The Epic Vertical

What is Epic?

By someone's definition it can mean a narrative, long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time or something that is heroic or grand in scale or character. Informally it can be something particularly impressive or remarkable. You get the idea, it is something you don't see everyday and are impressed by — a lot. Can a beer event be epic — read on!

Attending the March 2016 Dogfish Head (Milton, DE) 8th annual Weekend of Compelling Ales And Whatnot #WOCAAW event was very impressive, but may not be considered epic in itself — to most people. Seeing Sam Calagione and the massive number of DFH patrons is a site to behold. And anticipation of the beer to be poured is as exciting as an eight-year-olds Christmas morning sunrise.

Exciting, entertaining, yes! But still a bit short of epic! That is a word reserved for those moments you know are special when you're in them, which you know you will likely never be part of again. Kind of like being on the Washington Mall on August 28, 1963 experiencing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech.” You know immediately that it is special. Now, that was epic!

So here I am, thoroughly enjoying the Dogfish beer and the paired foods prepared for us by the good DFG folks. I was thoroughly enjoying talking with fellow beer-geeks about what they have tasted, where they are from, and other beery experiences. Beer snifters were everywhere with all the assortments of orange, yellow, brown liquids sloshing to and fro, up and down. Then from the corner of my eye I spot a table of beer bottles. Whoa!

All the beer being offered that day was from draft, bottles are not part of the normal scenario. My mind rushes to make sense of this. Perhaps they’re bottles that were purchased at the brewery merch store. A more focused look and I notice that not only are they holding beer in a not so expected container, none are Dogfish beers, they are all Sierra Nevada. Another step closer to really gather in what I'm seeing and I realize they are all Bigfoot barleywines. And they all have different years posted on the bottle cap. And they are all aligned in progressive order of date. Ah, a vertical tasting is spread out before my eyes.

Like a moth to a light, I am compelled to move in even closer to more fully understand what I'm experiencing. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywines displayed from 1995 to 2015. A full 21 years of the same beer.

Please, may I have some, said the beer beggar? Sorry Sam, please forgive me, but I poured the beer I had in my glass onto the grass and extended it to my new hosts. “What did you just pour out?”, the person behind the bottle asked. “It doesn't matter”, was my reply. They knew immediately that I understood. They knew that I knew and poured some of their nectar into my glass.

This was an epic event and I'm going to be a witness!

I knew at the #WOCAAW event what I had witnessed. Only afterwards did I realize I'd missed an important opportunity. It was then I felt compelled to learn more about the vertical tasting, who were the people to had brought it into existence and what did that take. I was compelled to learn more.

My quest first reached out to the Twitter community. Did you see the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot vertical tasting? Do you know these guys? How can I get in contact with them? Soon, someone responded that the media people at DFH may know. They did, and pointed me to an Instagram post of Sam enjoying the vertical. Which finally led me to Jerry and this interview.

 The Bigfoot Barleywine Epic Vertical, 2016

The Bigfoot Barleywine Epic Vertical, 2016

The Interview

DB - How long have you been collecting the Bigfoot beers?

JG - Right around 8 years or so. I was able to get such a vast line up from 1 single seller on eBay. Back in the day when you could sell beer on eBay.

DB - What was the age range of those beers?

JG - 1995-2015 missing 1996 and 2014

DB - Did you have a favorite of the Bigfoot vertical?

JG - I really enjoy them with 7+ years, the hops go away and the dried fruit notes really come out

DB - Where there any particular surprises or disappointments in the vertical?

JG - Just when the 2014 fell out of the trunk and burst when we got to Rehoboth! lol Many of the older bottles I had multiples of and have already drank them, just saving one of each of the eventual epic vertical.

DB - You said were missing one, which one?

JG - 1996 was the year we have never been able to get a hold of. From what I’ve read on the internet it was a brewery only release and was limited in bottle count. 

DB - You had said that Sam had contacted Ken Grossman [Sierra Nevada founder] about that year and he said he couldn't find that one either, was that true?

JG - Yes that is true. A few weeks prior to #WOCAAW Sam was doing a book signing in Northern Virginia. I told him about my plans for #WOCAAW and it was his idea to ask Ken about getting that missing year.

DB - Any more to that story with Ken?

JG - From what Sam told me SN didn't start stashing their own beer until 10 years ago but in honor of our epic vertical he sent a 2009 Big Foot. My buddy that helped put together the vertical with me had asked someone from Sierra Nevada about the missing year almost a year ago, you probably want to ask him about the details. I think he chatted with Ken's son about the missing year.

DB - What is the most you paid for a beer in that collection?

JG - The 1995 was just under $20. I got a pretty good deal because I bought multiple bottles.

DB - Do you have another such vertical tasting in development?

JG - Nothing as big as the big foot vertical, a few years of various barrel aged stouts and barleywines from other solid breweries.

DB - Do you have anything special planned for next year at #WOCAAW?

JG - hahaha Not yet but its already in the back of my mind.

DB - How long have you been attending #WOCAAW?

JG - 6 years

DB - What has been your best source for finding elusive beers?

JG - eBay WAS but they put an end to that a long time ago. Now its trading with people I’ve met on various social media networks, Craigslist, and good old fashion beer hunting in random small towns.

DB - Do you age beer as a normal practice?

JG - Not as much as I used to but when something is a low bottle count and you only have 1 shot to get it I tend to stock up. Also seasonal offerings that only come out once a year.

DB - What other beers have you found age well?

JG - Stone's Old Guardian and Russian imperial do well. 120min to me is amazing after 5 years. Same for [DFH] Fort.

DB - What beers have you found do NOT age well?

JG - Rouge and HeBrew beers. To be honest they didn't do so well fresh either.

DB - What has been good sources of information regarding aging beers or vertical tastings?

JG - Beer Advocate has a little section on cellaring and serving notes that was helpful. Also various other craft beer websites and magazines.

DB - Any other information you would like to include that I didn't mention?

JG - You better have your drinking pants on if you plan on going after 21 bottles of barleywine in the middle of a beer festival. Thanks for helping us drink them. I actually left two bottles and snifter unattended while looking for a friend and someone lifted them from me. I would probably be upset if it wasn't such a fantastic day.

Final Thoughts

The Dogfish #WOCAAW is as the name suggests, compelling. It is a fun time to enjoy some excellent off-centered beer around the various degrees of inebriated conversations with many off-centered beer geeks, and perhaps even get a selfie with Sam. To see the level that some beer drinkers go to collect and enjoy classic beer (hey, these have to be classic to even have been brewed for that long) is amazing and humbling. Thanks to Jerry and the gang for the opportunity to be part of it in my own small way.

In case you are interested, the 2017 DFH WOCAAW event is already scheduled for March 25, 2017. Be there, you never know when an epic vertical will break out!

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get back to my work on the stone monument to be placed where that table once stood.