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Cigar City Brewing - Hunahpu's Imperial Stout

Huna.jpgI recently had the privilege of visiting Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL. As a rule, I am not a big fan of Florida, due to the unusually abnormal level of bad drivers and generally abnormal folks - but I found Tampa pretty cool. Folks were nice, the beer was good, and they even have pretty damn fun single track. 

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This past Saturday was Hunahpu's day. Cigar City's annual brewfest. Brewers came from around the world to share their brews. Due to 'admission issues' in the past - things are pretty well organized now. Your wristband comes weeks ahead in a box, you activate it online, and entry is only allowed with the rfid wristband. You can pick your bottles of Hunahpu's Stout ahead of the event - which beats picking it up after. Although picking it up after was not an issue for those folks either as most everyone had picked theirs up already, mitigating any lines.

Four free food tickets and a tasting glass weSample.jpgre provided, along with admission. The fresh food from Da Kine Poke Bowls and other food trucks was amazing.

Estonia.jpgThe first brew I sampled was from a brewer in Tallinn Estonia - a Scotch Whiskey Barrel Aged Scottish Ale. He says it's changed a bit since I was there last.

My favorites were a couple of brews from 3 Sons, Lumberjack Morning Break - an amazing stout with a great aroma, and Scoop a La Mode a neapolitan stout, which was the best attempt I have had at a neapolitan stout by far. I met a couple of great guys from Chicago while in line and after dinner we headed over to the brewery.

The Cigar City brewery is decently small, had great service and tons of great brews on tap. They sell hand rolled cigars to smoke at the brewery. I sampled a Darkstar November (good stuff) shared by a patron, and enjoyed the tap list. The regular Huna pours with a dark viscous head, has a spicy sweet arouma and flavor. It's balanced with cocoa notes and nice warmth, it's a great stout. A bit expensive, but not disappointing.

cigar.jpgI might even try to go back someday. There are a number of other great breweries in the area, and Hunahpu's day falls at the end of craft beer week, and about two weeks before it gets way too hot. So it's not a bad time to be in Florida.

Prairie / Evil Twin - Barrel Aged Bible Belt

Mmm... BA Bible Belt pours very dark with minimal head. It's aroma is very complex right off the bat. Spicy, earthy, honestly pretty unique. Flavor profile-wise this is clearly a Prairie ale. It does not fall far from the Bomb, Christmas Bomb tree. It has a nice lingering bourbon character, a nice malty sweetness almost like a lactose sugar. It has a bit of a dusty rotten wood thickness in the aroma that carries through into the palate. Aside from fruit additions, this might be one of the coolest most unique flavored stouts I have ever had. While not quite as big as a Bourbon County, the bourbon is still very prominent. This is like the opposite side the of the spectrum from something like BA Old Rasputin, that while very good has a flatter flavor profile. This is not a simple ale.

If I understand it, the base beer is Evil Twin, with the basic spice profile from Bomb. I keep going back to cork. Remeber that dark cork everyone bought and put on their walls back in the 80's. That is sort of the arouma of this stuff. I could see how someone might not like, I love it. It's unqiue.

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Funky Buddha - Maple Bacon Coffee Porter

maplebacon.jpgI recently visited Total Wine in Daytona. It's the only store in Florida I have found to carry a pretty decent selection of brews. Savannah has a number of great breweries making some great products. But for your barrel aged stuff you pretty much have to venture out of town. I was able to pick up some Cigar City Marshal Zhukov Vanilla Hazelnut and a few other pretty decent ales. One of which was Funky Buddha - Maple Bacon Coffee Porter which seems to garner some popularity.

It poured with a very yummy coffee aroma, not unlike chocolate covered coffee beans. It poured very dark, with a minimal head. Medium bodied, I thought it might have a tannin bite like some lighter porters, but it didn't. Overall I thought it was very good. Not excessively thick like most barrel aged stouts and porters, but very good. At 6.4% the bomber does not put you over the edge, and overall the flavor profile changes little as it warms.

While I was at it - I fixed my website. The backend was getting a bit old, the search engine had ceased functioning, and it was time for an update.

Bells Black Note

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Black_Note.JPGThe appearance of Bell's Black Note is a rich dark ruby mahogany. No light penetrates it's depths. It is perhaps the darkest stout I have seen to date. It pours with a minimal head and delicate lace that clings to the circumference of the glass. It presents a very pleasant bourbon nose. However unlike many bourbon barrel stouts, this one is not overpowering. Black Note still allows the rich malty notes and dark fruits to come through in the aroma. Overall a decently complex aroma for a bourbon stout.

Its taste is balanced just like the nose. Smooth and sweet, it coats the tongue giving a tiny alcohol burn in the finish, it is incredibly balanced for an 11.8% stout. This is the most balanced and drinkable bourbon stout I have had. The thing I really like about this ale is that unlike Brooklyn Black Ops where the Bourbon is almost undetectable, this bourbon is present. You don't need to go looking for the bourbon by any means, however it still allows the complexities of the base ales to come through. It is not so dominated by the bourbon that it's overwhelming.

My first impression that I had was that this was the best bourbon barrel stout I have ever had. But I have already said that about Founders CBS and Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th. So to be honest, I guess it is in the top two or three barrel aged stouts of all time. More balanced than Bourbon County Stout for sure, and even more balanced that BA Plead the 5th I think. It has everything that a huge bad barrel aged stout has, tannin bite, alcohol burn, bourbon, but all in it's place. The tannin bite and alcohol burn are just a passing glance. The real show here is the Imperial Stouts and their malt complexities.

Let's just say that jetting out of work at lunch to drive to Kalamazoo was worth every moment. I was so excited when I picked mine up I was shaking. I think that means you're a true blue beer geek - or something like that. 
Smashed_Pumpkin.jpgThis ale pours a beautiful orange with minimal head. Sweet pumpkin aroma dominates along with light airy notes of pumpkin pie spices. It has a very light flavor profile yet is full bodied. As it warms up, the nutmeg becomes more pronounced. Doug at Siciliano's Market recommenced it. At first I was hesitant given that I have had the Shipyard Pumpkin head in the past and it was by far my least favorite of all the pumpkin ales. This is a totally different brew, much bigger, and much better. It really rates in my book as an excellent and unique interpretation of a pumpkin brew. At 9.0% and a full flavor profile, it's no lightweight in the beer world.

I was disappointed this year that as a result of Michigan Brewing going out of business that Screamin' Pumpkin was no longer available. It was by far my favorite pumpkin beer. I tried Sam Adams Pumpkin ale, it was good, but no Screamin' Pumpkin. As a result Dogfish head Punkin moved up from being another pumpkin ale, to the top of my Pumpkin beer list, it's a full pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top ale.

Odin would be proud

2012-08-01_22-47-55_258.jpgSo a friend of mine who has recently started brewing and dropped into all-grain after only his first couple of batches brought me two 1.75 liter jugs of mead that his now deceased father brewed in the 1970's. I think he had rolled around the idea of throwing it out, but I assured him that any mead that old should probably be examined first by an expert in aged mead disposal such as myself. After all, in cases such as these the mead should probably be filtered first before just pitching into earths fragile ecosystem. My liver is always willing to offer itself up willing in these important matters. It arrived in used liqueur bottles clearly stowed away for ages in the recesses of a basement. I was honestly a bit timid when I thought about how it might taste. I have had a number of homemade meads best reserved for removing paint from windows.

It poured a dark rich molasses normally only seen in aged spirits, with a boozy nose it was like smelling something that you almost never come across in the beer world short of something Sam Adams has aged in their basement for the past decade. Sweet, with notes of burnt molasses, raisins.. let's just put it this way, it's really freaking complex to the palate, and like anything complex, it manifests different facets as it warms up.

I am not sure what my friends father might have dreamt up as to the eventual place of resting for his mead as he stirred it in the pot. But I am thankful that I could participate in its journey. 

Great Divide - Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti

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Chocolate_Oak_Aged_Yeti.jpgOccasionally I will pour an Imperial Stout that just takes by breath away, transports me into an alternate malty universe where thick rich creamy rivers flow along malted barley banks. This brew is not that one. I had a homebrew like that the other day it was amazing. Yeti is one of those beers that almost hits the perfect mark, but falls just a tiny bit short. So I guess it would follow that chocolate oak aged Yeti, would also be an excellent brew, but fall just short of being the perfect ale.

Poured at cellar temp, it has a beautiful, yet minimal, creamy brown head and is extremely dark. With an aroma of oak and malt, it is a smooth ale with an assertive acid bite. A little cinnamon is present both in the aroma and the taste. While not perceptibly hot it has a bit of a burn as it goes down. Hop bitterness lies on the tongue leaving a piney presence. It has just a little sweetness which is quickly overtaken by the bitter bite imparted by the chocolate nibs, and cayenne pepper that dominate this ale. Overall I like it, but I could do without the cayenne and acidic bite. While not something I will try again, it certainly holds its own in the world of complex Imperial Stouts.

Whew, so hot, I think this is one stout that could kill a cold.

2012 MBG Winter Beer Festival

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Beer_Festival_Sign.jpgThis years Winter Beer Festival showcased some amazing brews. Odd Sides once again stood out with their creativity, bringing a Pineapple IPA, and Mayan Mocha Stout to the table. The Pineapple IPA was excellent, real live pineapple with no off or artificial characteristics. The Mayan Mocha Stout had a habanero burn, it was excellent, a little thin, but very original.

Dark Horse lead the way for Russian Imperial Stouts with this years Barrel Aged Plead the 5th. Next in line was Waldorf with their full bodied, caramel sweet, Old Woody Imperial Stout, their Braggot was also good, not amazing, but good. Third inline for Imperial Stouts was Jaden James - what an amazing Imperial Stout. I chatted with Chris the brewmaster, and he explained that he had aged it on French Oak Cubes, but pulled it off a little too soon. His six hop IPA was excellent as well, cloudy due to rough handling before arrival at the festival. He was less than trilled that his crystal clear ale had been stirred into a dust bowl.

Green Bush stood out among the new breweries, their LTD "Old Fashioned" Style Ale was excellent, and many of their brews got great reviews. Other worthy mentions are Old Boys Black IPA with a perfect hop aroma, Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Dawn Stout with nice fruity notes, and while I did not get to sample it Dark Horses Bourbon Barrel 666 ran out in a hurry.

I was disappointed in White Flame, their watery Ugly Stick Oatmeal Stout convinced me a drive to Hudsonville would be nothing short of complete disappointment. Cool logo, now they need to work on the brewing part of the business. Friendly folks though. Beer_Thinker.jpg


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The Abyss - Deschutes 2010

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2010_Abyss.jpgDeep and Dark, this full bodied stout lives up to its name. I thought this might be a dryer stout, but I was pleasantly surprised by its sweetness. A nice malt sweetness balanced by a little bitter oakey, tannin, hop, almost piney bite. Being a 2010 vintage, the alcohol hotness imparted is huge, as strong as a tile cleaner aroma . I could have aged this one for a few more years and I am sure it would have mellowed a bit. Truly an excellent stout, with a tiny fruity sweetness and slightly detectable molasses notes. If I pick up another one I think I will age it at least four years.

Overall I would say that The Abyss pretty much epitomizes what an Imperial Stout should be. Rather balanced, if I could brew a stout this good my experimenting days would be over.

Three Floyds - Dark Lord 2009

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Dark_Lord_2009.jpgMysteriously dark - like a black hole in space - with minimal head, Dark Lord 2009 was impressive. This is the biggest Imperial Stout that I have ever enjoyed. It's on par for density and richness with Bourbon County Stout. I can only imagine what the barrel aged version, Pappy Van Winkle must be like. The malty aroma meets a 'cocoa sweetness like brownies in the oven' according to Jay. I noted a carrot like flavor like Brooklyn's Black Chocolate stout with notes of ketchup. Overall this brew is excellent, extremely sweet and full bodied, it lacks the complexity of Founders CBS. I would rate CBS above Dark Lord because of its balanced complexity. But this a somewhat unfair comparison because CBS is barrel aged and therefore no longer belongs to the Imperial Stout category - in fact I am not sure that it is considered an Imperial Stout to begin with. Dark Lord is what I expected Brooklyn Black Ops to be. But Black Ops while decent, is highly disappointing if you are in search of big beers. Dark Lord definitely lives us to its reputation.

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