Stone Brewing Co., Vertical Epic 09 09 09

Grade: C+
Stone Brewing Co.

Immediately as this beer is poured from the bottle, you know you're in for something aggressive. It is inky black, pours like motor oil. It has a downright brown head that, when poured vigorously is thick and long lasting. The aroma is of stone fruit, dark roast, coffee, burnt sugars, chocolate, and wood. This is definitely on my list of beers that I would be happy just smelling. Mouthfeel is thick, but it seems to be from minimal carbonation and not viscous liquid. There might be some wood aging going on here. There is a tannin structure that is nice and chewy, giving the beer a very particular body, like that of a very big Cabernet. While the beer is big in the front of the palate, the finish and aftertaste are nicely dry. While not unusual to find in wines, the drop off of body and sweetness in the back palate and aftertaste leave the beer feeling a little “thin” at the end.

The flavors are complex and varied, but the overall impression is of off-balance...for now. This beer was intended to be consumed with the release of the last beer in the series, on 12-12-12. It would be understandable, actually it would be expected, that Stone would brew something that would mature and develop over time. There is fig and plum in the flavor, with chocolate and roast backing it up. Coffee seems to be a lingering element that shows itself throughout the palate. There is some slight astringency to the roast in the back of the palate. While this beer is undoubtedly dark and daring, there isn't much sweetness to speak of. In fact the roast and the coffee seem to be the prime players here, with the wood and slight tannic elements coming close behind. There is supposed to be orange peel in this beer, but I feel like it gets completely lost in all the other malts. While there is bittering here, I'm not noticing much in the way of hop character. Some herbal, spicy notes make their way into the flavor, but they don't detract from the overall roast quality of the beer.

Stone thought this one out, and I think I can see where this is going. As beers age they become a bit sweeter, the astringent roast drops out, mouthfeel gets fuller, and fruit esters become more raisin and fig-like. These are all the things that I feel this beer is currently missing, and I think it's the first time that I've had a beer specifically designed to be consumed three years from it's release date. Stone has done something unique with this beer, and all their Vertical Epic series. They have allowed the consumer to taste the beer as it exists now, and then directed them to taste it again years down the road. This way, the consumer will understand and appreciate how a beer morphs over time, seeing where it came from and comparing it to where it could go. The idea of aging beer is new to many, and I'm glad that we have Stone to teach the masses the joys of cellaring and aging beer.