My first real introduction to 5 Stones Craft Brewing Company was when another beer blogger (The Beer Metal Dude, you can check out his site here) sent me an invite on Facebook to their open house. I had seen little bits about 5 Stones here and there, but I had never had a chance to actually try any of their beers as they were not yet (but are now) bottling, and have been somewhat rare on tap… at least, I hadn’t seen them. But I’d heard of them; though very fledgling to the brewing world, they were already gathering some buzz in the circles I run in for the fact that they pretty much don’t do anything “normal” or “easy.” There’s no plain ol’ plain ol’ type of beer in their repertoire, and the beer that I had head the most about was ALOHA PIÑA, which was a blonde ale, but not your average blonde ale: this one includes pineapple and roasted jalapeno. The open house was a great chance to check out their small but growing operations, meet Seth (the owner) and Paul (the head brewer) and test out quite a few of their beers, including the PIÑA which I was surprised to say I liked a lot as generally I’m not a fan of chile beers. When I heard that they had received TABC approval for their first lineup of bottle releases, I knew I needed to get in touch with them and do some reviews.
About the Brewery (from Facebook.com/5StonesBrewing):
We are a small batch nano-brewery located “down around” San Antone. Our primary focus is limited releases each season brewed with the freshest local ingredients we can get our hands on.
About the Beer (from the label):
5 Stones Craft Brewing Company Zero Anniversary Ale celebrates our excitement and hard work to even get to the starting line of opening a brewery. This ale is similar to a Belgian-style farmhouse saison with our unique additions. We use imported Pilsner, Aromatic, Wheat, and Acidulated malts along with local Texas honey and Tettnang hops to give a fruity, spicy, and flowery complexity to this ale. Two Belgian yeast strains contribute aroma, flavor, and a dry finish. Thank you so much for sharing in our celebration, try it now or age some to enjoy with future 5 Stones anniversaries!
Style: Belgian-Style Saison
Saison is quickly becoming one of my favorite styles of beer, and I am glad to see that it is finally starting to get a bit larger hold on the beer-drinking world. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this, the Beer Judge Certification Program defines saison as “A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity.” It is a style that originated from the French areas of Belgium (specifically Wallonia), and would be brewed in the fall and held onto until the next summer, and was a beer for the farmhands to drink to cool off after a hard day’s work. Now that the history lesson is over, lets get into ZERO.
ZERO flows into my glass and fills it with a beautiful bright blonde straw topped with a luxuriant ivory head. The effervescence diminishes rapidly, but leaves behind good lacing, as it should being a saison. This is actually something a saison is judged on: the beer’s “Belgian Lace” quality, and ZERO has that for sure. As I very happily remove more of this cloudy honey elixir from my glass, it leaves behind a roadmap of just where the beer has been. The aroma of ZERO is dominated by the standard Belgian esters, something that is kind of hard to explain if you don’t know what I’m talking about. The Belgian yeast bring with them a very complex variety of smells, and with a lighter bodied beer like ZERO they fall in the fruit range, much like pears and apples though there is no fruit in this beer. Along with that yeast-dominated fruitiness upfront, ZERO is backed up with a pilsner-like maltiness and a little underlying sweetness to its bouquet.
ZERO tastes almost exactly like how I would expect it to from the aroma, and how I had hoped it would being a fan of saison. Upfront it’s crisp, slightly fruity without being very sweet, and overall a dry beer. On the way out, the flavor hit you with a snappy bite from the hops. There is a distinct earthiness to the flavor that I really enjoy, and truthfully, was the only thing I thought ZERO was lacking in: more of this earthy, funky flavor. My favorite saisons have a bit of what your average beer geek would describe as “barnyard funk,” and while to the uninitiated this may sound like a really undesirable thing, the barnyard flavor is a very complex, earthy, hard to describe wonderfulness that just makes me happy. It usually comes from the presence of Brettanomyces in the beer, and I know ZERO does not have any brett in there, but maybe a future release (maybe the One Year Anniversary Ale???) could include a bit of this funk to kick the saison up into a funkier place. The Belgian yeast really influences the flavor on the ZERO as well as the addition of Honey, which almost pushes this beer a bit closer to tripel territory, while still marinating it’s hold on being a saison. This would be a great beer to introduce your friends to the world of saisons before jumping into the more out-there stuff.
The mouthfeel on ZERO is another really nice factor it has going for it. It’s spritzy and almost champagne-like without being quite as bubbly, it has a very light body with a smoothness to the swallow that makes it easy to put down. This is truly one of the easiest drinking saisons I’ve had. Many of them are a sipper, and you need some sort of a palate cleanser after a few swigs because those flavors build to the point of just coating your tongue in this almost dirty buildup of earthen flavors; the ZERO is a much brighter saison and does not require time-outs to get through. And being nearly 9% alcohol. This might be a problem! Overall, ZERO is a great beer, a wonderful saison, and since it says it “cellars well” I went out and bought a second bottle and we’re going to see at a future 5 Stones anniversary just how it’s changed. I look forward to it.
Overall 8.5 / 10
About the Beer (from the label):
Every spring “down around San Antone” there is a local strawberry festival in Poteet. 5 Stones Craft Brewing Company celebrates this festival and the arrival of spring by using over 1 pound of fresh Poteet strawberries per gallon of Norma Jeane. This Blond Ale uses two-row, crystal, and dextrine malts, Williamette and Cascade hops, honey, vanilla beans, and strawberry for a fruity and complex aroma and flavor. Thank you for trying our beer, we sincerely hope you enjoy! Raise a glass and say Goodbye “Norma Jeane!”
Style: Blonde Ale
For a style I’m really not all that into (blonde ale) it seems like I review a lot of these beers. Maybe it’s just luck of the draw, maybe everybody makes one, maybe I’m just a masochist, or maybe I’m just trying to prove myself wrong by finding one I really like. Since 5 Stones is trying to not do anything too normal, I was looking forward to see if their take on the blonde ale would change my mind at all.
NORMA JEAN was a bit of a surprise right as soon as it peeked out of the bottle. Unlike the average, normal, and somewhat boring perfectly clear gold with a few little bubbles and very minimal head that I would expect from a blonde, NJ permeates my glass with a very apricot-esque color that is not at all the crisp see-through gold. It is beautifully nebulous, a cloudy light orange that is topped by a bright white head. Like most blonde ales, the head is gone rather quickly, but unlike most other this head actually leaves really decent lacing behind on my glass, another surprise. The perfume NJ is wearing smells heavily of sweetness, with a touch of fruit and the strawberries making their presence known.
Sipping on the NJ also defies the blonde conventions. This tastes like a blonde ale, but not; it’s like a much more complex expression of the idea of a blonde ale. It’s got honey and fruit esters, some apple and pear, as well as a touch of the vanilla poking through. The Poteet were not as potent as I presumed they would be, at least not at first. Initially I get just a hint of the strawberries on the exit as I sip on this, but NJ warms up and gets more comfortable, she lets more of the strawberries shine. It’s a very intricate combination of flavors, and there is just a whole lot more going on in this glass than in most blonde ales. The beer itself is thin and zesty, somewhat light and delicate in its mouthfeel. This comes together to make NJ a very easily drinkable beer; even though it is a bit sweet I had no problem putting down a bomber by myself. Blonde ales are still far (very far) from my favorite style, but NJ is not your average blonde ale, and if I had to sit down and drink one, this would be my choice.
Overall 7 / 10