Like many other beer lovers, India pale ale is the style that first turned me on to craft beer. The American version of IPA is uniquely defined by its strong hop character and intense flavors. A few weeks ago I reviewed a great example of the IPA style (Green Flash’s West Coast IPA), and I mentioned that brewers in California typically use far more flavorful hops in their IPAs than their counterparts on the East Coast. So what happens when Stone Brewing Co., a classic California brewery, takes one of its staple recipes and doubles the amount of hops? Well, you get “a stage dive into a mosh pit of hops,” as the label of Stone’s RuinTen IPA so boldly asserts. This week I nobly set out to verify the audacious claim.
Stone Brewing Co. was founded in 1996 by beer-loving buddies Steve Wagner and Greg Koch. Their current brewery location in Escondido, Calif., pumps out almost 200,000 barrels of beer per year. Adjacent to the brewery is a large restaurant and fairly awesome patio surrounded by an acre of gardens, and the rooftops are lined with solar panels that power the brewhouse. They also really love IPAs — so much so that brewmaster Mitch Steele recently wrote a 350-page treatise on the style, covering its history, brewing methods and typical recipes. Overall, Stone is doing it right.
RuinTen IPA was originally a special release in 2012 to mark the 10th anniversary of Stone’s classic Ruination IPA. To give a sense of just how many hops they packed into this beer, your typical Budweiser uses about a third of a pound of hops per barrel. In the spirit of Southern California excess, Stone uses a whopping five pounds per barrel in the RuinTen. That’s like an order of magnitude more hops!
Pouring the beer from a 22-ounce tall bottle into a pint glass, the color is a deep amber with an off-white head. It’s easy to tell that this beer is going to be a beast from the thick, syrupy lacing on the side of the glass. The aroma is, as expected, dominated by hops, with a subtle hint of sweet malt. For its size and strength, this beer goes down smoothly, and the moderate carbonation is just enough to bring out the hop aromas without interfering with the even mouthfeel. This beer is extremely bitter, full-bodied and strong. It is certainly not the beer of choice for your best friend’s birthday power hour. However, it is wonderfully balanced. Despite the maniacal amount of hops and the strength of the beer, neither the bitterness nor the alcohol is overpowering. It leaves you with a resiny, hoppy aftertaste that sticks to the tongue in the most pleasant way possible.
Man, if you love hops, this beer is a slam dunk. It’s a double rainbow. It’s the sound of a golf ball dropping into the hole. It’s Morgan Freeman talking about anything. Well, that’s fairly dramatic, but what I’m trying to say is that this beer is supremely satisfying to a hophead like me. As a word of caution, however, the combination of euphoria-inducing hop goodness and high alcohol content (10.8 percent ABV) may leave you feeling a little goofy after a few of these. By the end of the 22-ounce bottle, my tasting note sheet had devolved into a scribbly mess of hard-fought tic-tac-toe games and a competitive cursive-writing contest with a friend. There was even some calculus involved. Things might get silly with RuinTen, but it’s all worth it for this world-class brew.
ABV 10.8 percent
My ratings (out of 5):