Nick Carr on December 4, 2015 3 Comments The vertical. Preparing for it will require patience, stubbornness, and strength of mind. It’s an event that can be years in the making. It’s every beer enthusiast’s tasting Everest, the Mother, a culmination of agonizing endurance, and when you get to the end of that hard fought pursuit of a single beer across intervening years, you’ll have truly embraced beer nerdium. What is a Vertical Tasting? So, what exactly am I talking about? What is a vertical? It’s a term the craft beer world borrowed from the wine world. The term “vertical” is used to describe a selection of wine. In this tasting, different vintages of a particular wine are compared from several different years. This can be extremely eye-opening because it allows the participants to experience how weather, age, growing conditions, and changes in a winery’s processes have affected the product. Beer culture borrowed the name, but changed the format somewhat. One of the main concerns for any brewer worth their salt is consistency. They don’t want their product to change in spite of weather and growing conditions affecting the ingredients they use — unless, of course, the change is on purpose. So, a vertical beer tasting is basically a study in how a particular beer ages. In a few cases the beer’s recipe changes slightly year to year (Anchor’s Christmas Ale for instance). In these cases a vertical tasting becomes a comparison of recipes across years. It’s time to embrace the beer nerd in you. I’m gonna help. It’s not going to be easy. Many times you’ll find yourself staring at those precious bottles you’ve cellared away feeling that hungry longing to crack one open. The excuses will come. “Oh, I’ll only open one.” “Oh, it’s a special occasion.” “Fbigor my friends.” Resist, for you are building; preparing for something far grander. Stay strong and finish, whether it be three years or ten. This is the crucible of the beer nerd. But, I can only point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you. Below are ten beers — each a different style — worth the time, the loss of friends, and the mental anguish; to secret way until they can go vertical. 1. Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Location: Juneau, AK This is one of the most award-winning beers ever. First brewed back in December 1988 it can claim at least some of the credit of reviving and building interest in smoked beers in America. Alder wood is used to smoke the malt and many people, upon drinking this beer (me included), get a flavor association of smoked fish. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious — and don’t worry there aren’t any fish in the beer. Though this is a lower alcohol beer it ages beautifully. Geoff Larson of Alaskan Brewing believes it is the smoke that helps preserve the beer so well. With age this beer loses some of its smoky component, but becomes somewhat sweeter, with hints of dark fruit and sherry qualities. Brewer’s Description: “The dark, robust body and pronounced smoky flavor of this limited edition beer make it an adventuresome taste experience. Alaskan Smoked Porter is produced in limited “vintages” each year on November 1st and unlike most beers, may be aged in the bottle much like fine wine.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Smoked Porter First Brewed: 1988 ABV: 6.5% IBU: 45 Hops: ? Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Tulip Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: Limited, brewed on November 1st 2. Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Location: Chico, CA Barleywines are probably one of the most popular styles to age. Their high ABV and hefty malt profiles lend themselves to graceful aging. This one’s a Legend. Born in the winter of 1983, Bigfoot was one of the first barleywines to carry a more robust hop character. It’s released into the wild every January; sightings and hunts carry through into the end of April. Every beer geek out there wants to bag a couple of these. Drink one young for the hop punch. Save one per year for a few years then do a vertical to see how the hop flavors mellow with age; how the big malt complexities grow and change over time. Brewer’s Description: “Bigfoot is a beast of a beer, brimming with bold flavors of bittersweet malt and heaps of aggressive whole-cone Pacific Northwest hops. Bigfoot is a cult-classic beer brewed in the barleywine style, meaning a strong, robust, bruiser of a beer with the refined intensity of a wine. Bigfoot is prized by beer collectors for its supreme cellarability. Under the proper conditions, it can age like a fine wine, developing new flavors and character as it matures in the bottle.” Read more from the brewer Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: American Barleywine First Brewed: 1983 ABV: 9.6% IBU: 90 Hops: Chinook, Cascade, Centennial Malts: Two-row Pale, Caramel Suggested Glass: Tulip or Snifter Serving Temp: 50-64°F Availability: January – April 3. Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing Company Location: San Francisco, CA Anchor’s Christmas Ale is another one that has a rather low ABV, usually ranging from 5.5 to about 6.5 percent. The recipe varies slightly year to year, but there are enough similarities between years to recognize each as part of this proud lineage. The first Anchor Christmas Ale was brewed in 1975, making it the longest running winter seasonal offered by an American brewer. Something else making this beer one to collect is the label design. Each year the artist James Stitt creates a one-of-a-kind label featuring a different tree. You can see all the labels down through the years here. It would make quite the collection to be able to display these labels and have a tasting story to go with each one. Brewer’s Description: “The Ale’s recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label, but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since the ancient times, tree have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appear born anew.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Spiced Winter Seasonal First Brewed: 1975 ABV: Varies IBU: ? Hops: ? Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Tulip Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: November – January Tasting Review: Read our review for Christmas Ale 2014 4. Rumpkin from Avery Brewing Company Location: Boulder, CO Rumpkin should be every pumpkin beer lover’s close to the fall season. It’s big and unapologetic. When young its alcohol profile is nose tingling in its sharpness and has a sweetness robust in its youth. It would be great to see this beer with a little more age on it. See how the years mellow both the alcohol sharpness and the sweetness into subtle complexities. To see these changes over multiple years would make for a grand end to autumn and the pumpkin season. Brewer’s Description: “We wondered what would happen if a monstrous pumpkin ale, plump full of spicy gourdiness, was aged in fine fresh rum barrels to add suggestions of delicate oak and candied molasses. Rumpkin is what happened! This first member of the Annual Barrel-Aged Series was brewed with roasted pumpkins from a local Boulder County farm, and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Spiced Autumn Seasonal First Brewed: 2010 ABV: 15-18% IBU: ? Hops: ? Malts: Aromatic, Honey Malt, ? Suggested Glass: Snifter Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: Fall seasonal Tasting Review: Read our review for Rumpkin Ale 5. The Abyss from Deschutes Brewing Company Location: Bend, OR The Abyss sucks down awards like, well… a black abyss. Just this year it won the honor of Americas Best imperial stout at the World Beer Awards. Past awards include Worlds Best imperial stout (World Beer Awards 2012), Gold (Great American Beer Festival 2007), and Top 50 World’s Best Beers (International Beer Awards 2008). This grand excursion into other worldly depth will change your whole perception of what an American stout should aspire to be. It will change you and with a seemingly bottomless depth of complexity to pull from. The Abyss will change, grow, and reorganize its perception-spinning machinery to the ends of time. Brewer’s Description: “A deep, dark Imperial Stout, The Abyss has almost immeasurable depth and complexity. Hints of molasses, licorice and other alluring flavors make it something not just to quaff, but contemplate. As for the great “drink it now or let it age” debate, we stand clearly on the fence. Distinct and delicious on release, the flavors meld and fuse into an entirely different pleasure after a year or more in the cellar.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Imperial Stout First Brewed: 2006 ABV: 11% IBU: 86 Hops: Millennium, Nugget, Styrian, German Northern Brewer Malts: Pale, Black, Chocolate, Black Barley, Roasted Barley, Wheat Other Ingredients: Blackstrap Molasses, Brewer’s Licorice, Vanilla Beans, Cherry Bark Suggested Glass: Snifter Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: Released every November 6. Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing Company Location: Fort Bragg, CA This is by far one of my favorite beers. It is a beer meant to be aged. Pleading to be aged. From its historical beginnings this style was built on a platform of malt and alcohol specifically prepared to “take some age.” Time seems to be a pleasant companion to this most auspicious of brews. It ages beautifully; mellowing, rounding, shading complexity, darkening and lightening -each in their turn. The brewery has yet to come to the year where this beer’s earliest vintage finds its peak. Brewer’s Description: “Like a fine port, Old Stock Ale is intended to be laid down. With an original gravity of over 1.100 and a generous hopping rate, Old Stock Ale is wel-designed to round out and mellow with age. It’s brewed with classic Maris Otter malt and Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops, all imported from England.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Old Ale First Brewed: 2000 ABV: 11.9% IBU: 34 Hops: Fuggles, East Kent Goldings Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Snifter Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: Yearly Limited Release Tasting Review: Read our review for Old Stock Ale 7. Samuel Adams Utopias from Boston Beer Company Location: Boston, MA Utopias is the Utopia of Boston Beer Company’s barrel aging program. It is a blend of several different special batches. Some of these batches aged over 19 years themselves in a variety of different barrels (Cognac, Port, Bourbon, Rum, and Sherry). It is not for the faint of heart or the collector on a budget. The ABV of this beer is a whopping 28%, so high in fact, 13 states prohibit its sale under laws saying it exceeds the legal ABV limit for beer. It will also run you $200 or more per bottle. But if you can get your hands on a bottle; oh, what a glorious addition to any cellar and if you happen to find yourself in possession of more than one bottle it’ll be a vertical tasting most beer enthusiasts only dream of (except me because you’ll be inviting me of course). Brewer’s Description: “Sweet fire, with a rich malt and wood complexity, Samuel Adams Utopias is unlike any other beverage in the world.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: American Strong Ale First Brewed: 2002 ABV: 28% IBU: 25 Hops: Hallertau Mittelfruh, Spalt Spalter, Tettnang Tettnager Malts: Samuel Adams two row pale blend, Caramel 60, Munich Suggested Glass: Snifter or Tumbler Serving Temp: 50-64°F Availability: Limited 8. Backwoods Bastard from Founders Brewing Company Location: Grand Rapids, MI What happens when you take Founder’s much loved scotch ale Dirty Bastard and stick him in oak bourbon barrels and only let him out to play once a year? Why, he becomes an even more cantankerous Backwoods Bastard. Aged in oak for nine months 85 feet below Grand Rapids in a set of old abandoned gypsum mines Backwoods Bastard takes the gift of bourbon barrels and becomes something completely new. It’s a beer of grace and complexity belaying its name. Notes of vanilla, sweet toffee, and dark fruit create a profile rip for even further aging. Brewer’s Description: “Expect lovely, warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts, a bit of earthy spice and a scintilla of dark fruit. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate.” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy ABV: 11.6% IBU: 50 Hops: ? Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Snifter or Thistle Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: November 9. Barrel Aged Grand Cru from AleSmith Brewing Company Location: San Diego, CA Grand Cru is not a beer style. It means “great growth” in French and is another term borrowed from the wine world. It is more a statement of a winery’s excellence as a whole, than any one bottle of wine. So, in the world of beer the statement could be taken as a brewer’s moment of excellence. This beer is truly a moment of captured excellence. Aging accentuates the sour notes and mellows the large malt backbone creating a beer worthy of a special occasion when two or more vintages might be paraded out and lovingly compared. Brewer’s Description: “This Belgian-Style Ale has been matured in American and French oak red wine barrels for a year to add layers of complexity to its rich flavor profile of dark fruit and Belgian caramel malts. The oak and red wine flavors imparted by the barrel-aging process blend seamlessly with subtle hints of raisin, plum, and bittersweet chocolate from the beer. Enjoy now or continue to age in a cool, dark place.” Read More from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale First Brewed: 2013 ABV: 10% IBU: ? Hops: ? Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Snifter or Tulip Serving Temp: 50-55°F Availability: Limited 10. Consecration from Russian River Brewing Company Location: Santa Rosa, CA Ah, the wild ale. A fickle, nymph of a brew if ever there was one. It is not easy to get her to come forth and speak soft whisper of soured elegance and murmurs of hidden complexity in just the right tones, just the right songs. As the name indicates, Consecration is a blessing to any beer enthusiast’s cellar. A beer to appreciate, to stockpile, to hunt year to year. If aged the malt profile will mellow, sour notes will stir, and oak will come to the fore. Brewer’s Description: “Dark Ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from local wineries. It is aged for 4 to 8 months with black currants, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus added to each barrel. Rich flavors of chocolate truffle, spice, tobacco, currants, and a bit of Cabernet. Very full-bodied, sip slowly!” Read more from the brewer. Characteristics & Tasting Expectations: Style: American Wild Ale First Brewed: 2007 ABV: 10% IBU: ? Hops: ? Malts: ? Suggested Glass: Snifter or Tulip Serving Temp: 46-48°F Availability: Limited The collecting bug must be burrowing its way under your shirt by now, tickling your senses with the robust flavors that could be had with just a little patience. Well, you have a list now. This list is only a start though. It does little justice to the hundreds of beers worthy of the Vertical. If you know of any great ones out there… leave a comment. Now, get out there! Happy hunting and may you have the patience to pull off the vertical. Cheers!