April 14 2015 06:19 PM

A classic beer is being retired, and a fan recalls a first meeting


I'll never forget the first time I met Stone Ruination IPA. Note my phrasing there. I didn't actually consume the beer. At the time, I thought it more prudent to regard the bottle in silent terror. I was new to craft beer and fresh off having my taste buds pummeled by a sip of Arrogant Bastard Ale. I had already been weighed by Stone Brewing Company's worthiness scale, and been found wanting. Subjecting myself to something more ruinous seemed a fool's errand.

This is where the story could have ended. It's not as if the ale chastised me for my cowardice, fueling a desire for some spectacular redemption. There was no necessity to ever have it darken my pint glass. Yet, every time I randomly encountered Stone Ruination IPA at a party or store, I could feel its steely, dismissive gaze drilling into me. I knew what I had to do.

If it were possible to condense a couple of years worth of casually sipping beer into an inspirational training montage (accompanied by "Eye of the Tiger"), I'd insert it here. I sought out every new beer I could get my hands on. The more bitter the better. I didn't relish everything I drank, but each IPA incrementally bolstered my resolve. My palate was being reborn, forged within the fiery depths of Mount Lupulus and itching for a rematch.

Eventually, that first sip of Ruination IPA was a revelation. It was like a hop concussion, battering my senses with all manners of alpha acid alchemy. It was jarringly bitter to be sure, but it was startlingly flavorful in equal measure. I knew immediately that I didn't like it.

This epiphany was odd and painful for me. I had finally conquered this massive brew, but in doing so, I found all I really craved was to enjoy it. I quietly stewed over this realization, barely aware of the resiny pine and grapefruit notes still echoing from the corners of my mouth. That's when a new thought emerged: I didn't hate it, either.

In that moment, Stone Ruination IPA taught me a lesson I've carried with me since. Between the binary options of like and dislike, there's significant latitude for appreciation. This potent potable wasn't a mountain to be climbed. It was an attempt to articulate a different notion of what beer could be. Sipping this beer was an invitation to that conversation. At the time it wasn't for me, but the aspects that others celebrated about it were no longer opaque. This was a beer that made me want to write about beer.

Despite Stone Ruination IPA eventually becoming one of my longtime favorites, I'm not mourning its imminent departure. It's being retired. Stone Brewing won't take its legacy lightly. I fully expect Stone Ruination IPA 2.0 to be no less the behemoth its predecessor was. I will, however, miss that familiar mustard-yellow gargoyle logo that's since been offering me a cursory nod of respect.

Write to ianc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com, or follow @iancheesman on Twitter or read his blog, iancheesman.wordpress.com.