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An Epic Ending: Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic Comes to a Close

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Photo: hotelcoffee/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's been more than a decade since Stone Brewing released their first Vertical Epic ale. The Escondido-based brewery is best known for their Arrogant Bastard ales and Stone IPAs, which won hearts and tongues with an unforgiving mix of hops and strength. Owners Steve Wagner and Greg Koch certainly know a thing or two about determination, and their push to create the largest brewery in Southern California certainly speaks to their success. But more than anything else, their 11-year Vertical Epic series has shown the team's forward thinking, and their ability to realize a dream. Today, that dream comes true.

In 2001, Stone Brewing was just a five-year old brewery, still navigating the strong currents of craft beer in a market dominated by ''lawnmower beers" -- the type of simplified American lagers California was more used to. But Stone envisioned something bigger, longer-lasting, and ... well, epic. By February 2, 2002, they had released the first in what would become an 11-year journey through beer, highlighting moments in time and capturing a season with each release. The '02 release was a deeply golden bottle beer with noticeable sediment and a lighter mix of hops, citrus, honey and caramel. The second in the series was released on 03/03/03, with the idea of pushing later series releases by one year, one day and one month. The '04 ale was a spicy, fruity, effervescent look at Stone's capabilities, while '06 featured dark caramel and chocolatey notes.

On and on the Epic continued, through last year's amber ale release, with a fire of chile peppers and a balanced, malty finish. Now, today, comes the final release of Stone's Vertical Epic series, and as the numbers on the calendar indicate, it doesn't get any bigger than this. The 12.12.12. Epic release pours very dark, with a small but foamy head. The first notes of cloves and toffee hit almost immediately, alongside a banana-like sweetness that layers the brew. A proper sip reveals a nice dose of cinnamon and allspice, perfect for the December season in which it was intended. Indeed, this is a sipping beer, preferably near a fireplace, or at least with warmth nearby. Then again, the 9% alcohol and dry finish of the ale will certainly keep you warm, if nothing else is available.

Now for the genius part: Vertical Epic was always intended as bottle-aged series. From the initial 02.02.02 release through today's final brew, the idea was that a limited store of each ale would be kept on hand at Stone, to be ultimately drank in a single session come 12.12.12. Well, that day is today, and the Stone team is certainly making sure their dreams are realized. Around Los Angeles, kegs are being tapped as we speak, and beer hoarders are emerging from their secret cellars (seriously, who has a cellar in Los Angeles?) to create timeless beer flights of their own. So where in L.A. can you ride the wave of 11 years' worth of work? A few places, actually.

First, there is the massive party happening tonight at Stone Brewing in Escondido. The $150 party will feature the complete collection, as stored in-house by Stone themselves. Around town, Library Alehouse in Santa Monica will be pouring taster flights from 08.08.08 to today's release. Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena is breaking the series up into sessions, with '03-'07 in one flight, and '08-'12 in another, both priced at $40. Or, you can save $5 and spring for the full flight (minus the hard-to-find '02). Or if you're in the South Bay, Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach is pouring everything they can get their hands on, at $35 a flight for tasters; the party begins at 6pm.

The 11-year saga is beyond forward-thinking, and has as much to do with patience as it does with arrogance, the term that put them on the map in the first place. Vertical Epic is a big, bold, unapologetic kind of concept, and there's something undeniably special about sticking with it for more than a decade. Of course, it helps that the beer is fantastic as well.

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