If you’re a fan of super hoppy beer, there are plenty of outstanding, extra bitter options for you. And while I love a massively flavorful double IPA as much as the next beer nerd, they’ve got one major tradeoff that craft beer usually doesn’t pay much attention to: ABV.
Bell’s Two Hearted is 7%. Brooklyn Blast! is 8.4%. Surly Abrasive Ale is 9%. They’re all great beers that are well worth ordering, but drink more than two and you’re asking for trouble. By comparison, Bud Light — not a good beer by any stretch of the imagination, but the country’s most popular — is 4.2%. So what’s an IPA-loving beer nerd to do if you’re out drinking a few rounds but don’t want to get too drunk? Switch to a less alcoholic (and less hoppy) style, or just drink less beer. That’s usually the extent of your options.
Enter the session IPA. “Session” is a general term for beers that you can drink a few of without overloading your taste buds or falling off your barstool. Until lately, it’s been mutually exclusive with the IPA, since a big dose of hops and a larger than usual amount of alcohol are intrinsic to the style. But now breweries are trying to impart those same flavors into lower ABV offerings, and Stone’s 4.5% ABV version caught my eye given their hoppy reputation.
Appearance: Crystal clear with a pale straw color. Almost no head.
Smell: Sweet with a tinge of apricot.
Taste: In a word: bland. That’s not to say that it lacks in flavor, but the flavor that’s there just isn’t terribly interesting. The taste doesn’t follow the aroma at all, so instead of a sweet balance of hop flavors, all you get is a wall of bitterness and pale malts without much balance or complexity. Stone’s known for their generous hop doses, and this one’s no exception, but without the alcoholic sweetness to balance them out, the hops just taste bitter and one-note.
Mouthfeel: Thin and bubbly.
Overall: This is a noble effort, and the idea of an IPA that won’t leave you stumbling after a couple glasses is a terrific idea — in theory. But here’s the thing: alcohol in beer isn’t just there to get you hammered; it significantly affects the flavor. It’s why The Bruery’s Chocolate Rain and Black Tuesday taste so damn sweet, and why big double IPAs (when done right) can seem balanced instead of overloaded with straight-up bitterness. So if you keep the huge hop levels but reduce the alcohol to make a session IPA, the flavor takes a big hit to end up tasting plainly bitter and thin, which is precisely what happened here.
That said, this isn’t a terrible choice if you’re a fan of West Coast IPAs that have a more earthy, in-your-face bitterness. That’s Stone’s schtick, and they’ve built a huge empire based on it, so it’s not entirely fair to criticize Go To IPA for its brand consistency. So if you’re looking for something that’s big on bitterness in line with Stone’s other West Coast-style offerings, and won’t have you dizzy after two rounds, then by all means give this a shot. You’ll probably like it.
If you want something balanced and intriguing, though, this ain’t your beer.