"I had the idea literally in just enough time for our team to jump on it and brew the first batch to get it out in time for Stone 02.02.02" said Greg Koch, the CEO and co-founder of California-based Stone Brewing Company, the 11th largest craft brewer in the U.S.
The goal behind the Vertical Epic Ale series wasn't just to release a special beer each year and be done with it. While each beer in the Vertical Epic Ale series can and have been enjoyed immediately following each release, the beers were created so that they could be cellared, allowing the flavors and aromas of the beer to age over time. Consumers could then open all 11 bottles in the series for a tasting on Dec.12, 2012.
"The typical message is all about having your beer fresh, which is of course an important one. But it's not the only thing," Koch said. "The idea was to help demonstrate the power of beer, the range and the flexibility available in the world of great craft and specialty beers."
Ten years and eleven beers after the Vertical Epic Ale series started, the craft beer landscape is remarkably different.
At the end of 2001, the Institute for Brewing and Fermentation Studies counted 994 brewpubs, 420 microbreweries and 44 regional specialty breweries in operation in the United States. Today the Brewers Association estimates there are more than 2,000 breweries in operation and more than 1,300 in the planning stages.
"I envisioned craft beer to grow solidly, but this recent wave, it seems like the last three, maybe four years, for it to have become as large a swell as it has, I wouldn't have been able to foresee that," said Koch.
Koch gives credit to the early craft brewers, like Anchor Brewing (rescued by Fritz Maytag in 1965) and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (founded in 1979) who went off the paved road.
"It was rough and bumpy and they didn't know what was around the next hill or if they would come across something that wasn't passable. But they made the path," he said.