Westvleteren 12 and Vertical Epic 12.12.12 Both Hitting Stores

Westvleteren 12 and Vertical Epic 12.12.12 Both Hitting Stores

This news is so "epic," I'm popping one of my homebrewed Russian Imperial Stouts from 2002 to enjoy as I type!

Two of craft beer fans' best-loved brews is hitting stores for the first and only time: Stone Brewing Co. 12.12.12 Vertical Epic and Westvleteren 12.

First, and the cheaper of the two, is Vertical Epic 12.12.12. This is the last of a long series by Escondido, CA based Stone, in which they brewed a hoppy Belgian Strong Ale each year, to be released exactly one year, one month and one day apart. The first Vertical Epic was released on 02.02.02, with ten more in sequence until the last, named "12.12.12," which hit store shelves on… December 3?

According to a news release, "Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale was brewed with a Belgian yeast strain and features cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, rosehips, sweet orange peel, and a dash of clove. Spices and banana notes are prominently featured in the taste. As it warms, notes of caramel, dark toffee and molasses assert themselves. Overall, the dark beer provides a pleasant juxtaposition of roasted malts, hops and spice layers."

Perhaps the earlier release date was intended so that collectors could get their final beer in the series and schedule their own vertical tasting on the actual date of 12.12.12. For those who, like me and most everyone else, just got into beer within the past 10 years and couldn't lay down a cellar of the stuff, Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St., Chicago, with be having a Vertical Epic Beer Dinner on the 12th. A benefit event for the Helen Pierce Elementary School, the event will feature 11 of the 12 Vertical Epics (apparently, the 04.04.04 cannot be had for love or money), along with a 4-course dinner from Chef Ben Sheagren. Tickets for the dinner are $60 each and can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. The night also features a Stone Tap Takeover in the first floor bar. A raffle will be held at $20 per ticket, with one winner getting 11 available Vertical Epic bottles.

For myself, I was able to catch up with Vertical Epics 07.07.07 through 09.09.09, thanks to a massive tap takeover at the late, lamented Finnegan's Irish Pub in Plainfield, back when Stone first hit the Chicago market. I have the later two and hope to secure the final bottle for a little Vertical of my own.

Maybe another reason the 12.12.12 is coming out early is so it won't conflict with what the movie business would call the "tentpole" event of the season. That's a one-time only release of the Westvleteren 12, named by the aggregate members of Ratebeer.com as the World's Best Beer. Okay Beeradvocate.com has it at #2 behind Russian River's Pliny the Younger IPA, but no one would argue that's not a worthy competitor.

For those out there with real lives, just what is "Westy 12?" It's a true Belgian Abbey beer, brewed by the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium. It is one of the eight breweries that carries the official designation of "Authentic Trappist Product." Westvleteren is also the smallest of the Trappist brewers, and has for years only produced enough beer to meet day-to-day expenses. They have followed the Trappist tradition of naming their beers by number: "6" for a daily beer, usually an abbey dubbel, "8" for the stronger "Priory" beer, and "12" for the Abt, or Quadrupel style.

For many years, the Westvleteren beers were sold in a way that was almost surreptitious: You had to call their special brewery number to get the date when the beer would be sold, then drive to the abbey and buy only two cases at a time. Despite this control on sales, many "grey market" bottles found their way into liquor stores around the world, usually with an unauthorized label added to plain bottles (all the brewery information was printed on the bottle caps). Thus thousands of beer geeks have managed to get their hands on the elusive Westy 12 and named it the world's best beer, further driving the mystique of this beer.

But a year or two ago, the abbey embarked on a construction program that would result in a new wing of monks' cells being added. To finance the project, the monks decided to hold a unique release of their popular Westy 12 to retail stores. Earlier in 2012, an allotment of 9,300 gift boxes—six 33 cl bottles packaged with two chalice glasses—was sold through the Colruyt grocery chain.

In the United States, Shelton Brothers importers ended up handling the American beer release. With only 1,500 "bricks," they have allotted the beers to 142 retail stores around the country, at a suggested price of $85. The boxes with six bottles plus tasting glasses will go on sale December 12.

You can check the official list of retails expected to receive the treasured beer here. But here the locations near us:

Illinois: Binny’s: Bloomington, Downers Grove, and Chicago Lincoln Park (1720 N. Marcey St.), Friar Tucks, Bloomington, IL.

Indiana: Keg Liquors, Clarksville, Crown Liquors, Indianapolis, Village Liquors, West Lafayette

Unfortunately, no locations in Wisconsin or Michigan.

For those who won't be able to get their hands on this beer, and they will be legion, console yourself with some Vertical Epic. Or look for St. Bernardus Abt 12, a commercial beer despite the picture of a monk on the bottle, but also one that uses the same recipe as Westvleteren 12 and which is said to have the original Westvleteren yeast.

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