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Archive for the ‘Brewer: Cigar City’ Category

Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout - Laird’s Apple Brandy Barrel

August 8th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Style: Stout

11.5% from a growler

The Vice Blog just keeps racking up the awards. (Or getting spam emails.) To wit:

Dear The Vice Blog,

Congratulations! Madison here, and your blog, The Vice Blog, was determined to be one of the blogs to learn about your topic, and has received our 2010 Top 30 Alcohol Blogs award!

You can see your name amongst our winners here at: [redacted]

Winners were chosen through a scoring system led by internet nominations, which came from your reader base!

You can let your readers know you won by embedding the badge code to one of the different awards graphics found at: [redacted]

If you choose to accept or decline the award, please let me know.

Please do not hesitate to call or email if you have any questions. Many questions can be answered at [redacted].

Again, Congratulations, and I hope to see your badge soon!

Madison Evans

Thank you, Madison.* I am honored. So fucking honored to be a recognized leader in my “topic.” And I have chosen to…take my talents to South Beach. I mean, I have chosen to…

ACCEPT the award.

To wit some mo’:

Dear The Vice Blog,

Congratulations! Madison here, and your blog, The Vice Blog, was determined to be one of the best blogs to learn about your topic, and has received our 2010 Top 50 Clubbing Blogs award! [...]

Whoa, Madison, I’ll accept that sucker too. And to think I thought no one had been noticing all the great topical clubbing content on The Vice Blog!

And check out these sweet “badges” I have been awarded to trick out my site. Score!


Get a load of this beaut. I may make that into an actual badge to stitch onto my Ed Hardy shirt and wear out when I’m doing all this award-winning clubbin’.


Now that I’m an award winner–TWO TIME AWARD WINNER–I will have to carry myself differently. Classier and what not. In the manner befitting a two time award winner of a spam email contest. I’ll start that by now sloppily putting up posts, ones with photos that aren’t even correctly turned.**

I’ll also continue to drink incredibly rare and delicious beer, only rarely deigning to tell you about it. The Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout aged in Laird’s Apple Brandy Barrels is one I just had to brag about trying though. Only coming in at 89 total lottery-issued bottles, I was lucky enough to score a taste from one of a mere (reported!) twelve 64 oz growlers that the brilliant new Hawthorne’s Cafe filled a few months ago. They have one of those special growler fill stations so a thick and boozy stout can keep almost indefinitely and indeed our growler opened with a nice pffffft!

Now the first ever Cigar City beer I drunk and reviewed, their flagship Jai Alai IPA, I didn’t particularly love and said as much on this here AWARD WINNING blog. Joey Redner, Cigar City founder, was nice enough to write me and chew me a new asshole but eventually we came to a nice understanding and even became somewhat of online buddies and he even said he’d send me some more beers for review (they never arrived. Sad face emoticon.)

But every since that Jai Alai, literally every single Cigar City beer I’ve had has been good and most have been great, highlighted by the epic 30plus Cigar City beer event Rattle ‘n’ Hum put on this February which I still think is the best overall beer event Manhattan has ever seen.

At that event, in which my besotted grade-inflating ways awarded eleven beers an A- or higher, my two biggest winners for the day were the much ballyhooed “normal” Hunahpu’s, a most unique imperial stout aged on pasillo and ancho peppers as well as vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs and–totally unexpected to me–Cigar City’s Warmer Winter Winter Warmer Old Ale aged on Laird’s Apple Brandy. I previously knew nothing of this beer and simply ordered it to fill out a foursome flight, but it was far and away my favorite beer of the evening and currently in the running for my #1 overall beer of 2010. A true masterpiece I will never forget. So as you can imagine, I was most excited for that masterpiece of Hunahpu’s aged on that very same Laird’s Apple Brandy. And the shit didn’t disappoint one bit.

Amazingly, the spiciness of the base Hunahpu’s still comes through quite nicely but is somewhat neutralized by the delicious and slightly sweet apple brandy which adds an insane complexity. The thick and chewy mouthfeel reminded me of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout–I’d love to see a Brandy County Brand Stout!–and it was so amazingly luscious. There’s really nothing else on the planet like this beer–all the more reason we need some other brewers to try apple brandy barreling. The beer improves greatly as it warms and I relaxingly indulged in a good 1/3rd of the growler on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I still like the Laird’s aged Warmer Winter a tad better, but this beer will most likely make my top 10 beers for 2010 as well.

I’d encourage you to go find it, but like most of Cigar City’s experimental beers, you probably won’t be seeing this anywhere. Then again, neither will I again.


*Fun fact: The classic 80s comedy “Splash” actually popularized if not created the name Madison. Daryl Hannah’s (spoiler alert!) mermaid character takes her name from Madison Avenue after walking past the street sign. In the years since the film was released, the name’s popularity has skyrocketed by the kinds of parents who name their children after a mermaid slut from a Ron Howard movie.

**In all honesty, blame the iphone’s fucked up new OS for that quirk. Any one else having problems with this shit? I’m going to be really pissed if I have to dig my digital camera out of some drawer.

Cigar City at Rattle ‘n’ Hum

February 23rd, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 12 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Style: Brown Ale, Style: Cream Ale, Style: IPA, Style: Old Ale, Style: Stout

“I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for the events of the night of the 23rd.  I’m not accustomed to drinking alcohol.”  –Max Fischer, “Rushmore”

I woke up near noon, still completely dressed in what I’d worn the previous evening.  Jacket, shoes, jeans with wallet, cell phone, keys still in it, everything.  My head pulsated in pain.  Not surprising considered I’d celebrated my birthday the previous night at Rattle ‘n’ Hum, chasing pints of 13% Bourbon County Stout with shots of Irish whiskey in a perpetual Mobius strip of aggressive drinking.  But even worse than the pain in my head, was the pain in my gut.  What exactly had happened twelve hours previous?  Had I scarfed down too many orders of fried calamari and Buffalo wings?  Yeah, probably, but that wouldn’t cause this kind of pain.  A pain so intense it hurt for me to sit upright and killed when I tried to piss.

Oh right, I’d entered myself in an impromptu gut-punching contest Friday night.

Seems that after drinking steadily from happy hour til midnight, after all the women and responsible men had left my party and the bar, leaving only a quintet of degenerates remaining, someone, probably me, had gotten the wise idea to start a quasi-Fight Club in our little corner and we began exchanging a series of gut punches with each other.  I’d never done something like this before, never even had such a desire to do something like this before, but I’ve never been accused of not having strokes of genius when too lit up to remember them the next day.  And, this gut-punching stroke, did I only barely recall engaging in.

I have a long history of alienating friends, ruining relationships, losing my dignity, and flat out humiliating myself on my birthday.  It’s an annual tradition.  But in this case it seemed like none of the above had occurred.  I spent the day writhing in pain, staying supine, and texting with my friends to recount the night.

How many gut punches had we exchanged I wondered?  About fifteen, recalled Tony.

How hard were we hitting each other?  About 75% our maximum punching power, thought Graig.

And why the fuck weren’t we getting tossed out of the bar for such childish shenanigans?  Because Rattle ‘n’ Hum is the most awesome bar in the world, thought I.  Though, honestly, because my friends were probably racking up a combined grand in drinking tab.  Never let any one tell you that money can’t buy you happiness.  Or the ability to have an impromptu gut-punching contest in a heretofore civilized establishment.

But apparently the night wasn’t completely peaches ‘n’ cream at Rattle ‘n’ Hum.  Sal chipped in that eventually, after about a half hour of gut-punching, some guy, en route to smoke a butt outside, had told us to cut it out.  And apparently, I had told said guy where to stick it.

Oh God!  Who was this man?  A bartender?  A manager?  Hopefully not…the owner!

Typically, I wouldn’t care.  Wealthy Charles Foster Kane wasn’t worried that his beloved newspaper was losing him one million dollars a year because, as he noted, “at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place…in 60 years.”  And I’ve long realized that I can get 86ed from a New York bar this week, and one next week, and one the week after that, and at the rate of fifty-two 86ings per year, I’d have to move to a new drinking town…in 60 years.  But the circumstances were different here because Rattle ‘n’ Hum is my favorite bar in the world.

Now normally I’d just lay low for awhile til my statute of drunken limitations had expired.  But, in this case, that simply wouldn’t work.  You see, just three days later, Rattle ‘n’ Hum was having one of the greatest beer-drinking events in recent memory as the esteemed Tampa brewery Cigar City was coming to town to unleash more than their full lineup of beers.  There’s no fucking way I was going to miss this event.

I consulted with my friends.  Who exactly had I mouthed off to and exactly how mouthy had I gotten?  Was I truly 86ed?  Would I be recognized if and when I returned to the bar?

“You’re not exactly the kind of guy that people forget, Aaron,” noted Graig.  I don’t think that was a compliment.

After fretting all day, I had no choice.  I would have to attend the Cigar City event incognito.

In preparation, I shaved an uneven goatee into my scruff, wore some particularly shabby clothing (which is saying something for me, I normally dress like a hobo), put on a Syracuse cap pulled low as possible over my eyes and sharp eyebrows (my most prominent and memorable features), and even wore my nerdy reading glasses that never leave the house, just to have another thing blocking my face.  Of course, I had to fly solo, I couldn’t risk returning to the scene of the crime with any accomplices.

I felt nervous when I entered the fairly empty bar, especially when I saw the afternoon’s bartender was the very same kind Irish lass we’d had at my birthday.  I couldn’t recall if I’d been offensive to her as well.  I walked with an intentionally unconfident slouch, my head meekly drooping to hide myself further.  I looked down at the bar, never making eye contact, feigning intense nervousness as the bartender approached and slid a menu in front of me.

“What can I getcha, hon?”

My ruse had seemed to work.  She didn’t recognize me from Adam.  (If Adam was the name of one of the countless beer nerds that would be infestating the bar soon enough.  Damn, perhaps I should have stuffed a pillow under my shirt to create a faux-beer gut.  I didn’t need my flat belly giving me away.)

I decided to open my drinking with probably the manliest, not to mention priciest, flight of beers ever assembled, pictured above.  A straight boozy stout quartet of Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, Hunahpu’s imperial Stout, and their bourbon-barreled counterparts.

Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout

This 11% ABV brew is bursting with distinct flavors of coffee, chocolate, toffee, and molasses.  A rich syrupy mouthfeel and great carbonation, this is an awesome effort.  (A)

Bourbon Barrel Aged Marshall Zhukov’s

I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I’m not sure I’ve ever said this in my entire life as I’ve long stood by the reasoning that awesome beer + bourbon barrel aging = awesomer beer but in this case I thought the incredible booziness here overwhelmed the subtler flavors.  Or maybe I’m just becoming a little pussy in my old age.  I’d love to try this one with a little age on it but even hot and young it’s quite good.  (A-)

Hunahpu’s Mayan Chocolate Imperial Stout

Currently resting at #38 on Beer Advocate’s Top 100 beers on earth after an amazingly meteoric rise, this 11% beer takes a base of Marshall Zhukov’s and ages it on pasillo and ancho peppers as well as vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs, giving it a nice little spiciness with a surprisingly sweet finish, and making it taste truly like no other imperial stout around.  As a huge fan of Latin spices, I absolutely adored this effort, and, for me, it was my clear stout winner of the day.  (A)

Bourbon Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s

Just like the bourbon-barrel Marshall Zhukov’s I think the intense bourbonness of this effort blocks out the awesome spices and makes it a less complex and enjoyable beer.  Having said that, it’s still quite good.  (A-)

After my first flight, I thought, let’s see, twenty-four total Cigar City beers available, if I keep flighting in out, I could knocked off the full lineup in only six total plate appearances.  Flight #2 coming up!

Creamsicle IPA

This sounded like an intriguing premise, an IPA that tastes just like a Creamsicle, but I doubted the execution was possible.  I was so wrong.  This straight out tastes like a bitter IPA backed by the orange creamy goodness of a popsicle.  Amazingly drinkable and quaffable.  (A-)

Flora IPA

This standard IPA with cedar and lavender added smells like a sack of weed and tastes like a flower garden.  And that’s a compliment.  Absolutely delicious and unique.  (A)

Humider Series Juniper IPA

I’d been floored by Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA aged on cedar so I was excited to try yet another IPA from their exciting Humidor Series, and this was just as good.  Like drinking a box of wood.  (A)

Brandy Barrel Winter Warmer

I honestly ordered this one just to fill out the foursome, but it absolutely floored me.  The normal Warmer Winter Winter Warmer–an old ale I still hadn’t had at this point so I can’t compare–aged on Laird’s apple brandy, this would end up being my favorite beer of the evening and one of the best beers I’ve had year to date.  Silky, syrupy, and sweet but not cloying, this reminded me of J.W. Lee’s delicious Harvest Ale Calvados, but even boozier and more delicious.  A huge winner.  (A+)

At this point I was getting pretty drunk and began fretting I would soon break into Leonard-Duran gut-punching numero dos.  I really had to focus and say “No mas” as there is surely some demon inside of me that now likes me to get punched in the gut.  I had brought a paperback and had planned to quickly drink my beers with my head ducked into the book, but, ironically, I kept finding myself talking to people over the two hours I was there and even made two new friends.

I now realized that having all six flights was probably out, but I figured I could squeeze in two more.  Unfortunately, their pricey cask selections, of which they had several, were not available in flight form so I had to go with full pours.  The remaining beers I slugged:

Double Cream (cask)

When I prepared my drinking order the night before I’d flagged this 9% strong cream ale as one I was particularly excited to try, but its corn and honey sweetness simply didn’t fully deliver for me and it would go down as the worst (relative term) beer I had for the day.  (B+)

Mango IPA (cask)

This IPA loaded with dry hops, mango acai tea, and a hint of lavender was my third favorite effort of the day.  As it warms the intense mango flavors come through nicely.  Flawless mouthfeel and drinkability.  Amazing.  One of my favorite IPAs of the year.  (A)

Maduro Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

After the mild failure of Brooklyn’s far more ballyhooed attempt at making a straight-up cookie tasting beer I didn’t expect any one could execute in that regard.  I was wrong.  This brown ale does taste just like an oatmeal cookie as the tart raisiness comes through nicely.  (A-/B+)

Cuban Espresso Maduro

Wow, just like the previous beer, this 5.5% brown ale aged on Naviera Coffee Mills #3 Espresso blend with chicory tastes like a flat out iced coffee.  Intense and smoky, simply delicious if you’re a coffee nut.  (A-)

At this point, the major-league beer nerds starting filing in, wielding their note-taking pens like rapiers and setting up their cameras on tripods (tripods!) to take pictures and videos of the scene…and I knew I had to make my exit, stage left, before I caught anything.

I had twelve of the beers, coupled with three others I’d had in the past, meaning I’d tried fifteen of the twenty-four available.  A 0.625 batting average.  Not bad and I hope to some how, some day, try the ones I missed, especially their Peach and Papaya IPAs which just sound phenomenal as well as the standard Warmer Winter.

Oh, and I’m putting myself on a self-imposed one month ban from Rattle ‘n’ Hum.

Cigar City Jai Alai Cedar Aged IPA - Humidor Series

January 19th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 11 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: IPA

7.5% ABV on cask

I was dining with a friend’s family at a nice joint when I ordered a Scotch.

“Mmm…I just had my one Scotch for the month last night.”

It was my friend’s grandpa, Mr. Gibson, a 91-year-old but fit as a fiddle, he still walked on his own, drove short distances, and had an incredibly sharp memory.

“Your one Scotch for the month?” I inquired.

He explained that though he was very healthy, all things considered, once you get old you simply shouldn’t drink that much, if at all according to his doctor, but since he loved his Scotch, there was no way he was going to completely nix that from his life.  So he came up with a solution:  one single glass per 30 days.

Wow I thought, how delicious must that single monthly glass taste?  Surely better than anything I ever drink.  He must savor every last drop of that Scotch, inhaling it with all of his senses, understanding aromatic and flavor complexities that an over-consuming hedonist like me quickly glosses over as I dump the liquid down my gullet.

I decided to try and take inspiration from Mr. Gibson by abstaining from drinking more frequently, by trying to make each great drink I have more special.*  I’m getting better.  One beer I explored recently was perfect for this focused task.

Now I hadn’t been overly wowed by the “standard” version of Jai Alai–even got in a little friendly e-mail tiff with Cigar City founder Joey Redner–but I’d been really excited to try something from their Humidor Series.  Nowadays there’s so much invention in beermaking that there’s paradoxically almost no invention.  Not that I don’t love many if not most of them, but when all breweries are oak-aging, Brett-ing, chocolate nibbing, and bourbon-, wine-, rum-barreling their beers, these things no long really seem that special and you start to wonder if there is any new ground to break.  With the Humidor Series, Cigar City shows there clearly is.

Humidor Series beer are aged on the rarely-utilized cedar which the brewery itself believes has a more “subtle” effect than a more oft-used beer-aging wood like oak.  I actually thought the flavor wasn’t that subtle but I loved it all the more for that very reason.  The tropical fruitiness and floral hop aromas still come through, and you never doubt for a second that this is clearly an IPA, but that cedar just makes it so much more interesting.  Off cask and uncarbonated the flavors just came together so beautiful and I think I really prefer the cedar to oak.

I’m a big cigar smoker and this one tastes just like a liquidized cigar you’ve pulled fresh from your humidor, evoking pleasant memories of relaxed evenings lazily smoking with friends.  Now I’m sure that kinda sounds gross to you but the cigar “taste” is more a result of mind association than actual beer content.  I really hope to try this again, along with the rest of the series, hopefully with an actual cigar in my other hand this time around.  Though that is probably impossible in a bar due to NYC’s draconian laws, so perhaps I’ll have to figure out a way to acquire some Humidor Series for home-usage.  This beer is truly one of a kind.


*Says the author, having just gotten loaded for six straight days and nine of the last ten.

Cigar City Jai Alai IPA

August 21st, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Grade: B regular, Style: IPA

7.5% ABV on tap

Presented in ascending order, my most desirable American breweries to try a beer from, that I’ve never had a beer from.  Did that make sense?  So these are breweries–or tiny brew pubs in many cases, no surprise–in which I have never had a single beer from, yet are ones that I most would like to have a single beer, any beer, but preferably many beers, from.

HONORABLE MENTION:  Shorts, Midnight Sun, Alaskan, Sweetwater, Aaron’s Imaginary Microbrewery

10. Pisgah (Black Mountain, NC)

9.  Flossmoor Station (Flossmoor, IL)

8.  Central Waters (Amherst, WI)

7.  COAST (North Charleston, SC)

6.  Moonlight (Fulton, CA)

5.  Live Oak (Austin, TX)

4.  Barley John’s (Minneapolis, MN)

3.  Bullfrog (Williamsport, PA)

2.  Kuhnhenn (Warren, MI)

1.  Cigar City (Tampa, FL)

For whatever kooky reason, I’ve wanted so badly to try Cigar City beer from since even before they’ve been a brewery.  Seriously.  I started following their splendid blog over a year ago as they day-by-day cataloged their “trials and tribulations of opening a brewery in Florida.”  Then, when the brewery did finally open early this year and immediately started getting boffo reviews for its first releases, I was even more smitten.  The fact that they had a meager, meager distribution arm made them even more enticing.  Heck, my sister lives in Florida, Fort Lauderdale to be exact, and even she wasn’t able to get Cigar City for me.  These beers were playing hard to get and I was captivated.

So imagine my surprise when, just this week, Cigar City finally, ahem, penetrated the New York City market.  I rushed to the great Rattle ‘N’ Hour at the first hour I found happy on Thursday, the first day they tapped New York’s first Cigar City offering, the highly regarded Jai Alai IPA.

And I was bitterly disappointed.  The IPA I tasted had a mild, mild carbonation almost bordering on cask ale.  I assure you it was straight from the tap and I believe it was tapped correctly.  The most muted of piny–not Pliny unfortunately–and hops smell with just a hair more flavor than aroma.  A decent hops bitterness and a tad of malt sweetness to smooth it out on the back end.  Reminded me of a poor, poor man’s Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA.  I felt this IPA was made very cowardly, with the weakest of flavors in all capacities.  I can’t express how gravely disappointed I was.  One compliment, and only one compliment, is that I am stunned how high the ABV is.  Jai Alai rolls down your throat like a 5% beer, again though, perhaps due to the real lack of biting carbonation.

I hate to be arrogant, I hate to reveal my big city elitism in all its inglory, but the mediocrity of this beer yet again makes me question the veracity of highly rated brews coming out of the exact opposite of beer oasises.  Oases?  (OK, that isn’t underlined in red so I must have spelt it right.)

Beer geeks that live in New York or Philly or Chicago or San Diego or Seattle, etc, have access to countless great brews.  So if a new upstart comes on the market, it better be fucking good or it simply will not survive the Darwinian beer race.  But Florida and specifically Tampa has shitty beer.  A new brewery hits the scene and even if they’re just making B+ quality beer, the locals go nuts.  (Sure better than Corona!  Or well mai tais!)  They’ve never had anything this great before.  And don’t deny the rah rah local homerism either.

I get how this works.  I grew up in Oklahoma City.  Not exactly the Paris of the southern USA dining world.  Afloat in a sea of chain restaurants, any time some halfway decent “exotic” Chinese or Thai or Japanese or “New York style” pizza place would open, locals would flip their culinary shit like they were wielding their fork or chopsticks at Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria joints (not that they would know who those master chefs are (good lord, could I be more arrogant?!))  For the simply reason that they only had the deplorable Applebee’s and Panda Express at the mall food court to compare these places too. These places would be nothing more than also-rans in New York or San Francisco, but in a less competitive place they were superstars.  And I’m starting to believe the same goes for some of these purely local breweries out there.

So thus, I am now leery of the other highly rated Cigar City beers, and the incredibly highly rated Live Oak stuff coming out of Austin (not exactly Ghent), and all the other A-level beers coming out of places like Des Moines and Little Rock and Tulsa and Utica.  No offense.  Wait, yeah, OFFENSE.

Ho hum…I plan to give both Jai Alai and a few other Cigar Citys another shake this weekend.  I hope I have my tastebuds swayed.

So, what are your most desirable breweries to try a beer from which you have never tried a beer from?  Maybe we can get some local trades going, quid pro quo and shit for everybody.