As March snows give way to April showers, May flowers must not be too far away. There's a similar seasonal transition with beers, in that we are somewhere between the heavier bodied bold brews of winter and the lighter crisp wheat beers of summer. Fortunately, a full-flavored, colorful Belgian ale known as Stone Soup seems just right to fill this seasonal void to brighten a rainy evening in anticipation of warmer days the horizon.
To my surprise, New Glarus Brewing recently announced that this Abbey Ale is now a part of its year-round line-up of beers. We should consider ourselves lucky to have so many talented brewers in and around Madison able to create a broad range of brews that we don't need to look to hard for something special. We are exceptionally fortunate that there are plenty of locally made Belgians in the mix, and Stone Soup is among the best.
What is it? Stone Soup from New Glarus Brewing Company.
Style: New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey calls Stone Soup a Belgian Abbey style Ale. This term refers to the tradition of monastery brewing, and is not a style defined by industry critics via the World Beer Cup or Beer Judges Certification guidelines. However, these Belgian Abbeys commonly feature a vivid golden to deep amber color, a rich yeasty fruity flavor profile, and light hoppiness. They are usually very bubbly when bottle conditioned, a process by which the beer continues to ferment after bottling.
Background: Dan Carey makes Stone Soup with Wisconsin barley, along with additions of German and English hops to create a deep complex aroma along with a spicy, rather herbal flavor. He adds some Belgian candi sugar for its fermentable sugar and its light sweetness without adding body or giving a tremendous heavy mouth feel to the beer. This is a wonderfully engineered beer that takes about eight hours to brew and two weeks in the fermenter before it is bottle conditioned for about two additional weeks.
Brewery founder Deb Carey says the beer takes its name in part from the children's tale about everyone contributing to make a soup meal. "Our Stone Soup was initially made during the construction phase of our new brewery in 2007," she explains, "at a time when lots of stones were being moved and many people were working together." Now a year-round beer offered by New Glarus, it finishes at 5.3% ABV and sells for around $8.30/six-pack.
- Aroma: Light spicy tones amidst a solid yeasty nose.
- Appearance: Deep golden color, a slight chill haze when served very cold. The head is white, soft and marbled.
- Texture: Medium bodied and very bubbly.
- Taste: Solid sweet yeasty flavor with a light spicy-fruity background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Smooth, yeasty, spicy with subtle warmth that builds.
Glassware: This beautiful golden beer deserves a flared tulip glass or clear chalice.
Pairs well with: Stone Soup is a great pre-meal beer. Its Belgian yeast tones and overall sweetness will stimulate the appetite and prepare you for most meals. This is a beer that will blend with many foods, but deserves to stand alone so you can savor its spicy, yet sweet flavors.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Stone Soup was an unexpected treat from New Glarus, and I put it among my favorites brewed by Dan Carey. For those who enjoy the sweet yeasty flavors of a good Abbey ale, this beer is worthy of your attention. The brew is much like the beautiful Belgian golden nectars I find especially tasty this time of year, but given its new year-round status at New Glarus, it will be good anytime.