Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout (2013 & 2014 vintages)


4.4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1225) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 23, 2014
2013 edition
2014 edition
I try not to get caught up in the hype of beers like Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout that are only released once a year on a special day at the brewery for which you need to buy tickets in advance (i.e. Dark Lord, Kate the Great, etc.). But since two friends of mine in Florida were generous enough to send me a bottle of the last two editions, I figured it was okay to get a little excited. And now that I’ve tried the beer I can definitely see why it receives the praise it does. This is a very unique and impression imperial stout brew as it utilizes a variety of spices and flavorings to give it a taste you’re not going to find in any other beer of the style. It’s not quite world class, but it is damn good.

NOTE: The scores are indicative of the 2014 vintage.

The 2013 vintage was given to me by Christopher G. and the 2014 vintage was given to me by Matt S. Thanks to both of my friends for sending me these beers! I split each bottle with four friends. We poured them into various stemmed tulip glasses and goblets.

Appearance: Both vintages are, not surprisingly, completely opaque black and a very dark shade of black at that. Both had a dark brown, frothy head, though the 2013’s was slightly lighter. Both heads faded relatively quickly and only left a little bit of lacing.

Taste: My friends and I started out with the 2014 edition, which at the time of drinking was an 11-month-old bottle. Right away there was a huge sensation of dark baking chocolate – intensely bitter, but also rich with chocolaty sweetness. Dark cherry and other fruit flavors are prominent as well, probably likely derived from the use of massive amount of malt in the brew (a lot of imperial stouts tend to have similar characteristics). On the second half, a strong surge of cinnamon spice sweeps across the palate – creating for a Christmas cookie-like taste. As it goes down, there’s a warmth from the peppers, though I would not consider it spicy in a peppery way. All in all it’s quite delicious, though a bit repetitive. I’d probably prefer a touch more sweetness, but what’s here is extremely pleasant.

The 2013 edition was noticeably different. The pepper character had faded, though the chocolate component had not only strengthened, but gone from bitter dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate. The alcohol was also a bit more pronounced, ironically enough, though it did create for a slightly smokey, bourbon-like flavor. Cinnamon was still quite potent on the finish, though it was more a sweetness than a spice. It left a residual cloying/sticky sensation which is common for many imperial stouts. I don’t think anything was gained by aging this vintage, in fact, it was probably hindered a bit since the spicy character was weakened (though if you don’t like spice, cellaring a bottle is the way to go).

Drinkability: It was clear right away that both of these beers were pretty beefy. I believe the 2013 edition was 11% ABV and the 2014 was 11.5%, though neither had any kind of “extreme” quality to their weight. The mouthfeels were, of course, full-bodied, but with a soft texture and smoothness as it went down. Not much in the way of alcohol warmth, though the fresher vintage definitely had some noticeable heat from the peppers (but again, nothing too extreme). The 2013 vintage traded Scoville heat for alcohol heat and it was actually rather cloying in the aftertaste whereas the 2014 was remarkably dry. I’m glad I split these bottles with friends, though I was certainly feeling the weight of the brew bearing down on me afterwards. Splitting a bottle with friends and family is definitely the way to go. 
Grades:
2013: 8/10
2014: 9/10
NOTE: Read Matt's blog on the 2014 Hunahpu release day here: http://blog.timesunion.com/beer/a-firsthand-account-of-the-2014-hunahpu-day/2323/