End of an era: Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic

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Last month Stone Brewing of Escondido, California, released the 11th and final beer in its Vertical Epic series, the 12.12.12 ale (the numbers refer to December 12, 2012). The series began more than ten years ago with a beer called 02.02.02, making it nearly as long-running as the Bell's Batch series. Subsequent entries have been released one year, one month, and one day apart (03.03.03, 04.04.04, and so forth), and each has been a unique one-off. All have been Belgian inspired, bottle conditioned, and strong enough to benefit from cellaring, and Stone has encouraged drinkers to hang on to bottles for "vertical" tastings throughout the years—"vertical" in this case means involving multiple subsequent releases of beer from the same brewery (in the world of wine, "horizontal" tastings include many wines from a single year, often from the same vineyard or the same territory).

Stone came to Chicago in April 2010, and because I don't have especially formidable beer-trading chops, I've tried only the Vertical Epic ales released since then. The 10.10.10 is a Belgian-style golden tripel brewed with dried chamomile flowers, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), and just-pressed muscat, gewürztraminer, and sauvignon blanc grapes. The 11.11.11 is Belgian-style amber ale brewed with cinnamon and Anaheim chiles from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley.

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So then. Let's see if my palate has recovered sufficiently from my grueling bout with the flu (get the shot if there's still time for you!) for me to come up with any worthwhile tasting notes. The 12.12.12 is a dark Belgian-style ale made with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, sweet orange peel, clove, and rose hips. "Dark" in this case means extremely dark—darker than any Belgian dubbel or quadrupel I've ever seen. The final Vertical Epic smells like gingerbread and fruitcake, molasses, orange marmalade, cocoa powder, and dark toast.

The taste is surprisingly dry, given the warm, spicy, dessertlike aroma. The nutmeg and cinnamon are easy to pick out, as is the bitter astringency that accompanies the flavor of clove. The 9 percent alcohol gives the beer a bit of extra warmth, threading together notes of dried fig, bittersweet chocolate, and burnt bread again, along with a faint fruity tartness that might come from the rose hips (according to the brewery, they "turned out to be so sturdy we had to roll over them with a forklift to pulverize them for the brew").

I admit, the 12.12.12 isn't entirely to my taste—as much as I like dark Belgian-style beers, I'm not a big fan of baking spices, which dominate the flavor profile of this one. However, I can easily imagine the spices becoming less prominent and better balanced with cellaring time. If I get hold of another bottle, I'll find a spot in my fridge for it till next winter and report back then . . .

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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