Stone's "Enjoy By" is a double IPA that they have released to alleviate a single problem: deteriorating hop quality. As we all know some beers are able to be aged if kept properly and that aging can alter the flavor of the beer. This can often yield some pleasing results and sometimes can do more harm than good. Hoppy beers and those with high alcohol content are often good candidates for aging as both of those qualities were originally popularized thanks to their powers of preservation. However, while hops may act as a preservative, the qualities that we all love that hops imbue to beer tend to fade rapidly as the hopped beer ages. In rare instances, this can work out, but more often than not it is less desirable and a far cry from the original intent of the brewer.
The deterioration has implications in aging, but also on the shelves. How do you know if your IPA or other hop dependent beers are fresh? How do you know you're getting the best tasting, least decayed, brewer-intended flavors? Stone provides an answer to this problem with their "Enjoy By" series. Other brewers simply use "brewed on" dates on their bottles or cans, but Stone is definitely putting their dates front and center in an attempt to promise drinkers a fresh, tasty, hoppy experience. If you were buying a hoppy beer, wouldn't one of the factors to consider be the freshness of the brew? Stone hopes so. Time to see what they're offering. Though with an IPA from Stone, a consistent maker of hop heavy styles, one can generally count on high quality. I wanted to drink one as close to the date as possible to have it at its "worst" and see how it holds up. Let's pour!
It's got almost every hoppy aroma that I can think of short of wood, pepper, and herb. First sniffs are beautiful and sweet, full of pineapple, pine, sweet sticky caramel malts, and grape fruit. As the drink warms more grassy and musty notes arrive and they grow more noticeable to tame the amazing initial aroma. It only grows to a moderate intensity, blending with the sweetness for balance, but not covering or overtaking it.
When first poured, the beer is capped with a peach pastel colored head that slowly fades to ivory shades as the beer trapped within is drawn to its brothers below. That beer pours a golden orange shade that is screaming for fall to arrive. It is a slightly hazed beer in an earthy tangerine hue. The colored head won me over.
Not what I was expecting. Given the nose of this beer, I anticipated a nice sweet introduction full of those sugary caramel malts and a grove's worth of citrus. In the words of the venerable Judge Smails, "You'll get nothing and like it!" The malts at the beginning were neutral at best or completely destroyed by the mothership of hop bitterness that just landed on my tongue. OK, so maybe it's not the mothership, but it's enough to destroy any other flavors and it looks like it's headed for the White House. Maybe a splash of citrus survives this resin onslaught, but little else. I wrote down earlier that I could find a semblance of the caramel, but I may have been drinking at the time. All there is now is a distant citrus, plentiful black pepper, and lots of bitter of the back of my tongue. Oddly, the finish shows some malt! The beer's body clearly indicates that Stone didn't skimp on adding malt, but you're hard pressed to find much of it in the flavor. The finish instantly ends the black pepper flavors and continues the bitter. This doesn't even give the illusion of balance, even if the caramel and alcohol heat do become slightly more present as the beer warms.
Body is great for a DIPA, big without being a chore to drink. Peppery tingles remain on the tongue for some time after swallowing and carbonation is spot on perfect for a beer of this size - it permits for texture while largely staying out of the picture. This beer is 9.4% ABV and is camouflaged but can be detected in a few of the exhales when you take a break between sips.
Overall Impression 6/10
One dimensional beers just don't win me over. Now, I will say that I have had other Stone "Enjoy By" dates both on draught and in bottles and I recall enjoying those more than I did this. The aroma was incredible, the mouthfeel was spot on for a DIPA, the ABV well hidden, and the appearance was solid. The flavor was the only thing that I felt was not on par for Stone's normally superior performance in the realm of Americanized IPAs.
Of course my first thought is, "Did I let it get to close to the 'enjoy by' date? Should I have drank it earlier?" Maybe. However, if Stone says it's good for another 2 days, then they'd know better that I would. Besides, isn't that what this whole beer is about: making sure the beer is fresh and providing a date with which you shoul expect a lower quality? In their defense, I suppose I drank it toward the tail end of its optimum freshness, but I also suppose that I still expected excellence inside of that date. Granted, excellence was not far off. In fact, in every category where flavor was not a factor this beer received perfect marks! However, the hop bitterness seized control like an ambitious despot and cruelly subjugated its inferiors. Do the hops play nicer in fresher batches? Undoubtedly. However, this beer just goes to show exactly what it sets out to: fresher is better. If this is it close to its worst, you know it's worth picking up earlier from that date. For those that like bitter beer, you could even pick this up after the date on its bottle, otherwise don't expect a lot beyond the bitter of an otherwise fantastic DIPA.