Here we go with the final in the vertical epic series (neither a vertical or in most cases ‘epic’), but nevertheless always beers that I look forward to trying each year. On the face of it, 12 sounds like a beer that will suit me a lot. We’ll see.
Pour is inky black with a small, but well formed head. Nice dark mocha color with some equally good coffee-like, thin lace.
Nose has a lovely, cinnamon based, mixed all-spice note that definitely has a strong ‘Belgian/Christmas’ element. This is accompanied by some of the rich, dark fruits that one would normally expect in a BSDA. A few marzipan and almond notes as well.
Tastes reflect the nose, but the spice element definitely trumps the fruit. The alcohol is pretty much nowhere to be seen. There is an increasingly large licorice bitterness element that builds down the glass. Because of that I feel that the beer starts to edge toward several stout-like elements. There is a touch more viscosity than I would like, and the dark bitterness does begin to cut across the fruit and yeast for me. This is almost certainly what Stone intended, but for me it takes it out of the fantastic range and into the very good area. To be fair, that’s tainted by my own preference rather than any shortcomings in the beer.
12.12.12 is absolutely reminiscent of many Belgian Dark Christmas beers, but of course in true American style Stone have taken it up a notch or two and made it more aggressive. I suspect that was 100% their intention so I think they have achieved exactly what they intended. I prefer a beer in the genre where the yeast is a little more obvious and the charcoal notes are turned down quite a bit. Any ester notes seems squashed, More fruit for me would be better, but again, that’s no more than personal preference I guess.
There are a few notes of arrowroot, mace and nutmeg but to be honest it’s more of a general spice collection. At the end of the 22 oz the charcoal element begins to wear a little and takes the shine off what could have been a spectacular beer for me.
Happily, I think that 12 finishes the series in a manner that showcases Stone’s strengths and re-establishes (for me) what the series should be. There have been a few highs and lows amongst the VEs that I have tried (’04-’12) with two out of the last three being really strong. The beer that got lost in a malaise of experimentation for me was 11, and 04 just wasn’t all that good (for the same reason), but 10 and 12 were very strong. The others were solid but not outstanding.
Overall I am pleased with this beer, even if it sits a little outside that I was expecting/hoping for. Given that I disliked ’11 so much, I am happy to get to this stronger position. It’s been an interesting rides from Stone in the VE series, and although ‘Vertical’ and ‘Epic’ proved to be totally misleading for all and the majority (respectively) of the time, they should be commended for their efforts. Doubtless they will conjure up something similar in the near future to keep the geeks foaming at the mouth!
Other: 9.0% ABV, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Vertical Epic Series.