At the end of 2014, and early 2015, Stone Brewing Co. announced that they were bidding adieu to some long-standing brands within their lineup. One of the brews getting the Dear John letter was their flagship and first brew, Stone Pale Ale, which caused a lot of the consumer base to wonder why they were getting rid of what could be considered their firstborn. The questions and comments were pretty much the same across social media and online sites stating things like "Such a good beer, why get rid of it?" or "Sad to see it go. Was one of my first craft beers." The answer to why it is on it's way out is somewhat embedded in the statements and questions themselves.
It might have been one of your first craft beers, but how long ago was it? Stone Pale Ale has been on the market for nearly 20 years now. When it first debuted in 1996, it was ahead of it's time and something that the beer community had never really experienced before. It was new. It was different. Plenty of people didn't even like it.
Breweries like Stone, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada were pioneers of the craft beer scene. They helped lead the way to bring bolder, flavorful beer to the forefront. Just like many other breweries, they continue to develop and branch out, which means sometimes change is in the air.
NUMBERS DON'T LIE
Putting out new beers each year isn't a small task when you have a large production schedule of core brands that you need to maintain. Places like Surly Brewing and Three Floyds have been fighting to keep up with demand and a growing distribution plan for a long while now. Trying to sneak in a collaboration or a special release can be difficult. Taking a look at the numbers and sales of different brands, Stone saw a decline in some of their core offerings. With consumers wanting bigger, bolder and different takes on beers, some of the great go-to beers aren't moving anymore.
As a beer geek and someone always willing to try a beer that I haven't had before, I am guilty of walking into my local store and perusing the aisles looking for a new label and passing up everything else. After logging over thousands of unique beers, a consumer will start to narrow the field of interest, focusing on certain styles or types. Nowadays some patrons won't even touch a beer if it hasn't seen time in a barrel. This type of approach to beer buying puts the "older" beers on the back burner and out of interest. The craft beer consumer isn't like the standard BMC drinker where it's a case of MGD every time without fail. We'll pick up a sixer of one of these core beers if going to a party or there's a chance to convert a craft beer virgin, but we're no longer consuming the volume that is going to keep it on the shelf.
One of the options to adjust with the decline of sales would be to scale back production on those certain products and not release as much since the demand is low. The other approach is cutting it altogether to make room for future projects and the beers that people are still clamoring for. In Stone's case, it was the latter.
WHAT THIS 2.0 STUFF MEANS FOR BEER
Within the plan to let go of the core brands, Stone planned to release a revitalized version of two of it's more influential beers, Stone Pale Ale 2.0 and Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0. This reboot shows that even a giant in the beer scene isn't going to rest on their laurels and keep churning out product for the historical sake of it. Stone's policy has always been to replace out of code beer on shelves and now they are taking it a step further by replacing beer that is out of buyer's interest.
Developing a 2.0, or next step version of a product has always been a sense of updating for companies. The apps on your phone are updated regularly with patches, fixes and performance enhancements, which upgrades to beer recipes work in the same way. Brewers may recognize that a brand isn't performing as well as it did in years past and so they look to develop it further.
As the industry grows and consumer taste and interest shifts, we may be seeing more breweries doing this. It's admitting that the landscape is changing and what once was a stable brand may no longer be as relevant or groundbreaking. Is it still good beer? Of course it is, but getting rid of stagnant brands is like spring cleaning. You get rid of the stuff you haven't touched in over a year to make room for cool new stuff you've had your eye on or don't yet know you need. Coming up with new recipes is always a task for brewers, especially those who have been at it for nearly two decades. Updating an iconic beer can be just as daunting but shows initiative for improvement and development and remaining relevant in a changing landscape.
STONE'S 2.0 OFFERINGS
STONE PALE ALE 2.0 :: The nose is big on fruit and hops. Orange peel followed by a bit of resin and some earthy/grassy characteristic. The hops are very present but come off more as the citrus fruit than overly piney or super bitter.
The malt bill is comprised of mainly pilsner malt and then about 10% of it is rye. Just that 10% is enough to give it a bit of a spice and grainy edge. The pilsner malt provide a very crisp and clean foundation with minimal sweetness while the rye elevates it just enough to be different.
Put up against the first iteration, you can see a clear difference and the malts alone play a big part.
STONE RUINATION DOUBLE IPA 2.0 :: In all honesty, this beer had a lot to prove. Going up one of the all time highest rated double IPAs ever made, something had to be spot on and amazing to keep up what the original Ruination was.
The 2.0 is made with all German ingredients. The the nose showcase a pleasant boat load of hops that are both fruity and pine forward. The Citra and Centennial hops bring a ton of melon and tropical fruit goodness and the addition of the Simcoe ushers in some serious bitterness.
The flavor is super crisp and lighter than expected. The tropical fruits are heavy on citrus and give a nice citric bite in the taste. The malts are slightly sweet and pave a great foundation for the hops to blend well.