Sud Savant: Review Stone Brewing Company – Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11

For those that do not know the history of Stone’s Vertical Epic project, here’s the scoop: Stone has been releasing a new beer on each day where the month, day, and year are all the same number. It began on February 2nd, 2002 (02.02.02) and will end this year on 12.12.12 (though the release dates are slightly different than the actual date of the bottle). They are designed to be enjoyed in a vertical tasting (a progressive, side-by-side type format) when 12.12.12 is released or slightly thereafter. Needless to say, it requires a lot of patience to hold out that long and it requires a long time dedication to craft beer. It’s a very cool idea and it has waited a long time to come to fruition. Since I have another bottle of the 11.11.11, I’ll still have one for a little vertical tasting session of my own. But that’s later, let’s taste now! Let’s pour!

Aroma 10/12: Fairly simple, but enjoyable nonetheless. The chiles are first and foremost, but far from overbearing. In a pleasant twist, they not only give the beer a spiciness and heat, but also the aroma of the actual vegetable. I like that a lot! There is a dull sweetness behind the chiles, like a rich, sweet bread made with brown sugar. Also, there is a brighter sweetness even behind that. It is somewhat fruitlike, but extremely difficult to discern. Perhaps it is the Belgian yeast used in the brewing process?

Appearance 3/3: The head was right around one finger and a lighter color of the beer beneath. The brew itself is mahogany and dirty copper with some very attractive red and magenta shades when held to light.

Flavor 18/20: This is a most unusual brew! Things start off very salty in the mouth. It’s nowhere close to seawater, but the shock was just about the same. A cinnamon splash follows immediately after along with a bit of the vegetable chile flavor, and then things simmer down a bit into a more mellow, sweet backbone. The blend of caramel, cinnamon, and spice is almost like a Hispanic dessert of sorts. There is also an unusual, brighter sweetness on the tip of the tongue, like grapes or honey. The chiles are adding a lot of flavor at this point, but not much heat or spice as of yet. The finish is a resurgance of the chiles in all of its characteristics: vegetable flavor, spice, and a smidge of heat. It also refuses to let go of that cinnamon laden sweetness and so the combination of malts and chiles continues through to the end, but not without a dash of boozy goodness. Holding this beer in the mouth really lets the cinnamon and darker malt flavors come out, but a quicker swallow yields a tangier, sweetness. Very interesting. The aftertaste is fairly clean despite all the spices and heat, but the beer does leave the mouth sticky.

Mouthfeel 4/5: Even the very end of this bottle has adequate carbonation to prevent the bigger flavors from becoming a chore to imbibe. The carbonation is plentiful and tiny, but never intrudes on the palate and lets those bigger flavors do their thing. It is simply there as a balancing act; never intruding as a main character nor attempting to steal the show. The touch of warmth in the finish was the only time the 9.4% ABV showed itself and it was a welcome addition.

Overall Impression 9/10: This is definitely one of the better chile beers that I have had. And yes, I call it a chile beer even though it is technically categorized as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale (even if it does lack the aggressive carbonation to be considered such). It does not back down from the chile flavors, like so many others. Other beers seem to just barely add the roasted pepper notes and an amount of heat that only a gringo could detect. Stone adds more than an average amount of heat (though still far from aggressive) and does not back down from the authentic, vegetable flavors of the chile pepper. Also, while it incorporates the “boilerplate” ingredient of Hispanic themed beers, cinnamon, it also chooses to shake things up by putting the cinnamon and chiles in with a Belgian Flanders Golden Ale yeast. It’s very creative, very unique, and very tasty.

Total 44/50: I wish that this were not a one time release by Stone. Or at the very least that it gives them the confidence to brew a seasonal (or dare I say, year round) chile beer. This is very well done and better than almost any other chile beer I’ve had to date (that crown still belongs to a local brewery, Bent River). The heavier body is nice, the carbonation is present but unobtrusive, the sweetness is present to balance the chiles, and the chiles are *gasp* actually present in more than just a wisp of a roasted note buried deep in the beer. I love the authentic chile flavor in this! It gives this beer a definite leg up. If you have a extra bottle, go ahead and give it a try. If not, I hope that 12.12.12 comes quickly for ya! Good on you Stone! I’m already looking forward to December to crack open the rest of these. Cheers

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!