Hophead: Stone Vertical Epic Stout Is Meant To Be Cellared Three Years--But It Already Tastes Pretty Nice.

San Diego's Stone Brewery is known for creating some monstrously, even arrogantly hoppy brews. So it was somewhat of a surprise when I sat down to try a pint of the recent 09-09-09 Vertical Epic Belgian-style imperial porter, and the first adjective that came to mind was "subtle."

Expectations are a big part of that. I went to lunch at The Ginger Man today anticipating my first-ever taste of Oskar Blues' Ten FIDY, which is by most accounts a wonderfully robust Russian Imperial Stout created by one of my favorite breweries. But it was not to be, as the bartender told me the bar wouldn't be ready to sell them until tomorrow.

But when life gives you lemons, beer lovers make shandies. So I ordered one of the Stone Vertical Epic porters, one of the pub's most recent arrivals.

Stone has created an annual Vertical Epic beer each year starting with 02-02-02 in February 2002, following it with 03-03-03 and so on, with the suggestion that the bottle-conditioned beers would ideally be opened on 12-12-12.

Poured from the tap, it looked dark-brown to black, with the half-inch head displaying a creamy tan color for a minute or two before dissipating. Sipped cold, it offered an intriguing balance of smooth and biting with chocolate malt the strongest impression but warm citrus hops making a surprisingly strong showing on the aftertaste. It tasted like a nice, if not especially noteworthy, stout. As it warmed, though, subtler notes of vanilla and orange as well as fruity Belgian yeast started to show up. (And it had plenty of time to warm up, as the roast-beef sandwich ordered for lunch took about an hour to prepare.)

This is one instance where it's easy to imagine the aging adding some complexity and depth to the flavor, taking some of the edge off the hops and allowing some welcome sweetness to become more evident as the flavors mesh. It should be worth the wait for those who have more self-control than I do. As for whether the hot roast-beef sandwich was worth the wait, sadly I can't say it was.
Speaking of the Ginger Man, though, the place will have a special on Rahr's Oktoberfest beer beginning at 6 tonight in celebration of the Fort Worth brewery's 5-year anniversary. Buy a pint and you can take home a handsome tulip glass.

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey