Artwork by Ian Cheesman
The term "stochasticity" is quite a mouthful. I would wager many reviews of Stochasticity Project's "Grapefruit Slam IPA" will use their first paragraph as an opportunity to define the term, because it's a useful segue into the beer itself. But I'm going to offer another term for consideration: Chris Gaines.
If that name doesn't land with you, don't sweat it. Not recognizing an ancient country / pop music crossover reference only certifies you as vastly younger or cooler than I. Chris Gaines was the quickly abandoned alter ego of onetime country-music demigod Garth Brooks. This ill-advised reinvention produced more sniggers than platinum hits and was quickly dispatched to the same musical retirement home as Ziggy Stardust and Hannah Montana.
While I feel this knowledge is its own reward, I do have a reason for the digression. The Stochasticity Project isn't some secretive cabal of faceless brewers. When you pull back the curtain, the Great and Powerful Oz is really just a re-branded Stone Brewing Co. Stone's fingerprints are detectable in everything from the brewery name ("Kochenwagner"-a portmanteau of its co-founders surnames) to the gargoyle watermark lurking in the bottle art like those images that resist emerging from the static of Magic Eye artwork. The Stochasticity Project is Stone Brewing with a long sweep of bangs over its eyes and a soul-patch crudely pasted to its lip.
I certainly don't begrudge Stone Brewing the creative license to release beers in this manner, but I don't get it, either. I can't fathom why the brewery often known for its bombastic and intensely flavorful creations wanted a vehicle to release a bombastic and intensely flavorful beer. It feels forced and silly, not unlike an aging country singer insisting to his management team that he should definitely be putting on guyliner and doing pouty photo shoots. Then again, I could be thinking way too much about this. For all I know, this beer was released under a new umbrella purely for tax reasons or something similarly business-y. But when I look at this bottle, I can't shake the feeling that Puff Daddy is standing in front of me, refusing to answer to anything but "Diddy".
My prickliness over the branding aside, the Gainesfruit Slam IPA is built on the playful idea of merging the grapefruit characteristics that arise from Centennial and other northwestern hops with actual grapefruit rinds in the boil. The technique works like gangbusters, too: The aromas of grapefruit and citrus rind don't so much waft out of this beer as erupt from it. It's every deliciously citrus-forward IPA you've ever smelled amplified to an almost ridiculous degree.
The grapefruit peel produces a similarly intense citrus presence in the flavor, but it's far more jarring. It really illustrates the gap between beers described as having "citrus notes" and this brew's unmistakable wallop of grapefruit. Another interesting side effect of this formulation is that its bitterness has an unusually oily persistence. It fiercely clings to your lips and the corners of your mouth, significantly extending the life of each sip.
I am by no means a beer-style purist, but this strikes me as the first stage in the evolution of a new style (grapefruit pale ale?) rather than an extension of the IPA. The grapefruit flavor is so potent that it actually starts to taste of real grapefruit, though not in such a way that you couldn't tell the difference. When a beer approaches the Uncanny Valley threshold for flavor, taxonomic considerations should be on the table.
Yet for all my pseudo-intellectual distress and marketing gripes, there's no shaking the fact that I'm warming to it. The malt presence gives it a chewy mouthfeel that's pretty satisfying and, after a few sips, the flavors feel a bit less labored. It manages to be peculiar and wholly familiar in the same session. In the same way that viewers of The Polar Express overcame their initial revulsion from the dead CGI eyes littering the screen, I'm realizing that any beer that makes me really hunker down and study it like this is unquestionably interesting.
I may not be sold on this IPA, but it's guaranteed that I'll pick up the next Stochasticity Project brew with great anticipation and curiosity.