If there’s anything that Stone Brewing Company’s collaboration series has revealed about the brewery, it’s that Stone is eager to bring together disparate elements not typically found in a single beer. Look no further than 2012’s heavily lauded release of Dayman Coffee IPA. I personally didn’t care much for the high-octane combination of coffee and West Coast hops, but it was a bold, adventurous experiment that had no trouble piquing my curiosity. And ultimately, in the craft beer world, that novelty is worth a whole lot.
Stone’s Suede Imperial Porter, a collaboration with 10 Barrel Brewing Co. in Bend, Ore. and Bluejacket Brewery in Washington, D.C., is similarly schizophrenic in its conception but works surprisingly well. To its strong, 9.6% ABV base is added “Calendula flowers, jasmine and honey,” not exactly a trifecta of ingredients that one would typically associate with dark beer.
In fact, at first glance, such floral additions seem to fit much more into the world of hop-forward beer. That’s where one typically sees herbal or floral additions into a brew kettle—they complement the same variety of flavors that American (and especially European) hops impart. To attempt the same thing here is to ask how floral notes will complement the expected roasted backdrop of an imperial porter.
The aroma of Suede is lightly floral, with a potpourri-like quality that is just barely present over more dominant impressions of nuttiness and light-roasted coffee. The aromatics aren’t particularly strong, but the pleasant characteristics of a well-made porter are most present.
The taste is more complex, with flavors of jasmine and dark fruit (raspberry, blackberry) that are braced by an undercurrent of bitter, dark chocolate. Sweetness is moderate, mainly showing up on the back end with a surprisingly strong alcohol note. Tasting it, I’d forgotten this was a 9.6% ABV beer, and the booziness showed up to remind me in a way that is strong but not excessive.
The floral and perfume-like characteristics are, by and large, well balanced with this beer’s heart as an imperial porter. Everything works well in unison, and I dare say this flavor palette might very well be better suited to a dark beer than a pale ale or IPA. Rather than getting lost in the shuffle of citrusy American hops, difficult to pick out and authenticate, here they provide an interesting contrast to a typical dark beer profile. It’s not a combination that will set the world on fire, but it was certainly an experiment worth making.
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. in collaboration with 10 Barrel and Bluejacket
City: Escondido, Calif.
Style: Imperial porter /w spices
Availability: 22 ounce bottles, limited release