Looks like Stone Brewing Co.'s coveted Vertical Epic won't be sold in Houston this year thanks to a little mix up on the label.
Stone created a buzz for the stuff in 2002 by announcing it would release a different Vertical Epic every year for 11 years. Each batch is designed to complement the others, and when the final brew is released on December 12, 2012, the idea is to drink all 11 and have the ultimate beer tasting experience, more than a decade in the making.
To say the least, Vertical Epic has been popular. Like $300 on eBay popular.
Unfortunately, Houston hasn't been lucky enough to land a shipment of the stuff each year, but this year, THIS YEAR, it was coming. The release was scheduled for October 10.
"It was in Houston," says Austin Tefteller, a beer manager at Spec's. "It was just sitting at the distributor's warehouse."
But Tefteller tells us that last week, he found out that the beer was gone. Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had ordered it shipped back to California.
The problem, according to Tefteller, was on the label. The Vertical Epic contains more than 5 percent alcohol (quite a bit more), and in Texas, that can't be called a beer. Somewhere on the label Stone designed for Texas, there was the word "beer."
We contacted a representative from Stone to find out if a re-release in the works, but we haven't heard back. Tefteller suggested going to beeradvocate.com to find a liquor store, in a different state of course, that ships to Texas.
For an explanation from the TABC, check out our post on Hair Balls.
Update: We talked to Jason Armstrong, a regional manager for Stone Brewing Co., and he has some good news and bad news: Vertical Epic is in Texas to stay. But only in keg form. He tapped the first one in Waco last week, and another shipment landed in Dallas on Friday. The kegs should make it to Houston sometime next week.
"TABC never had a problem with our liquid, which is good," Armstrong says. "It's always a label issue, if we have an issue."
Still disappointing, Armstrong says, because, of course, the ultimate point of the Vertical Epic is to save a bottle of each year's batch and eventually have a true vertical tasting experience.
As far as the Vertical Epic bottles being at a warehouse in Houston, Armstrong says that shipment was always meant for another state. The TABC denied the Vertical Epic label long before the beer -- wait, ALE -- was shipped out. (Brewers have to submit to TABC two bottles featuring the proposed label, and one in electronic format, Armstrong says.)
On each bottle, Stone includes a short description of the beer, written by Stone's founder, Greg Koch. On the popular Arrogant Bastard Ale, for example, it says, "This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate..."
In a similar description of this year's Vertical Epic, it included "beer," and that's what the TABC didn't like.
It's not the first time this has happened to Stone in Texas. The Double Bastard Ale never gets approved because the label includes the word "masturbatory."
"The official response from TABC was that isn't an approved word for Texas," Armstrong says.
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And since Stone silk screens its labels onto bottles, it would be, as Armstrong puts it, "a logistical nightmare" to create a special label for Texas.
"That's the reason a lot of craft brewers don't come to Texas," Armstrong says. "There are some amazing Belgium beers that don't come to Texas. You can get them in Louisiana, you can get them in New Mexico, but not Texas. What brewer or monk is going to change his label he's had for 500 years?"
Armstrong says, however, TABC might make an easy target, but its not their fault. In the last two years especially, he says, the label approval (or denial) process has improved from about three months to two weeks. And even though agents aren't always consistent, they are just trying to enforce the laws, albeit antiquated, on the books.
"I wish I knew how to change [the law], but someone has to be on board from the legislature," Armstrong says. "It's disappointing, but it is the law, and we have to abide by it."