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Blind Taste Test — Ranking Five Beers From Stone Brewing

Stone Brewing has become a cornerstone of the craft beer industry (and a bit of a lightning rod within it). Over the past 25 years, the brewery has helped put San Diego on the map when it comes to quality and inventive craft brewing. Along the way, they’ve released hundreds of brews — from special one-off collabs to classic reinventions.

Across the decades, it’s the brewery’s pale ales and IPAs that make up the heart of their output. That’s how Stone made its name and they’ve been wise not to stray too far from that sweet spot.

For this week’s blind tasting, I’m going to be trying five beers from Stone — a lager, two IPAs, a Strong Ale, and an American Ale. Through a partnership with BrewDog Berlin, Stone was still brewing their beers in Germany for the European market. But they moved their brewing to the East Coast recently while making their beer an import to Europe. That means I can still get these at my grocery store — a long-ass way from San Diego.

The point of the blind tasting is to get a feel for the beers in random order. Which ones offer the best flavor and feel right now (during the end of a pandemic, beginning of spring, the collapse of capitalism, etc.)? How do they stack up as representatives of their respective styles? Which ones do I want to finish right away?

All good questions. Let’s dig into the answers!

Part 1: The Blind Taste

Zach Johnston

Taste 1:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Wow. The orange-lime vibe on this beer is really clear. The taste has a nice malty oatiness with a slight tropical fruit counterpoint. Nothing is over-done. The malts, citrus, and fruit are all really subtle.

This is nice but pretty light.

Taste 2:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

I can see this is a lager from that thin yellow color. The nose and taste is very light lime that builds towards a lime cordial in the bottom of a glass of seltzer water. There’s a touch of malt in the base but, in the end, this feels more like a lime hard seltzer than a lager.

If that’s the point, then they hit it out of the park.

Taste 3:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Hello, caramel malts! This is interesting. There’s a bit of dry grapefruit pith next to a slight savory fruit note, similar to papaya, and a touch of pine. There’s plenty to enjoy here but it’s those rich caramel malts that steal the show.

Taste 4:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This starts with a slightly lighter caramel malt that’s got this toffee and pine resin vibe underneath. The sip holds onto the dank and sweet caramel while adding in a touch of citrus brightness and maybe a hint of pineapple.

This is really well balanced and I kind of want the rest of the can immediately.

Taste 5:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This dark beer is obviously Arrogant Bastard. I can tell from the look and the taste. The sip is full of well-roasted malts with a choco-coffee bitterness next to plenty of piney hop dank and a nice note of earthy … almost mushroom? Maybe moss. But it all comes back to those dark mocha malts and that subtle, dank hoppiness.

Part 2: The Ranking

Zach Johnston

5. Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager (Taste 2)

Stone Brewing Co.

Style: American Lager

ABV: 4.7%

Average Price: $17.99, 12-pack

The Beer:

This light lager is built as a crushable session beer. The brew is lightly hopped with Liberty hops and then spiked with salt and lime, creating a ray of beach sunshine in the bottle.

Bottom Line:

If it was 105 degrees out and I was on the beach, I’d crush these all day. It’s low-ABV and crazy easy to drink. Still as a lager … it was very light. Nothing wrong with that, just not my thing when it’s still only 55 degrees outside.

4. Neverending Haze IPA (Taste 1)

Stone Brewing Co.

Style: NEIPA

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $11.49, six-pack

The Beer:

This is Stone’s sessionable New England IPA. The brew utilized the classic duo of Citra and Mosaic hops to bring the fruitiness. The ABVs are fairly low for a NEIPA, all things considered — making this pretty easy to drink.

Bottom Line:

This is another sip that suffered from it not being summer. I never would have guessed it was a NEIPA, given how thin the body was (which is the point). Still, this didn’t quite grab my attention like the next three beers did.

Refreshing? Yes. Crushable? 100 percent. Do I need it in my life? Not at the moment.

3. Arrogant Bastard Ale (Taste 5)

Stone Brewing Co.

Style: American Strong Ale

ABV: 7.2%

Average Price: $12.99, six-pack

The Beer:

This beer comes from Stone’s “Arrogant Consortia.” The beer has become a mainstay of the craft beer scene, especially on the West Coast. The brew is built to highlight the West Coast IPA vibe of deeply roasted malts next to dank AF hoppiness.

Bottom Line:

This has always been one of those beers I order one of off the tap when I show up and then move onto the next thing. It was fine out of the can. The malts really stood out and were well balanced with the hops.

Yeah … this is tasty, maltier than I remember, and worth another look the next time I can get it off the tap.

2. Stone Ripper (Taste 3)

Stone Brewing Co.

Style: American Pale Ale

ABV: 5.7%

Average Price: $11.57, six-pack

The Beer:

Ripper is a high-end pale ale. The brew mixes in hops from the Pacific Northwest and Australia (mostly Galaxy). The idea is to push the dankness to the borders of what pale ale can be, without going full West Coast dank like an IPA.

Bottom Line:

This one stood out. Those caramel malts were rich and sweet yet that grapefruit kept it in check. I definitely can see drinking this on a long weekend.

1. Stone IPA (Taste 4)

Stone Brewing Co.

Style: American IPA

ABV: 6.9%

Average Price: $11.99, six-pack

The Beer:

This is the West Coast IPA that helped launch a whole damn movement around the world. The idea behind this West Coast beer is to find that special balance between malt underbelly and the dank and fruity hoppiness. It takes tons of hops to do that and this is loaded with Magnum, Chinook, Centennial, Azacca, Calypso, Motueka, Ella, And Vic Secret hops.

It’s a lot, but they make it work.

Bottom Line:

This was the one beer that really shined the brightest today. It was crisp, just the right amount of malty, and had that perfect balance of fruit and dank. This was the can I finished out of the bunch.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Zach Johnston

Looking back now (a couple of hours later), I think I might have ranked the lager a little bit low. It’s creeping into my head and I want a little more. Or that might just be a latent need for summer to be here already.

Still, there’s a reason Stone IPA is a classic beer. It really hits a nice balance and is very easy-drinking. I was pleasantly surprised by the Ripper as well, but it was a little more caramel malt forward and that was hard to get away from compared right next to the Stone IPA.

In the end, the Stone IPA really had no competitors. That being said, I wouldn’t turn away any of these beers, depending on the season.

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