A Dark Impulse (Capricho Oscuro)

Cigar City Brewing has seen much growth lately, both in capital and popularity. With a recent brewery expansion, two medals from the Great American Beer Festival for their Humidor Series IPA over the past two years, and a ruling by Tampa, Florida’s City Council that allows the brewery’s tasting room to remain open, Cigar City seems to have established itself as one of the state’s premiere breweries. So why, if it’s so established, is Cigar City one of the breweries I’m most excited about for 2011? While I’m next-door neighbors with CCB’s home state, their beer isn’t available in Georgia. Currently, in fact, only some parts of Florida (not even the whole state), New York, and Philadelphia receive bottles and kegs of Cigar City’s beer. That will all change, however, when their beer arrives on shelves in Georgia beginning with the new year. In the meantime, my supply of this much sought-after beer is limited to what I can purchase when in Florida, and the haul from friends’ visits. In following the brewery online, I am amazed by the wide variety of beers they are turning out. As many of the batches don’t seem to be bottled or widely distributed, it is the tasting room that provides an outlet for many experimental or one-off brews. To celebrate the impending arrival of Cigar City to Georgia, I recently cracked open a bottle of one of their very special beers: Capricho Oscuro.

A barrel-aged blend, Batch #4 contains Rye Porter, Warmer Winter, and Big Sound (a Scotch ale). The bottle was dipped in a copper wax, I assume because it was a special release. The wax, however, may have been the only reason this beer wasn’t completely ruined by oxidation. I found a good bit of wax underneath the cap, indicating the cap alone had not provided a very tight seal. Thankful to the wax for its aesthetic and beer-saving contributions, I dove in. As may be expected by the beers that went into Capricho Oscuro, it poured a deep brown (almost black) with deep ruby highlights. The pour yielded almost no head, but what bubbles did form on top of the beer were light tan in color. The aroma was filled with dark fruit and roasted notes: sour cherries, rum-soaked raisins, chocolate, molasses, and vanilla. A slight boozy burn from alcohol was also detectable, and completely expected for a 9% barrel-aged beer. The taste combined the notes from the aroma with a few new flavors. I was very impressed by how such a complex combination of flavors melded together smoothly, supporting each other rather than clashing. The beer started off with the dark, roasted flavors of coffee and cacao nibs, but was then somewhat lightened by the sweetness of cherries, dates, and raisins with some vanilla (likely from the oak barrels) and caramel (undoubtedly Big Sound coming through). As the sweet richness of dark fruits waned, a yeasty bread flavor helped round out the roastiness. I took my time enjoying a snifter of this beer, and was rewarded by the subtle changes that occurred as it warmed. The dark fruits became deeper and all of the flavors became even more legato, although still identifiable, with the increase in temperature. The finish of this beer was extremely enjoyable, and a flavor I haven’t encountered often. I identified it as something contributed by the Rye Porter, as I remembered it from tasting Cigar City’s Soggy Loaf, a porter with pumpernickel and rye grains. I’m no stranger to rye grains in a beer–I live minutes from Terrapin Beer Company, whose first beer was the gold medal Rye Pale Ale, after all. It’s incredible to see, however, the different role that rye can take when added to a porter rather than a more hop-forward style.

The combination of the flavors in this beer kept reminding me of something I had tasted in the past, but it took almost the whole glass for me to remember (see, beer does cause revelations!): a bread pudding I had made last summer with Bell’s Cherry Stout, golden raisins, and cherries. The fruit, stout, and bread produced a flavor that I think very closely mirrored many of the notes in this beer. Check it out here and make it for yourself (provided by Brewery Ommegang).

This beer was a real treat to try, and an excellent exhibit of the skill and know-how possessed by the brewers at Cigar City. A blend of so many different flavors could have easily gone awry, but it didn’t! Even with the brewery’s upcoming distribution to Georgia, this isn’t a beer I will expect to see often, if at all. Capricho Oscuro is a limited beer (only 800 bottles of Batch #4 were made) and is currently only sold at the brewery. Should you have the opportunity to try this beer, or any of its future incarnations, I highly recommend it.

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Filed under American Strong Ale, Cigar City Brewing

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