As someone who tends not to drink coffee on a regular basis I’ve always been skeptical about the inclusion of them in my beer. Most of the time you will find that it’s predominantly kept to hefty stouts and porters, but every so often breweries like to push the boundaries of what is typically acceptable. Nowadays you can find the occasional coffee blond ale, or the less surprising coffee brown ale- either of those don’t seem quite as out-of-bounds as you might think–although tasting coffee in a beautifully golden beer is a bit off-putting. Blonde ales are conducive to adapting other flavors due to their low bitterness, but what if someone decided to take the world most bitter style of beer and throw some coffee it in? Like Stone Brewing Company’s new Mocha IPA.
Stone is not the first to cross this threshold. It’s also not their first try. Many might remember just before Stone was available almost everywhere you looked they released their Dayman Coffee IPA. I was not fortunate enough to try that one to compare it to the recent release of Mocha IPA, but one can assume that they are not all that dissimilar. Mocha IPA is of the imperial variety and uses the talents of Cascade, Citra, and Amarillo hops to pair with the cocoa and coffee flavors. Before we get to that though, the beer pours a deep copper with a thin off-white head. Stone’s reputation of adding crazy amounts of hops to their beer generally sets an expectation when it comes to aroma. The super citrus tones are mostly absent on the nose, replaced by a somewhat funky mix of citrus, cocoa, and coffee. None of the aromas come through cleanly and leave a bit to be desired–the dankness of the hops seems muddled by stale coffee and dark chocolate/fudge notes.
Heading into the first sip I feel it’s important to note that Mocha IPA clocks in at 80 IBUs. This is notable because their regular non-imperial IPA comes in at 77 IBUs. So the jump from standard IPA to double generally amps up the bitterness, add in coffee and the mind conjures up a bitter bomb of a beer. Mocha IPA gets there (mostly as it warms), but the chocolate on the front end of the palate helps warm you up for the coffee and hop bitterness on the back end. Each sip sort of begins like a chocolate covered fruit and evolves to mostly pleasant coffee and a lingering chocolate finish. However, as the beer begins to warm just minutes after pouring the bitterness climbs and the aftertaste becomes vegetal and quite unpleasant.
In the end, a coffee IPA is a concept that in theory doesn’t sound like it should work. With some tweaks I think Stone’s Mocha IPA could eventually be one of the better examples should the style survive beyond being gimmicky. Mocha IPA is at it best cracking right out of the fridge and not letting it linger to long–especially on a hot day. For a one and done experience the beer works more than it doesn’t, but could stand to undergo a facelift or two.