It’s amazing how, in the world of India pale ale, something like a new hop varietal can appear overnight and then just be EVERYWHERE. A month ago, I’d never heard the name “Vic Secret” as applied to hops before. Then I first read about them as one of the key hops in the new, all-Australian hopped IPA from Oskar Blues. Here we are a few weeks later, and I’ve now seen the name in around four other new or upcoming beers, as if the market is being blasted with Vic Secret hops to announce its arrival from “Hop Products Australia,” the same group that also produces varieties such as Galaxy, Topaz and old-school Australian hops like Pride of Ringwood.
Stone’s new 19th anniversary beer, Thunderstruck IPA, is one of these new beers featuring four Australian hop varietals: Vic Secret, Ella, Topaz and Galaxy, which is only one variety different (Enigma) than the hop bill of the Oskar Blues offering. Worth noting is that this IPA (actually a DIPA at 8.7% ABV) also uses exclusively Australian malt, which is something I can’t say I’ve ever really seen in the marketing copy of an American craft brew before. It’s clear that the plan was to capture some straight-up Australian terroir. And the finished product is really quite delightful.
This is an intensely aromatic beer intended for the hophead purist. The nose is very big, “smell it as soon as you open the bottle” big, with huge tropical and white wine character. The fruitiness is unmistakeable, but it’s also very complex and tough to pin down. One moment it’s melon, and then you’re thinking that you’re getting some red berries, and then orangey citrus. There’s a tad of caramel/bready malt character in the aroma as well—just enough to note that it’s not completely and utterly a hop showcase, although it really is in all fairness.
On the palate, it’s again very fruity; big surprise, I know. Bitterness is moderate—Mitch Steele talks up the bitterness as hugely intense in the beer’s marketing video, but I actually found the character of it quite soft and palatable, which makes it drink significantly easier than you might expect. It’s certainly not so bitter as some of the punishing DIPAs we’ve been tasting in our current blind-tasting of DIPAs this month. Of course, this one is in that sort of “overgrown IPA”/”miniature DIPA” middle ground where it takes on the in-your-face aromatics and hop flavors of a single IPA but brings in a little bit more of the booziness and even a bit of the dried fruit flavors of a DIPA. Despite huge tropical fruit flavors of things like mango, I have to note again that the malt is not an afterthought. It brings a bit more in that dimension to the party than say, Enjoy By or Ruination 2.0.
Regardless, though, Enjoy By is definitely the beer of the Stone portfolio that shares the most DNA with Thunderstruck. In terms of intensity of presentation they’re very similar—Thunderstruck simply swaps out the more dank and classic American west coast palette of flavors from Enjoy By (which does actually use some Australian hops as well in Galaxy) for ones that are unmistakably coming at you out of the Southern hemisphere. It wears its Australian-ness like a “Hi, my name is ____” sticker on its chest.
Ultimately, this is a very well-executed, lighter-bodied DIPA for chasers of big, fruity hop flavors that sneakily delivers a bit more complexity than initially expected. It’s one of the best hoppy beers I’ve had from Stone since the first release of Enjoy By.
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
City: Escondido, CA
Style: American DIPA
Availability: Limited, 22 oz bottles
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he digs Australian hops. You can follow him on Twitter.