By Mike Pomranz
Updated May 05, 2015
Credit: © Stone Brewing Co.

Earlier this year, Stone Brewing Company announced they’d be discontinuing two of their best-known beers: their first creation ever, Stone Pale Ale, and their highly praised Ruination IPA, one of the original American hop bombs. In their place, the brewery added reformulated versions of these classics: Pale Ale 2.0 and Ruination 2.0.

Over the past couple of weeks, both beers hit shelves. I received some of the first samples and decided to battle them head-to-head against their original namesakes. Would these reimagined recipes prove a revelation or become brewing’s version of New Coke? Here’s what my side-by-side tastings revealed…

Stone Pale Ale vs. Stone Pale Ale 2.0

Despite Stone’s admission that its brewers had an “emotional attachment” to the original Pale Ale, they did a complete reformulation on this recipe. Whereas Stone’s original Pale Ale—first created by Stone cofounder Steve Wagner in 1996—used American-bred Columbus and Ahtanum hops, this new take features German hops: Mandarina Bavaria, Magnum and Herkules. Given this information, I was a bit surprised the colors were so similar, both pouring a dark golden hue.

On the nose, the new 2.0 version didn’t jump out as being a massive overhaul, but after returning to the original, the O.G. Pale came across as even more malty. The redesign definitely pops a bit more with a slightly tropical-tinged hop character and a crisper overall profile. It’s nice to see that though Stone made a lot of changes, turning this new Pale Ale into a hop bomb wasn’t one of them.

Unlike the nose, the difference in taste is immediately striking. The old Pale, though far from a hop wallop, does cover your tongue in a woody, resinous way typical of West Coast ales. The new version comes on much more cleanly, with a touch of orange peel, before giving way to a lingering sharp bitterness. But the biggest change might be in the malt profile. Though Stone doesn’t disclose what the new malts are, 2.0 has a bit of a pilsner essence to it. What they do mention is that the new version features a touch of rye, which helps solidify that long finish with just a dash of spiciness.

Though it’s tough to call such a dramatic reformulation on a classic an “improvement,” the latest take certainly made a positive impression. The 2.0 is cleaner in pretty much every way, from the appearance to the finish. But more importantly, it’s more distinctive. Stone called their European-inspired new Pale “a unique and interesting take on the pale ale style.” This statement isn’t only true; it’s important. Despite everything Stone has accomplished, their Pale Ale was never a standout. By taking such a big risk with the beer that helped launch their brewery, Stone has not only reinforced their dedication to innovation, they’ve also unleashed a hell of an interesting new brew. When my lone sample bottle of 2.0 ran out, I was ready for another one. Despite loving Stone beers, I’ve never felt the same way about their original Pale.

For you homebrewers who miss the original, though, Stone has released the recipe on their blog.

WINNER: Stone Pale Ale 2.0

Stone Ruination vs. Stone Ruination 2.0

Unlike the Pale Ale, which was completely reimagined, for Ruination 2.0, Stone wanted to “maintain the roots” of the original. The appearance backs up this assertion: Both have a nearly identical light golden hue.

Surprisingly, though, most of the similarities stop after the eye test. Stone claims part of maintaining Ruination’s roots comes from keeping citrusy Centennial as the primary hop during both brewing and dry-hopping. But countless other changes were made, both in the varieties of complementing hops and the technique used. Whereas the original Ruination smacks your sense of smell with a bold burst of hops and malt, 2.0 does a delicate dance, equally powerful, but with all the focus centered around the topical essence of delicious hop oils—the new Ruination is entirely fruit-forward on the nose, with malt taking a backseat. Compared with the piney smell of the original, the new Ruination could practically pass as a mango smoothie.

I found more similarities in flavor than I did in scent. Part of the original Ruination’s delight was how it struck such an incredible balance between its big malt base and 100-plus IBUs. Compared to its rebirthed counterpart, original Ruination still brings far more malt flavor. Meanwhile, 2.0 plops a load of tropical fruit on your tongue. It’s more in line with many new double IPAs, but that fruitiness also seems to detract from some of Ruination’s signature balance: The body feels lighter but also a bit more syrupy, and the bitterness seems even more pronounced on the finish. And yet both beers leave your tongue coated with a similar resin, causing your final impressions to be oddly aligned.

Calling this fight is far more difficult than picking a Pale. I loved original Ruination, as did many others; for that reason, it seems like an odd brand to reinvent. That said, the addition of modern hops like Citra, Simcoe and Azacca and techniques like hop-bursting (only adding hops later in the brewing process) do highlight what old Ruination has been missing compared to modern brews. Still, 2.0’s in-your-face effort to stay current feels like it could wear out its welcome as time passes. 2.0 is tasty, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see “Classic Ruination IPA” back on the shelves in the near future.

WINNER: Split decision—purists will probably lean toward the old, but there’s nothing wrong with the new.

Overall, I ended my tasting impressed. Give Stone credit for taking such a big risk, but give them even more credit for their strong execution.