If you've attended more than one beer fest in San Diego, odds are pretty good you've encountered all of these: 1. Ballast Point pouring something that is 90-percent habaneros by volume, 2. Stone Brewing Co. breaking out its Smoked Porter varietals, 3. Some very embittered designated drivers.
Between those venues and the Stone Company Stores, the Stone Smoked Porter with vanilla beans or chipotle peppers weren't exactly rarities, but it definitely took an active interest to uncover them. Luckily, Stone understands that lazy people likewise deserve new beers, so, for the first time ever, they've bottled runs of both.
Brews like these are fantastic for fledgling beer snobs because their labels serve as a crib sheet for pontificating about them. Even beginners can pop off with, "Oh man, you can really taste the vanilla!" with nary a worry. More advanced drinkers can try to argue the merits of using vanilla beans from Madagascar versus Tahiti, so there's fun to be had by everybody.
The Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean is a dark-brown beer with a sharp mahogany undertone. The nose has the pungency of vanilla extract, but generally the addition of vanilla has a soothing effect on the brew. It enhances the malty chocolate notes and diminishes the roastier characteristics of the porter. While the vanilla's contribution is initially subtle, it's considerably more assertive (though not overbearing) in the finish. It would be an excellent porter to introduce those wary of the supposed potency of darker beers.
The body on the Stone Porter with Chipotle Peppers has a murkier brown tone with more of a cola coloring peeking around the edges. Its aroma is far smokier, with notes of red-pepper flakes and dark chocolate. Without the vanilla to soften the mix, the smoke and coffee notes are far more pronounced. The spice initially feels restrained, but the chipotle burn is cumulative. Not to be indelicate, but that spice will repeat on you one way or another, so make sure it's a flavor you celebrate prior to trying.
For those who'd like to see these beers enjoy a tenure beyond the proposed one-time release, I suggest that you storm Stone's brewery with pitchforks and torches, howling your demands. Stone Brewing Co. politely requests you visit stonebrew.com/vanillaorchipotle instead.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Ian blogs at iancheesman.wordpress.com and you can follow him on Twitter @iancheesman.