A beautifully sunny day, 400 people, 30 unique beers on tap and unlimited pours—what might sound like the foundation for a ruckus affair of over-indulgence and belligerence was anything but. In fact, it was one of the tamest event days in the history of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. That’s what happens when you pack the joint with homebrewers and genuine craft beer connoisseurs united in their noble mission to not only taste, but evaluate the merits of each beer for the purpose of selecting a champion to grace store shelves nationwide. Enter Stone’s fifth annual AHA Rally and Homebrew Competition.
We took a different approach to formulating this year’s Stone Vertical Epic Ale – the last in the series. Co-founder and original Stone Brewmaster Steve Wagner and I had agreed that we wanted to brew a Belgian-style holiday ale, given the release date of 12.12.12 and the celebratory nature of this beer. Armed with that baseline, I decided to open up the formulation to our team of brewers, who are a talented and creative bunch, to say the least.
So in early summer, we told our team the goal for the Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale and allowed anyone who wanted to brew a pilot batch to take a turn on our More Beer 20-gallon brew sculpture. A total of eight recipes were brewed and they were all fantastic. Ultimately, we chose this one from brewer Josh Jordan because it was so smooth, dark and luscious, and the spice combinations were amazing.
He shared that recipe with us and, in the spirit of the rapidly fleeting holiday season, now we want to share it with you. So here is the recipe we went with and, per long-standing tradition, I’ve suggested some musical selections that I think will pair well with each step of the brewing process. Have fun!
Surely by now you know the name Ken Schmidt. After all, he’s the homebrew mastermind behind not just one of our handsome collaboration beers, but two of em! You undoubtedly recall the glory that was the Ken Schmidt / Maui / Stone Kona Coffee, Macadamia, Coconut Porter, yes? When Ken took first place at our 2009 March Madness Homebrew Competition & AHA Rally with what he’d named “Aloha Plenty,” we knew we’d made a new friend.
Fast forward to 2012, and Ken came back with yet another winning combination that he called “Pillow Mint at the Ritz.” After taking the champion title for the second time, he worked with our illustrious brewmaster Mitch Steele to select Brandon Sieminski of nearby Iron Fist Brewing as our third partner in crime to help scale this awesome recipe up for our big 120bbl system. The result? A decadently rich, decidedly bold, and oh-so-delicious libation we call Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout.
A few weeks ago, we hosted a pretty sweet Google+ hangout all about our awesome collaboration beer that we recently re-brewed: Dogfish Head / Victory / Stone Saison du BUFF. Our very own Greg Koch joined Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and moderator Wil Wheaton for a live video broadcast devoted to that very subject. (Victory’s Bill Covaleski was unfortunately plagued by technical difficulties. Bummer.)
Well, besides having a great time chatting and drinking beer, Wil at one point asked if it would be possible for us to share the homebrew recipe for Saison du BUFF. While Greg and Sam discussed it, I reminded Greg from off-camera that it was already available, courtesy of our amazing book: The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance! </plug> And that we’d also of course be more than glad to share it on our blog.
This beer started out as a pilot brew that we brewed for our annual company picnic. The original plan was to brew a Belgian style Quadruple with triticale (a cross of wheat and rye), and call the beer Quadrotriticale-a totally geeky reference to the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” When brew day came, we decided on the fly to brew a Strong Belgian Golden Ale instead-to better evaluate the flavors of triticale, and then changed our minds again and added some dried chamomile flowers on the back end in the whirlpool, just because we had tasted a similar beer before and thought it sounded good! The beer was a hit at our picnic, so we fully intended to brew this chamomile-spiced Strong Belgian Golden Ale as the Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale.
The idea of brewing a Belgian Imperial Porter was something that we had discussed a few times in the past few years, especially after taste panel sessions that had included Belgian Imperial Stouts and Belgian Black beers. Roasted malts and the spicy, fruity flavors from Belgian yeast strains combine surprisingly well, provided proper balance is maintained in the recipe. And we thought an Imperial Porter, with an intense chocolate malt character, might be a fun, and a bit different, version of a Belgian dark ale to try.
Our seventh version of the Vertical Epic series was inspired by some of the wonderful Belgian beers that Steve and I tasted during our trips to Europe to brew “Stone California Double IPA” at the Shepherd-Neame brewery in Kent, England. This ale was served at the J.D. Wetherspoons pub chain during their International Real Ale Fest in March of 2008, and was great to brew and a very fun project, but that’s another story.
Brussels is about a 2 hour train ride from London (going through the “Chunnel”) so one weekend while we were in England, we decided to shift gears from our steady diet of cask-conditioned English Ales and make the quick trip to Belgium. We had many great beers during the 2 day visit, as well as nice tours of Palm Brewery and Cantillon. And don’t ever miss the Belga Café in Brussels-the hand pumped Boon Gueuze was unbelievable! One of the best beers we had was a rare bottle given to us by Glenn Payne, one of our companions for the trip. We brought this bottle of Duvel Triple Hop back to Escondido with us and Steve and I tasted it with Greg and John Egan, and pretty much decided right then and there to brew a hoppy Belgian Golden for our 2008 Epic.
We decided to brew this beer with a hint of ginger, a traditional Saison brewing spice, and also with some cardamom, which comes through as an exotic spiciness in the finish. Additional complexity comes from the blend of grapefruit, lemon and orange peel which combine nicely with the tropical fruit esters provided by the Belgian yeast. It’s going to interesting to see how this beer ages over time. At 8.4% ABV, it’s built for aging.
So it is with pleasure that we present you with the homebrew recipe for the Stone Vertical Epic 07.07.07. As always, the instructions below are designed for an all malt beer. If you are an extract brewer and are uncomfortable with converting this recipe to an extract version, we suggest you contact a local homebrew store or local homebrew club for help.
Big changes afoot this year for the aptly named 5th version of our Stone Vertical Epic Ale series. First, as you may have noticed, this is being written not by Lee Chase, but by Mitch Steele and John Egan. Lee has moved on to other things, but since this was his last recipe formulation for Stone Brewing Co., we will try and carry on his tradition of providing all the information you need to brew this tasty beer at home.
We’re really happy with this year’s Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale. This is a very dark ale fermented with Belgian Trappist yeast, so the flavors in it are really deep and complex. The Belgian yeast clove notes combine nicely with the roast malt flavors, with dried cherry and anise undertones. The flavors imparted by the special roasted malt are very rich, smooth, and silky. It will be interesting to see how this beer ages, and how the smooth roasted malt characters evolve with the spicy Belgian yeast character over time.
by Lee Chase
This year, the Vertical Epic has taken another turn…but this time toward the simpler! I wanted to highlight a couple of things with this brew, with particular attention being paid to the future flavor development of the beer. You know, keeping it fairly simple, but making it relatively high-alcohol and full of flavor. Having had a bit of this in March, this baby was still a little young—actually, more like not-yet-born if you factor in the bottle-conditioning time required—but had a huge fruity yeast flavor (phenolic), some tasty chocolate notes, and a really pleasant texture, all of which improved as it warmed up. So below you will find the not-so-difficult-to-brew recipe to construct your very own 5 gallons of Stone 05.05.05 Vertical Epic Ale. Hope you enjoy it!