Some of the great brew houses have wonderful stories behind the creation and production of a number of the most impressive brews on the market today. Look, class. If you are satisfied with the good ol’ $6 six pack of beer. That’s fine. Really. Still, for a minimal investment you can also drink exceptional, jaw-dropping brews that have the added benefit of having a great story behind their creation. Sierra Nevada has some wonderful stories bolstering a number of its offerings, as does Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. A good part of my enjoyment in drinking new beers is discovering the story behind them. For example ... Back in 2001 Stone Brewing Company’s CEO and co-founder Greg Koch suggested his brewers create a beer to be released on January 1, 1001 - 01.01.01. They brewed 11 distinct beers that could be cellared, (stored), and released on each of the following three-date years - 02.02.02, 03.03.03, and onward. The Stone team called these brews Vertical Epic Ale with the addition of the date designation for each edition. This year’s selection is the last. THE LAST. It is Stone Vertical Epic Ale 12.12.12. There obviously cannot be a 13.13.13. “Certainly, it will be a glorious capping to one of the most ambitious brewing projects ever undertaken, even for those with a few or maybe even one or two of these widely varied brews,” said Koch in the release announcemetn on the company’s website. “We’re pleased with how each of them turned out and what we’ve accomplished, but at the same time, we admit to being a bit sad. This was an incredible series that we’re bummed to see come to an end, but, we’re going out in a blaze of beery glory.” And it is ...exciting. (See this week’s review.) “Crafted in the style of a traditional Belgian Noël beer, it’s dark, big and hearty; the type of brew one might have actually expected to come first in the Vertical Epic series,” continued Koch. This is a one-brewing ale. There will be no more when this is all gone. Then there is Birra Etrusca by Dogfish Head Brewery - a company with an incredibly adventurous team at the helm. When an ancient Etruscan tomb was excavated in Italy recently, one of the most fascinating discoveries was of a supply of brewing materials and some storage jars with the dehydrated remains of a 2,800 year old ale. Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione asked Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, to accompany him to Rome. With the help of local brewers the team analyzed material left in containers buried in the Etruscan tombs. Ther result is the creation - or re-creation - of a beer called Birra Etrusca Bronze, “In every part of the process, we go for as much authenticity as we can,” Calagione said on the Dogfish Head website. “Ingredients are often tough to track down, and there can be financial and logistical challenges, but we really love embracing these risks to bring these beers to market.” The introductory release notes: “The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat. Specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.” Oh my goodness! Along with Dogfish Head, two Italian breweries -Birra del Borgo and Baladin - also will brew a version of Birra Etrusca. Each brewery will ferment its batches with different traditional materials. Dogfish will use bronze, Baladin will use wood, and Birra del Borgo will use terra cotta. It is wonderful stuff. Just wonderful.
THIS WEEK'S DRAFT PICKSStone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale Stone Brewing Co. California, United States Stone has produced what really is an epic run of super special brews. 12.12.12 is glorious, but not necessarily for every explorer, especially those just starting out on “The Adventure.” On the other hand, what better way to discover just how versatile brewers can be when it comes to really expressing themselves. 12.12.12 is classified as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. How interesting that at 9-percent alcohol by volume (ABV) this wonderful brew really doesn’t seem to pack that much of a punch, (so be careful!) This version of Vertical Epic pours almost coal black, with hints and tinges of a dark chocolate brown where light manages to bounce off the darkness. There is a slight head, maybe half a finger or so. The deep beige foam hangs around a short while and simply rockets rich aromas into the atmosphere. The smell is exhaustingly rich. Absolutely luxurious. Cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg scents pop and burst mixing with the deep standard caramels and coffee richness. There are simply a myriad of smells blending together, (and I hate using the word ‘myriad’ in my writing!!!) There is something mildly herbal in the background, and the chocolate aromas are surprising in their depth. There is also a sense of smokiness, but that might be a reflection of the dark brown-sugary maltiness that is so prevailing. 12.12.12 is at the same time exotic, and gloriously homey. At first wash, the explorer is taken on a flash tour of the Orient, while at the same time settling into a warm kitchen as grandma sets to her baking. This brew creates visions of a spice bazaar, and a well-set Christmas table - all at the same time. It is strong and sweet. Thick and creamy. Well bodied - not mild at all, but not overly bold. Vertical Epic announces itself with pride and confidence, than backs off just a bit to allow the sipper to settle in for the duration. The sweet spiciness is not overwhelming, but it is full of surprises - at each sip. There is something new each time you return to your glass. It warms deep, deep down, without leaving an alcohol back-taste. This brew is very, very special. The mouth-feel is full and hearty, but soft and sexy at the same time. (Left brain, right brain?) The after-feel is a bit dry. Despite the incredible richness of this brew, it disappears from the mouth with much the same rush that it introduced itself. Vertical Epic 12.12.12 is not long for this world. What was brewed is what there is. When it is sold out, it will not be back. If you are a serious sampler, and want to taste a bit of brewing history, NOW is the time to get a bottle or two of this exceptional brew in your cellar. It can be cellared. It actually should age well. Still, there is no need to delay your sampling of Stone’s epic offering.