Stone Vertical Epic, 10.10.10

Stone Brewing Co.
Grade: B-

The Vertical Epic series is a unique and now quite famous anniversary offering from Stone Brewing. As we approach the final release date of 12.12.12, people around the world are clamoring to eBay and trading with other beer geeks trying to amass a complete collection of these beers, starting with the 02.02.02. You can check out my review of the 09.09.09 here. Each year the beer is different, sometimes markedly so. This year Stone made a strong Belgian pale ale with, among other things, an addition of Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Sauvignon Blanc wine grapes.

Pours a pale straw color, with only a slight haze and a head that falls to a coating fairly quickly. Certainly a Belgian yeast character in the nose, full banana, clove, spice, floral elements, and a tiny hint of alcohol. Despite being "Belgian" in character, the aroma is clean and crisp, not carrying any sweet notes or funk at all. The mouthfeel is a bit coating, the carbonation is medium and doesn't really lift the beer off the tongue much. There is fruity sweetness, but not cloying at all. The wine grape juice is immediately noticeable, adding a very fresh fruit flavor to the banana of the Belgian yeast. The balance is fairly nice, the sweeter elements of the grapes aren't taking over the yeast character.

There is a complexity in the background that is hard to nail down, but it feels like after every sip I'm missing something. Not that the beer is lacking, it just feels like there's an additional element or combination of elements that is hidden in the background. Will this come out more as it ages? I can only hope. Being a Belgian inspired ale, the hopping and bitterness is very minimal, but it still manages to finish semi-dry. I just wish the carbonation was a little higher, I feel like it might cut through some of the wine grape sweetness that at times can be a little full on the palate.

Another inspired offering from Stone that goes well outside their comfort zone. I like when breweries try to expand their horizons, particularly breweries like Stone who have been labeled a "hoppy brewer." They makes tons of money selling those hoppy beers, they don't really need to do anything else. Yet they still are driven to push boundaries and experiment. Sometimes those experiments don't work. I can't say that this beer is to the standard that many of Stone's other beers are at. However I can say that they made an inspired, unique, and well crafted offering. One that I'm anxious to try come 12.12.12, when everyone around the world will be pulling out all their hoarded Vertical Epic beers.