Rob Neal speaks highly of Stone Brewing Co.'s 15th anniversary black IPA.

As one of the most respected craft breweries around, Stone Brewing Co. could easily coast on its reputation alone.

Instead, it is constantly creating new beers and expanding drinkers' palates from coast to coast.

Stone was founded in San Diego by two friends who took a beer-appreciation class together in college. Steve Wagner and Greg Koch finally realized their dream when the brewery's doors opened in 1996. The rest is craft-brewing history. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Stone has released "Escondidian Imperial Black IPA" to great anticipation and excitement.

Black IPA, also referred to a Cascadian Dark Ale, is a relatively new style of beer. Essentially, it combines the hoppiness of IPAs with the maltiness of porters or stouts. The Stone offering pours a rich black color with a soft tan head. Aromas of coffee, cocoa, caramel and pine intertwine effortlessly on the palate.

The predominant flavors are mocha, toffee, black licorice, citrus and vanilla – quite a combination. The silky, coating mouthfeel and liberal additions of American hops provide for a long, satisfying finish. It is a delicious balance of bitterness, sweetness and creaminess that is absolutely tantalizing.

Clocking in at a jaw-dropping 10.8 percent alcohol by volume, this brew is a seriously potent potable, so proceed with caution. If you wish to pair it with food, try it either with barbecued brisket, chorizo chili or even tiramisu. It is available in 22 ounce bottles and retails for $7.99.

Rob Neal is a home-brewing consultant at Gentile's, the Wine Sellers. Check out his blog at