5 Stones Craft Brewing Company (Cibolo, TX): Aloha Piña, Sleepy Hollow, Heavens to Murgatroid

5 Stones has an interesting business design; they basically (at least, as of yet) only make seasonal beers. They have no year-round, flagship type beer (though if I had to argue that point I’d say it’s the ALOHA PIÑA), and they rarely put it in kegs. They make what they want, they bottle it up, and then they move on to the next flight of fancy that Seth Weatherly (the owner) and Paul Ford (the head brewer) feel like dreaming up. This results in some off the wall experiments, and always something different each time I pop a 5 Stones bottle cap. I got a chance to attend an open house “biergarten” event they were throwing (I try to get out there whenever they open their doors to the public, because its almost exclusively the only place you’re gonna get some 5 Stones on tap, and they are a nice group of people to hang out with and talk beer), and while there got to try a few beers to talk about here.

5 Stones Craft Brewing Co., Cibolo, TX
5 Stones Craft Brewing Co., Cibolo, TX

Aloha Piña

About the Beer (from the label):
“Dude, you need to brew a beer with pineapple and jalapeño!” This inspiration, of course, came while eating a Hawaiian Fire Pizza with those toppings. 5 Stones Craft Brewing Company has brewed this American Golden Ale with massive amounts of fresh cut pineapple, two-row, crystal, and dextrine malts, Amarillo hops, honey, and roasted jalapeno. Our hope is that you will enjoy this ale, share with your friends, and have an “Aloha-Piña moment” for yourself. To you, we say “Mahalo” and thank you!

Style: Golden Ale
ABV: 6.43%

Here we go again. Another (!) Golden Ale, when I keep saying that I am not a fan of Golden Ales. I guess I need to refine that statement: I’m not a fan of regular, plain-old, run of the mill Golden Ales. For the most part, they’re boring. I have been finding with some of my reviews recently though that the Golden Ale is a good delivery device when you want to throw something different into the kettle, and ALOHA PIÑA is an example of that. The Golden is calm, unassuming, just there for the ride to deliver the goods, but then you get crazy with the passengers and that’s when you can end up with something worthwhile. AP is worthwhile.

Aloha Piña Golden Ale with Pineapple and Jalapeño
Aloha Piña Golden Ale with Pineapple and Jalapeño

The AP arrives as bright light flax in the 5 Stones snifter, topped with a mild yet brilliant white head that fades quickly and leaves behind very little notice it was there. To the eye, it looks like your average Golden, or even (gasp!) maybe an AAL… though it does have a bit more depth to the yellow since it’s not made of corn or other such nonsense that you’d expect from those big jerks. The eye is easily deceived, the nose not so much; the aroma coming off AP is nothing like an AAL or even a Golden, it’s jalapenos and pineapples all day. The sweetness of the pineapple hits my nostrils first, but then is quickly kicked to the curb by the pungency of the jalapenos, which take up residence in my nose and refuse to get out of the way for any other aromas emanating from the AP.

Letting AP in for further oral analysis, it is the opposite of what my nose had to say. The heat hits hard up front; this is no doubt a chile beer, but it is not so spicy as to be undrinkable like some others I have had in the past. Well, like most others I have had in the past. Brewing with peppers is a delicate task, and it takes a steady hand to keep your beer going from interestingly piquant to overpoweringly odoriferous. There’s some I’ve tried, like BILLY’S CHILIES or GHOST FACE KILLAH that just make me think that the brewing was a joke on the consumer, a beer to be used as a bet in frat houses and nothing else. AP has some heat, and it is that heat that hits first, but it is not so overwhelmingly hot as to be unpleasant, if you enjoy spicy food. The sweetness from the pineapple comes through on the backend of the swallow, and accentuates the natural sweetness of the Golden Ale nicely, and it is really this balance of sweet and heat that makes AP a more drinkable chile beer than most. As you sip on the beer the jalapeno heat builds a bit, but so does the pineapple and honey sweetness, and continues to achieve a remarkable level of balance.

The 5 Stones reference... the little guy taking down the big guys!
The 5 Stones reference… the little guy taking down the big guys!

For a beer that is brewed with jalapenos, AP is very drinkable… again, if you like spicy food. If you can’t take some poblano with your taco, this will not be the beer for you. If you like sriracha on everything like I do, this is a medium heat at best. AP is light bodied, thin, zesty, and not too carbonated, as I would expect from a Golden, and this light body does well to deliver the sweet and spicy groceries. This is just a nice, interesting beer overall and does a good job with playing with fire without getting totally burned.

Overall 7 / 10

Beer page: http://untappd.com/beer/347076

Sleepy Hollow

About the Beer (from the label):
Harvest time brings about a proliferation of pumpkin potions and their prevalence in this season is primal, primordial, and phenomenal! Pumpkins have been used in ale since colonial times, and we designed this distinctly Texas twist on your typical jack o’ lantern treat. BBQ smoke is no joke, and smoking a prodigious amount of fresh pumpkin softens and caramelizes the sugars and lends a unique, savory taste to the brew. Brown sugar, Hallertau and Saaz hops, and a blend of pumpkin pie spices further enhance the flavor. Thanks for celebrating the harvest with Sleepy Hollow!

Style: Pumpkin Beer
ABV: 7.7%

My friends know that I just don’t like pumpkin beers. Man, it seems like I spend a lot of time on these reviews talking about all the kinds of beer I don’t like! Anyway, pumpkin beers usually just aren’t my thing, and everyone always seems to freak out on me this time of year when I make that statement. There are a few exceptions to this – each year I anticipate PUMPKINATOR – but mostly I end up trying five or ten different gourd infused beers and I’m usually disappointed. Like the chile beers above, pumpkin beers usually tend to go overboard on their spices, and in the end I get very little actual “pumpkin” flavor, and instead it’s a glass full of cinnamon-allspice-cloves and not much actual beer. When I heard from Paul that 5 Stones would be making their own version of this fall required seasonal, I had some hope for the beer since they don’t do things normal “down round San Antone.”

Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Beer
Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Beer

SLEEPY HOLLOW pours a deep, deep rusty gold, topped with a khaki head that hangs out for the whole Halloween party and then leaves behind some flyers on the wall. The lacing on SH is nicer than a lot of other pumpkin beers I’ve been acquainted with, and the color being a bit darker gives me hope; my favorite versions of this style are based on Stouts instead of lighter fare. SH is not a Stout, but it’s no Golden either. Once the aroma hits my nose, it is spices in the forefront and I’m a bit worried because that’s generally my issue with the beers in this style: too much spice, not enough pumpkin and/or beer. There is a nice subdued sweetness sitting under that pumpkin pie pungency that does give me a bit of hope though.

Once that horseman gallops down my throat, I get a very nice initial bitterness that was unexpected for the style. Most pumpkin beers I’ve had are very lacking in this component, and in SH it’s right there, axe in hand. Just behind that antecedent acidity, there is a mild smokiness that is really unexpected. Thanks 5 Stones for making this not your average pumpkin beer, but then again I’d be really disappointed in you guys if it was anything but. There is a bit of smog in the flavor brought from the caramelized pumpkin, but this is certainly no rauchbier (thankfully, because again that’s another style of beer I don’t like… for a beer geek I don’t like a lot of beer it seems). The smoking of the pumpkin brings a very different flavor component to this beer than the pumpkin you get in most beers, and it is a nice variance from the average. Unfortunately, those spices do seem to build and build with every sip and before too long I’m losing the nuances of those heat browned pumpkin sugars behind a dose of spices that I could do without. The bitterness from that initial sip also builds as the beer coats my palate, and I do like that build-up, I just wish that the bitter wasn’t accompanied by so many spiced friends.

Paul Ford and Seth Weatherly
Paul Ford and Seth Weatherly

The body of SH is about perfect for this beer; it is thick but not too thick, a nice median body that is enough to be substantial but not so heavy as to fill you up. There is a nice smooth velvet that it brings, and while it does lace well it’s not super-carbonated, so it is easy to drink with your dinner. This would be a good one to serve with dinner, or to enjoy with your pumpkin pie afterwards, as the spices at that point would accentuate the confection on your plate. I could not drink a bomber of this myself, as that build up of the spices got to be too much in just a regular 12-ounce glass, but I think a nice 8-ounce glass after the pants have been unbuttoned to make room for the thanksgiving food baby would be very enjoyable this year.

Overall 6.5 / 10

Beer page: http://untappd.com/beer/467497

Heavens to Murgatroid

About the Beer (from the description at the open house):
Look at me, King of the Jungle! This ale is pink! Fuchsia even! Made with 2-row, crystal, and Victory malts, white and flaked wheat, and fermented with American hefeweizen yeast, the real treat is the fruit in this beer. Hand-picked Prickly Pear tuna is generously added and refermented for a helping of color and flavor. Look for notes of bubblegum and kiwi! Now exit, stage left, and grab some will ya!?

Style: Wheat Beer with Prickly Pear
ABV: 6%

When I was looking at my choices for this open house, this one immediately stood out to me. I didn’t get a style sheet, because this event was on a weeknight and I had to head up there after work, which basically meant I was showing up for the tail end and could not be bothered to waste the time to READ. Must get beer while the getting is good. I missed CAMO (which I then missed again at the San Antonio Beer Fest) and was pretty disappointed on that one, so I was gonna dive right in to whatever peaked my fancy the most. With a name like HEAVENS TO MURGATROID, how could I not go for this one first? Seriously, how could you not? Then I dated myself I guess by being one of the few people to know where the reference came from, and seeing the beer to completely get why it is called what it is.

Heavens to Murgatoid Hefeweizen with Prickly Pear
Heavens to Murgatoid Hefeweizen with Prickly Pear

As HtM cascades into my 5 Stones snifter, it builds a pinkish-purple base topped with neon pink foam that is really unlike most any other beer I’ve seen; this beer is Snagglepuss in a glass. The neon top hat fades away relatively quickly and doesn’t leave behind much of a reminder that it was there besides the rarest piece of lace here and there. Once the volatiles make their way into my nasal cavity, what my brain processes them to be is a bit more commonplace than what my eyes are asserting. HtM has the standard Hefe esters (some banana, some clove) with a bit of additional sweetness that is not overpowering at all. While it looks like liquid cotton candy, it smells like a slightly sweet Hefe.

Once some beer exits stage mouth, I am again bit surprised at what my brain is processing. Up front HtM is most certainly a Hefe, and it is that standard banana clove earthy Hefe goodness that hits me first. This is followed with a more pronounced sweetness than your standard Hefe, but not nearly a sucralose as one would expect from a hot pink pour. There is the prickly pear, and it brings its stock flavors (bubblegum, kiwi, pear, melon) you’d expect if you were familiar with this odd little fruit, but it is more reserved than the color would make you believe. Prickly pear has also been traditionally used as dye for centuries (making the color classified as “Beetroot Red”), so it is no surprise that a little bit of flavor comes along with a whole lot of color. HtM is a little bit candy, but this isn’t Halloween night in a glass in any way. Hefe’s are not my favorite style – they used to be, I actually “grew up” on them going to High School in Germany – because they are often a bit on the boring side, a bit of more of the same old thing versus something new. HtM is a Hefe I would buy and keep in my fridge because it has that added flavor component that accentuates the Hefe flavor without overpowering it, and makes a welcome addition to the standard banana like flavor the beer has on its own.

5 Stone's pic of HtM that shows off the color better than mine does
5 Stone’s pic of HtM that shows off the color better than mine does

The body of HtM is much like Snagglepuss himself: thin and quick. It is not a heavy beer in any way, and that adds to my enjoyment of this style, because it is a light beer than you can enjoy drinking without filling up. The added sugars from the prickly pear do make it on the higher end of the ABV scale for Hefes, so it wouldn’t be one that you’d want to drink tons of (at least if you have anything else to do), but it is not hard to put down. The carbonation is a bit higher, as it should be for the style, which delivers the flavors better I think. I really do relish how the bubblegum of the prickly pear enhances the light bubblegum that Hefe’s have on their own, and then the carbonation and zesty body bring those flavors home wonderfully, impeccably even!

Overall 7 / 10

Beer page: http://untappd.com/beer/467494

Brewery site: http://www.facebook.com/5StonesBrewing

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