Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

08/08/08 Vertical Epic Ale

Stone Brewing Co.
Escondido, CA

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 8.6%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

The start of autumn means the end of summer break and the end of the summer beer doldrums that until recently held a firm grip on Sir Nigel. As I’m sure you’ve all noticed (ahem …), Nigel and his ultra-informative, ultra-entertaining reviews have been conspicuously absent for the past few weeks, and I’d like to give you an in-depth explanation as to the reasoning for that:


That’s right, even the Dorkiest of Dorks needs a vacation, with the exception of Eddie Glick, who isn’t allowed to leave his parents basement without the approval of local authorities. Nigel has spent the past few weeks circling the globe on the official yacht, the official jet, and the official tricycle. I’ve been to the swanky cosmopolitan centers of Europe, exotic locales in Africa and the Middle East, attended the Beijing Olympics under the pseudonym Michael Phelps, and fought bulls in the rings of Latin America. I even spent a weekend fishing in Alaska with the Palins, though I SWEAR I have NO idea how the eldest daughter got pregnant. Each stop on my global extravaganza was accompanied by the finest local brews, and I can now definitively say that the Midwest rates with any of them.

In honor of my triumphant return to the Midwest, I selected a brewery from San Diego, which makes about as much sense as reviewing a beer named 08/08/08 Vertical Epic Ale on 09/16/08. Perhaps that vacation cleared my head a little too much.

I’ve already expressed my admiration for Escondido, California’s Stone Brewing, so I’ll spare any additional fawning. Vertical Epic Ale is a yearly limited release from Stone, coming out each year on the date when the day, month, and year are all the same (hence, 08/08/08; 02/02/02 was the first release in, well …2002). Each year the recipe is altered, though the outcome falls firmly in the category of Belgian something-or-other. It’s bottle conditioned and comes only in bomber form, with the idea being that you collect all of the releases, cellar them, and sample them following the final release on 12/12/12. As nice of an idea as that is, Nigel has the patience of an 8th grader with ADD, so I let mine cellar for about five weeks rather than five years.

Stone indicates that this year’s version was inspired on a trip to Belgium (home of the Belgians) taken by their brewmasters. On the trip, the brewers discovered a version of a renowned Belgian golden ale that had been hopped up with American hop varieties. This discovery was right up Stone’s alley, as they are one of a number of West Coast brewers who feel that every beer is better with boatloads of Cascade gold. Essentially this is a standard Belgian golden ale, complete with fruity yeast and spice, that is given an extra boost with the addition of Ahtanum, Amarillo, and Simcoe hops. As a hophead extraordinaire and an honorary citizen of Belgium, it sounds like a winning combination.

08/08/08 Vertical Epic Ale opens with a noticeable pop and a thick cloud indicating that it is in fact bottle conditioned. The pour reveals a pillowy white head of just over an inch and a light golden brown body, with a fair amount of carbonation rising to the top and sedimentation settling to the bottom. It’s exactly what you’d expect a Belgian golden ale to look like, though the head wasn’t as lively as it could be; it dissipated instantly and left very little lacing.

The aroma is phenomenal. American hops blow you away at the outset, quickly followed by the unique aroma of fruity yeast and spicy clove that marks Belgian ales. As someone who considers American IPAs and authentic Belgian ales to be the pinnacle of all beer styles, 08/08/08’s aroma is absolute bliss; I may bottle it as the next great scent in men’s fragrances.

The taste is excellent, and I’m left to wonder just how fantastic it could be if properly cellared for the recommended time. My initial thought? It’s the American Duvel. While many American craft brewers have tried to duplicate the brilliance of authentic Belgian brews, few have found success. Stone largely captures the essence of an authentic Belgian golden, topped off with an American twist. Initial flavors of fruity Belgian yeast strains and the typical spices of black pepper, coriander, and clove are tempered a bit by the noticeable tinge of citrusy, piney American hops. The citrus hop notes Baby Dolls and the banana notes present in Belgian ales provide for a unique fruity concoction, made all the more unique with the spicy zest one would expect. The carbonation is a touch lower than many Belgian-style ales, making for a nice, smooth mouthfeel that lets the orgy of flavor linger on the palate. All in all, it’s phenomenal, encompassing the best of the New and Old Worlds, just as Stone was hoping it would. This is dangerously drinkable, as the 8.6 percent ABV is well hidden by the wonderful flavors of fruit, hops, and spice; one bomber over the course of the evening should be plenty.

While it may not be from the Midwest, Stone 08/08/08 Vertical Epic Ale is a tasty, quality brew that appropriately welcomed Nigel back into the beer review fold. The idea behind Vertical Epic is unique and the brews are fantastic, so anyone unfamiliar with this limited-edition line should be sure to check it out.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on September 17, 2008.
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