Stone Brewing’s Levitation Ale Review (or Flight of the Bumblebee)
I’m going to have to revisit the beers of Stone Brewing.
I was a big fan of Stone from the start. The first beer of theirs I tried was the Arrogant Bastard. (I’ve got an old Arrogant Bastard t-shirt that I used to wear A LOT. In retrospect, me wearing that shirt might have been a bit redundant.) It was a really big, malty beer and it came in a big bomber bottle. The marketing silk screened on the bottle was amazing:
“This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory – maybe something with a multi-million dollar as campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this. ” – Arrogant Bastard Ale
I’m older and a little more jaded, but I think I would have loved anything that was in THAT bottle with THAT attitude back then. As it turns out, it was a good beer, too. Since that time, I’ve tried just about every beer of theirs that makes it out to the east coast. Most of it good, but almost all of it stepping just a little over the line into overwhelming.
I really want to love Stone, but their beers are a little too big, a little too sweet, and they depth charge your palate for the evening. These are bumblebee beers. Their bodies are way too big for their wings, but somehow they still fly.
I’ve collected a few of their Vertical Epics and seasonals, and I’ve laid them down to cellar and mellow, but I’ve largely ignored Stone over the last few years because they felt like extremely good one-trick-ponies. But then I came across their Levitation Ale.
Levitation is a session ale from Stone (4.4% alcohol), which feels like an oxymoron, so I had to pick up a six pack. Since this a low alcohol (lower original and final gravity beer), the Levitation name is obviously a play on that, and it is categorized as an American Amber Ale hopped with columbus, amarillo, simcoe and crystal hops.
This one starts out with a solid hop aroma. The simcoe is center stage with a nice, clean pine smell, and the citrus of the amarillo and spice of the crystal are the back drop. The beer is a deep ruby with light red highlights. The head is wispy, but persistent. The body is thin and approaching the gravity of water, but I’m not viewing that as a bad attribute. That comes with making a session beer.
The taste follows the aroma to a diminished degree. It is not as intense, but the citrus steps up and the pine falls behind. The bitterness is the thing that gets you. It is a full, deep bitter that coats and sizzles on the top of your tongue. Halfway through the glass, it lessens, but only because it has cut off your ear at this point and it is dancing around you to Stealers Wheel.
Is this one drinkable? Definitely. The bitterness is tough, like the first dip into a cold swimming pool, but you get used to it after a while. I could drink this all night and live to tell the tale, but I don’t think I’d switch back and forth between this and other beers. Levitation will ruin your taste buds.
It has that extreme….thing that Stone always has. They made a session beer, but they give it to you with 45 IBUs. Those bitterness units hit the low end of the style guidelines for an American IPA. Once again, it is one made on their own terms, and I can respect that.
I look forward to finishing the 6-pack and going back to some of their older beers. I expect that my tastes have changed, and I will think they are overwhelming and extreme. But, with the marketing messages that they use, at least they are walking the walk. Making a session beer hasn’t changed my impression of them, but the way they did it feels like an extension of who they are rather than bigness as a shtick.
I fully expect to take it all back with my next Stone review.