An Evening of Epic Ale Proportions

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Today (Tuesday the 21st) Belmont Station is hosting Roots Organic Brewing co-founder Craig Nicholls for a special night of huge beer, with a vertical tasting of Roots’ famed Epic Ale. Roots, which closed earlier this year, was fraught with controversy after co-owner Jason Mcadam split, rumors of a sale of the business surfaced, and Craig came under fire right here for questionable business practices at the NAOBF, which he also owns. He later responded to those allegations in an interview with me here. All that does not change the fact that Epic Ale is a classic, and probably the most decadent organic beer ever created. It truly does improve with age. More on this below.

Roots was a brewery ahead of its time. The first all-organic brewery in town, they also helped to push Belgian beers, sour styles, and the use of unusual ingredients, and single-handedly (as far as I am concerned) made chili pepper beers viable. Unfortunately, the business practices were not up to snuff and with pressure from the opening of nearby Hopworks Urban Brewery and distributor woes, it did not work out. Roots closed for good this fall.
Now that Roots has folded, many people have been asking what Craig is up to. There were rumors of him opening another brewery in town or moving to San Diego to start a new Belgian beer festival, but it turns out Craig has stayed put and is currently the new Assistant Brewer/Production Brewer at the Green Dragon’s new in-house operation, Buckman Village Brewery.
Craig Nicolls photo from Brewpublic
For those who don’t know, the Epic Ale is a 13.5% Abv beast of a Strong Ale that features hand-smoked malts and was aged on cherry wood that was soaked in Cognac, Glenlivet, and cherry juice. The brew is boozy and smooth, with caramel, roast, chocolate, smoke, and cherry pie notes. Truly, a few vintages of Epic rank as some of my all-time favorite beers.
2008 label
And also for those who don’t know, I was honored to be able to design the labels for the last 3 of the 5 years of Epic Ale. It was my first experience in designing a beer label, so I did not take the opportunity lightly. In fact, it allowed me to really cut loose and also learn what worked and what did not.
2009 label
The very last year of Epic (09) featured what I think was the most technically accomplished label of the series, as I attempted to connect each end of the label into each other to create a continuously looping image around the bottle. If you lined the label up on the bottle right, each edge would perfectly touch and both the luminescent light and tree branches extended into the other on each side. Unfortunately, the label printing on the last year’s version was cheap and looked terrible, like something ran off from a home printer that was running out of ink. The 09was also the weakest year for the beer itself, with it tasting more cherry juice than ever before. Almost like a not sour version of Cascade’s Sang Noir. I am very interested to see if the beer has melded and grown into itself after one year.
Without a doubt I think the best year for the label was the first that I designed ,the 07, which, when I last tasted it last, was marvelous and could probably continue to age. Regardless of all this, there is nowhere better to be Tuesday night than drinking a vertical flight of Epic and seeing what Craig is up to, whether you like him or not.
From Belmont Station:
TUESDAY DECEMBER 21 5 – 11PM ROOTS EPIC VERTICAL NIGHT. For a number of years Roots founder Craig Nichols held annual vertical tastings of his big Holiday ale at his SE Portland brewpub. With the pub no longer there Craig will be our special guest as he taps every vintage (2005 through 2009) of Roots Epic ale for the final time. This is truly the last draft available of several of these vintages. We will serve flights of all 5 side by side
4500 SE Stark
Portland, OR

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Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact:


  1. Nicole

    December 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm


  2. DA Beers

    December 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I’d give the credit to Oregon Trader’s jalapeno pepper beer before the Roots one. Also, I recall the one Flanders Red, but was there another sour they made?

  3. Samurai Artist

    December 21, 2010 at 9:44 pm


    DA Beers,
    I have never even heard of Oregon Trader’s Jalapeno beer. I looked it up on BA and its a closed brewery with 1 mediocre rating for a green chili beer. I also am not crediting Roots with being the first on any of these things but influencing how they can be done. Maybe its just me but a beer I have never heard of probably would not be very influential. And yes they made many sours and I think were one of the first locally to make a traditional sour along with Rock Bottom. Cascade was of course doing it but I think needed a lot of improvement and not traditional ie brettanamyoces

  4. Harry

    December 21, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Oregon Trader’s Jalapeno beer sounds like the precursor to Calapooia’s Chili beer which I have seen at festivals for years now.

  5. Jason

    December 23, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I guess it’s not new, and the Roots beer was pretty different, but I remember Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer being all over the place on the East Coast (if not the country) in the mid-90′s. It was a novelty then, like hot chili beers are now. The Roots Habanero beer was interesting, but couldn’t imagine wanting more than one–unless I wanted a major case of heartburn–but that may be just age..

  6. ElGordo

    December 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Yeah, that Cave Creek stuff is still #9 on BeerAdvocate’s worst beers list. Nothing but some Corona Light with a hot pepper in it – completely undrinkable.
    Rogue made a chili beer in the early 2000s that was significantly hotter than the Chipotle Ale they make now; I didn’t like that one either. I think Roots was one of the first to work chilis into a beer with more substance and make it taste like something other than straight peppers.

  7. Inventory Management Software

    December 31, 2010 at 6:49 am

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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