The trip to Cardinal Liquors in Joliet on Friday netted a couple of great surprises. When I walked in, the guys behind the counter weren’t too busy. I asked the one guy who has helped me in the past, “What do you have that’s new?”
He showed me two 12-ounce beers from behind the counter from a brewery I never heard of before. I registered my doubt with my express. Then he said, “How about Stone’s Enjoy By?” My eyes got big. Really? It’s here? He gestured me towards the shelves. Halfway down the first section, there it was, Stone’s Enjoy By IPA with the date glaringly obvious right on the front label: 12.13.13. Hell, the beer was still fresh.
I also found nearby a sixer of Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ which hasn’t been around these parts in quite a while. I’d partake of some of that later the same evening.
Back home, I read the story behind Stone’s Enjoy By from their website and especially from one of their videos. Also, another video explained the brewing process in general and the myriad hop varieties used in brewing the beer.
Each beer is given a 35 day shelf life starting from the day it was bottled. The beer is packaged and immediately loaded onto trucks bound for only certain regions of the country. It was obvious that this bottled beer was the freshest beer produced except for those coming from a brewery’s taps. Where the beer is trucked to depends on its fanbase on Facebook and Twitter and from emails to the brewery.
The whole idea was wonderful but the logistics must be a nightmare. It also brings up many questions. Is this beer in such high demand that it sells out before it’s Enjoy By date? If it doesn’t sell out, do they send the expired beer back to Stone? Or does the store discount past the date?
The labeling alone must be nuts. Each month or thereabouts, a new label with a new date is generated. Does California have to approve every label as other states do? About 10 or 11 per year? The label machine must go through tons of green ink each run.
I don’t think that any other reputable craft brewery wants to take on an endeavor as ambitious as this one that Stone’s doing. I would think that many brewers craft their beers for a certain given shelf life time duration, say 3 months or so.
I would think that on Stone’s Enjoy By brewing line, it’s go-go-go. Time is of the essence. From the day it’s bottled, the trucks have to be ready and the destinations determined. Everything has to work as planned. Some of the employees must be a big bag of nerves. From what I can tell, the system is working, marketing gimmick or not.
The Stone website gives users a clear picture of ship dates and status. They even have a countdown timer showing how much time is left before their Cinderella beer turns back into floor scrubber. As you can see above, the beer had an ETA in Illinois on the 13th. I bought it on the 16th. Any fresher than that and I’d have to suck off a hose attached to the finished beer tank at the brewery.
When it came time to drink and write about this beer, I didn’t know what to expect. The beer had to be good for them to continue making it month after month. I knew I’d I’d like.. hell, it’s STONE! I just didn’t know how diverse the taste would be and whether it was merely an exercise in hops or a really well crafted beer. I grabbed the first bomber and poured.
The beer had a nice orange color when poured. The liquid was perfectly clear with a carbonation bubble perking up every so often. The head was rather small, only about 3/8 of an inch but was quite white. The aroma held hop smells right off the bat. This should be good.
The first sip had a medium body and at the swallow, a very throat rasping hop bitterness that would rank it high on the hop Richter scale, if there was one. The beer was dry at the finish as well. A swallow and then most of the taste was gone. Not too much sweetness at the beginning, but hell, we’re just starting.
Halfway through the first glassful, more malt body and some sweetness emerged. The bitterness at the throat entrance remained unrelenting. The hop smack was quick, sharp, and brutal. Then it was gone. This beer was not comparable to Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker, although that did come to mind. This beer, with all of its barbs and nettles, was a bit more tolerable. You might say that if Palate Wrecker is a hop bomb, then this Enjoy By is a hop grenade à la the Brewing Network.
The hops seemed to come from both ends of the spectrum, citrusy and yellow fruits on one end, tropical and red fruits on the other. There was no particular fruit taste that I could focus my taste buds on. It was all fruits from all over. Kind of a hop fruit salad.
When the first glass was finally drained, a smile crept across my face and I thought, “This beer is pretty damn good.”
I wouldn’t say that this beer was purely an exercise in hops for hops’ sake, but rather an experiment in pushing the limit to just how hoppy a beer could be and still taste good. It’s much better to serve this beer a bit warmer, perhaps ten minutes or so after taking it out of the fridge. As I got to the bottom of the first glassful, more of the malt character and sweetness became up front and center. The beer became enjoyable as stated on the label. I was, quite frankly, (pfft!) surprised at how much better the beer tasted after it warmed a bit.
Outside of the hops (88 IBUs) the beer packs a big punch with its 9.4% alcohol, although no alcohol was tasted or heat felt in the gut. For me, this beer ranks up there with Firestone Walker’s Double Jack and the like being of equal hop bitterness. The hop fruit salad flavors gave Enjoy By a special distinction, though. I’ve learned, though, that once you get into the realm of comparing world-class DIPAs, you really can’t give an accurate comparison without having a glassful of the other beer(s) right there at the same time.
This was a great DIPA and I felt lucky to have found it and glad I finally got to experience the taste of this special beer. Keep an eye out for bombers of Enjoy By in your area. Each batch goes to different regions in the country. The next batch may come to yours. You can’t beat the price for what you taste.
Style: American Double/Imperial IPA
Taste: Explosive beer covered in late downy feathers.
Smoothness: Slick in front, evil in back.
Drinkability: Warm it up and the sips’ll go down nice and easy.
Bang for the buck: Great taste for not a lot of money.
Amount paid: $8.99 per 22-ounce bottle.
Get it again? Yes, but I’ll have to wait for the next run.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (sniff) Oh. (sniff) OH. Rancid fruit. Ew. (sip) It doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. But it’s bitter. (sip) Nah, not for me. (It’s torture for you every week, isn’t it.)
Greg Koch gives an overview of Enjoy By [2:55]
A Taste Tour with Mitch Steele [2:32]