Vertical tasting of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Stone RIS, Bell’s Expedition and more

Have you ever been a part of a vertical tasting? It’s not your average craft beer party, for certain, and sometimes, it turns out to be an epic experience. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say ‘vertical tasting’ let me catch you up. It’s when you take a beer, of several vintages and try some from each year to compare how they taste. For example, maybe you have a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and you want to try them all side by side, well, that’s a vertical.

So, back to the tasting I attended this weekend. Put on by the guy better known in the BeerAdvocate community as UrbanCaver, the lineup going in looked beyond ridiculous. After all, it was to celebrate his birthday, so, why not? Below are some pictures, listings and tasting notes from a great event.

Trappistes Rochefort 10

Vintages tried: 2009, 2010, 2011

Tasting notes: I arrived a tad late for the first batch but tasted each one. There was something strange about the 2010 in my opinion, but the 2009 tasted great. The freshest of the group was good as well, but I’d say the 2009 was the clear winner.

Bell’s Expedition Stout

Vintages tried: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Tasting notes: The 2007 was smooth, balanced and just delicious. I also like the 2008 and 2009. To be honest, I liked them all, but the 5 year point seemed to be the sweet spot. That is until a generous attendee surprised us all with a 2002 bottle. It’s hard for me to recommend you sit on Expedition Stout for 10 years, but if you can do it….wow! The 2002 wins the award here for me, with the 07′ coming in second. All that said, a tremendous beer at any age.

Stone Old Guardian Barleywine

Vintages tried: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, Bourbon Barrel 2010, 2011, Belgo

Tasting notes: I’ll say upfront, I’m not a huge fan of this beer to start with, but a few stood out very clearly. The 2010 Bourbon Barrel aged one was great, but has a distinct advantage, of course. Of the regular ones, I think my favorite was 2006 and 2007, which seemed to have smoothed out nicely over time, I felt like the 2005 was past it’s prime. The Belgo just isn’t my thing, regardless of age.

Chimay Bleue (Grande Réserve)

Vintages tried: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Tasting notes: The 2007 was from a magnum and in my opinion was the best. I got some different complex flavors that didn’t show up in the others. The 2008 was really bad, but we suspect it was cellared improperly. The 09, 10, 11 and 12 were solid, but nothing about any of them stood out above the rest.

Stone Russian Imperial Stout

Vintages tried: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Belgo

Tasting notes: Talk about consistency! The Stone RIS has it down when it comes to that. As much as I enjoyed the older vintages, the fresher stuff was just as good and made it really tough to choose a favorite amongst this group. The only one I just didn’t like was the Belgo, guess anything with Belgo in it is a stay away for me.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Vintages tried: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Tasting notes: This was a beast, as you might imagine. With ABV’s ranging from 18 up to over 20% it was tasted in very small doses. As you might expect with something of this gravity, the older vintages are the best and I liked the 2004 and 2005 the most. They are still hot and don’t resemble an IPA, but were much smoother than the others and tasted more like a good barleywine. The 2008 was just awful, and tasted like drinking bad perfume while the 2009 was more like hop syrup. I think the 3-4 year range for this beer is it’s super awkward stage. The fresher vintages were decent, but not much had changed from the 2010, 11 or 12 yet.

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Vintages tried: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Tasting notes: At this point I was getting pretty fatigued but the Palo Santo was too fantastic to skip. Similar to the Stone RIS, the consistency on this was impressive. I didn’t have a clear winner but if I had to choose it would probably be the 2009. There was just something about that one that stood out a little more to me. Palo Santo fresh however might be the best beer on the list overall, just amazing.

Did we try too many beers? Probably. That being said, it was a really fun experience and I’m glad I got to participate. If I had to choose one of the beers we tried to recommend to cellar it would be the Bell’s Expedition Stout. I was really impressed with how well the 2002 stood up and how tasty the 2007 was. The beer that was best fresh was the Dogfish Head Palo Santo. I liked the vintages but there wasn’t enough about them to make me want to lay it down for a considerable amount of time. And as I mentioned the consistency award goes to Stone RIS. I’d love to try one with 8-10 years on it at some point to see how it changes but the ones we tried were all consistently good.

What is the best craft beer vertical you have ever tasted?

(Also, I’m inviting some of the other tasting participants to comment here as I’m sure I remembered something wrong or they might just disagree with me)

3 Responses

  1. JM says:

    What many new craft beer enthusiasts (you included) don’t seem to realize is that a lot more goes into beer than simply age. Wine aficionados have known this forever – you must take into account ingredients, environmental factors and cellaring conditions. Do you know if the same hop grower provided the same hops to each beer year-after-year? What was the climate like that year up in the Yakima valley, and how did that affect the hops themselves? How about the barley? Is the recipe exactly the same every year (obviously not, as ABV changes for many beers like DFH 120 min)? Was the equipment and water treatment the same for each batch? What was the air composition on brew day? Did any extra environmental chemical compounds get into the beer during bottling?

    With all those variables, how can you definitively conclude that the 2008 was better than to 2010 simply because of age? The answer – you can’t.

    There are far too many variables in beer production to provide a definitive correlation between age and preference while ignoring everything else. What you should say is that you preferred the beer from 2008, not that 5 years is the ‘sweet spot’ for the beer, because you cannot empirically show that all other variables are controlled. Sure, you can point out trends, but those are only supported if you conduct a vertical every year and can show that the beer truly does have a “sweet spot.” Otherwise, it’s simply a single data point from which you are conducting your analysis.


    A beer geek, homebrewer and scientist.

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