Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 Review

I nearly never got a chance to try this beer. You see, it’s one of a kind — and shall never be brewed again.

Or that’s what a friend told me when I said, “oh, that came out?” (his response may have sounded more like “YOU HAVEN’T TRIED IT YET? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”) before he shoved me out into the harsh winter air in search of the 2012 Vertical Epic. His reaction wasn’t entirely unwarranted: This beer is the last of its kind, after all. Stone began the series in 2002 and set a ten year deadline. So now, at the beginning(ish) of 2013, the saga is finally coming to a close. I wasn’t quite old enough to drink when the first few were brewed (let alone old enough to know what good beer tasted like), so, much to my shame, I haven’t sampled all of them. Seeing as complete sets are now going for thousands online, I doubt I ever will. But I’ve drunk quite a few, more than half at least, and there was no way I was missing the finale.

The first store I went to was already sold out but claimed they’d have more soon. I waited a week and went back. Still nothing. I started scouring the city for this elusive brew, but every stop I made was at another place that had just run out. Proprietors stared back at me with the pitying eyes and shaking heads of those who’ve seen too many dreams crushed under life’s spurred, snakeskin heel. You waited too long, son. Ain’t gonna be a beer like that round these parts again. Spittoon.

After literally an hour of hunting, and by that I mean calling places on my telephone, I tracked down a cool little joint called Times Market. They had the beer. I sped to the store and picked out a bottle, gazing into the dark brown glass as if into the eyes of a long lost lover. The clerk at the counter saw me, smirked, and suggested I buy two.

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, apparently
ABV: 9%
Price Range: $5-$10 per 22 oz bomber
Food Pairing: Winter foods. Gingerbread.

Each Vertical Epic has been a different style of beer, so I’m pleasantly surprised when this one pours pitch black with a rocky head of mocha foam. It settles slowly into a thin cap that stays there for the rest of the time it’s not in my stomach. The foam smells like rich winter spices and gingerbread. Damn solid first impression.

I take a sip and realize I served it way too cold, which with a beer like this makes the flavors bitter and astringent. Once it warms up, though … by Odin’s beard, it is glorious. This is a winter beer through and through, meant to warm the cockles on cold evenings in your makeshift shelter under that broken tree in the unforgiving wilderness behind your house. Rich, sweet maltiness complements an underlying alcohol warmth, and it tastes like gingerbread, true to the smell.

All in all, this is one fine beer. It’s so smooth, so malty. And then there’s the gingerbread, which in my humble opinion is one of the most underrated and ignored potential flavors in all the beer kingdoms. Stone has crafted the perfect winter beer and a fitting final chapter in this Vertical Epic. My only regret is I won’t be able to get a bottle the next time winter rolls around.

Author’s note: A few weeks after my frantic search, I started seeing this beer EVERYWHERE. C’est la vie. In fact, I saw a full shelf of them earlier this week. I’m sure you can still find one if you hurry.

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