The craft beer explosion in the United States over the last thirty plus years has shown, yet again, just how creative we are this side of the pond. Even our beer forefathers in Europe are paying attention to what we are doing here and in many instances copying us. All this growth and experimentation still doesn’t change our love affair with classic European styles. Two U.S. examples of this are Stone Brewing Co's Vertical Epic Series and the new Saint Arnold Brewing’s Icon.
Last month, Escondido, California craft beer powerhouse Stone Brewing Company released the last in their Vertical Epic series that began in 2002. The first was released as 02.02.02, with each subsequent release reflecting a matching month and date. For example the 2003 release was 03.03.03, then 04.04.04 and so on. Each glorious bottle was a Belgian inspired brew with Stone’s own unique take on it, of course. Each brew was intended to be enjoyed upon release, but also saved until such time as the last in the series was released. At which time an aggregate of the years could be enjoyed in a “vertical tasting”. The first Vertical released by Stone as 02.02.02 was a classic Belgian Strong Ale with notes of honey, caramel, and citrus. According to many at Stone who recently sampled all 11 years, this first year held up better than expected.
The last in this line, 12.12.12, was a Belgian inspired Christmas Ale with dark, fruity notes and a bevy of Christmas spices, such as nutmeg and clove. Pair it with roasted meats or cheeses such as Gouda, and heavier desserts. Stone Brewmaster Mich Steele weighed in on the various aspects 12.12.12:
Appearance: Deep black with a dark brown, foamy head.
Aroma: First impressions are of cinnamon and allspice, combined with fruity banana esters and hints of clove from the Belgian yeast. As the beer warms in the glass, swirl it around and take in the aromatics one more time—caramel, dark toffee and molasses notes come into play as well. The end result is a wonderful juxtaposition of roasted malts, yeast esters and baking spices.
Taste: Intense cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice with banana esters dominate up front. Hints of citrus arrive mid-palate, while molasses notes persevere in the finish along with a very nice dark-roasted malt dryness.
Palate: A full, but not sweet, extremely dry finish. Very complex with great flavor balance.
Overall: The aromas wafting through the brewery as we brewed this beer were amazing! We couldn’t think of a better way to sign off this Epic series of beers.
Lead Brewer Jeremy Moynier added his thoughts about 12.12.12 “This beer will transport you to a very warm place; the house is warm, a fire’s going and grandma’s in the kitchen baking away”.
Sad though many of us are to see this series end, it was quite a ride and despite the growing hype year after year, each release more than lived up to its hype. Adios Vertical Epic, we loved you so.
Last month as well, Houston based Saint Arnold's Brewing Company released the first in its 'Icon' series, a Belgian IPA. The brewery intends to release a different style each quarter with a different colored label and corresponding name; e.g. Icon Red, Icon Blue, etc.
The brewery describes the concept as being very different from most of their other regular and seasonal releases, "Some will be iconic of a beer style (which was the original concept), but some may demonstrate more creative interpretations or melding of beer styles. Most of the Icon releases will be from recipes conceived and refined by our brewers. Occasionally, a recipe inspired by a winning entry from the Big Batch Brew Bash will be released in this series. Icon releases will probably be in the 4% to 8% ABV range. Stronger special releases will be reserved for the Divine Reserve series”.
First to be released is Icon Red, it’s a Belgian Pale Ale weighing in at 6% ABV, with a fancy red label on the bottle. Brewer Sam Wright explained that, “I was going for an approachable Belgian beer that people could drink more than one of. I wanted to use a simple malt bill with British crystal malts to provide a nice sweetness that doesn't get muddled with the yeast character and the hops. To add an American element, Chinook hops were used for bittering, which adds a piney flavor. Saaz hops were added for aroma that blends well with the yeast. I selected a yeast that adds Belgian yeast character without going overboard with phenols. I wanted to make a beer that used ingredients from disparate brewing traditions that worked well together”.
Next in up April 2013 is Icon Blue, a Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, depending on which side of that debate you fall.
Icon is available on tap and as a 4-pack of 12 oz. bottles in the San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Dallas area.
January is the month for beer dinners in San Antonio! Getting things started is our newest brewpub, The Granary, who has brought brewing back to The Pearl in San Antonio. They have partnered with Rogness Brewing in Pflugerville, Texas, just outside of Austin. The brewpub is already gaining a reputation for their house brews, as well as their unique and fantastic take on domestic and international BBQ.
The Granary will be pairing several of their dishes with beers from Rogness. The Granary brewmaster and co-founder Alex Rattray is stoked about the collaboration and released this statement on the brewpubs website "Extra! Extra! Our beer dinner with Rogness Brewing is coming to town January 21st at 7:00pm. We have limited seats for this special dinner. The dinner will be five courses each paired with one of Rogness' fantastic brews! The beers to be paired will be their Rattler Pale Ale, Beardy Guard, Yogi Chai Amber, Ost Porter, and Gigantophus Imperial IPA. We are the only location in San Antonio to serve Rogness beer and we are so excited to match their brews with our grub. The guys from Rogness will also be down to chat and wax poetic about brewing, beer and beards. Please call us to reserve your space at 210-228-0124. A credit card will be needed to hold your seat and there is a 48 hour cancellation fee. It's sure to be hop load of fun so don’t miss out!"
Also this month the La Cantera Grille, at the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort, is teaming with none other than Saint Arnold Brewing for a beer pairing on January 25th at 7pm. Restaurant manager Neil Butler (formerly of Brasserie Pavil) has teamed with Saint Arnold's Nicole George for a 4 course sit down dinner. The slated menu looks fantastic:
• Bay scallops and citrus seafood fumè paired with Lawnmower
• Rabbit and liver terrine "Mole" with bitter greens paired with Santo
• Mesquite duck breast and local goat cheese paired with Icon Red Belgian Style Pale Ale
• Venison sausage and sweet plantain paired with Elisa IPA
• And for dessert… chocolate brownie and coffee caramel ice cream paired with Saint Arnold Winter Stout
Quite a month it will be...