you can actually enjoy a whole bottle without blowing out your palate (or needing to take a nap).