Category Archives: Cigar City Brewing

Good Beer and Fare(well)

This post begins (what will hopefully be) a series of posts I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time, but (obviously) have not actually gotten around to yet. To briefly catch you up, I have recently moved from Athens to Winston-Salem and into the real world (college finally ran its course and I had to find a real job). Athens still holds a very special place in my heart and while I won’t be there nearly as much, I look forward to watching its beer culture continue to grow and blossom from afar. I look forward to exploring the local beer culture of Winston-Salem and the rest of North Carolina, as well as the entire Southeast region (and I plan to share as much of that as possible with all of you). But first, let’s travel back to May 5th for a bittersweet, but incredibly delicious event.

As someone who loves great food and great beer, and really loves the two smartly paired, I’m immediately interested in attending almost any beer dinner. When I heard that Richard Miley, chef at Chops & Hops, was hosting a beer dinner to bid farewell to two friends and fellow beer lovers who were leaving Athens, though, I didn’t have to think about whether or not I’d be attending. The night ended up being one I won’t soon forget and was full of some wonderful pairings of food and brew, but more importantly some awesome fellowship among beer lovers and friends.

For those of you who haven’t been to Chops & Hops, I highly recommend it. Chef Miley’s cuisine shows his training and technical ability as well as his Southwestern influence, but leaves no question of his unpretentious character. You’ll see no difference in the playful, but flavorful food from this dinner.

The evening began with a reception accompanied with a cask of Lazy Magnolia Reb Ale, a pale ale, on cantaloupe. Lazy Magnolia, a craft brewery from Mississippi that seeks to highlight classic Southern ingredients, recently launched in Georgia and has featured a limited lineup locally (only their Southern Pecan has been available in bottles with a few others intermittently on draft). The cask was a great beginning, with a light and moderately-hopped base and subtle cantaloupe flavor. I would reach for this beer a lot this summer if it were regularly available.

Once we were seated, the meal began with a course of beef carpaccio served with a homebrewed pecan pie brown ale. The roasted, nutty, and sweet flavors of the beer played perfectly with the beef, which seemed to melt in my mouth. The beer was unmistakably Southern and the carpaccio Richard’s Southwestern tinge, yet they worked together. I was so consumed by everything going on that I forgot to take a photo, so your visual experience will begin with the second course.

Next, we were treated to an oyster course which included buffalo fried and raw varieties of the molluscs with a habanero cocktail sauce, accompanied by a guava saison. As someone who has grown tired of the overplayed chipotle and other assorted pepper craze (I’m looking at you Bobby Flay), the habanero cocktail sauce was really great and provided a nice twist on the traditional horseradish kick. The spice and texture of the oysters worked really well with the saison, which brought plenty of tropical fruit flavors and just a hint of funk.

Shortly after finishing the second course, a slew of paper boats emerged from the kitchen with the third course: chili cheese fries made with Terrapin Moo-Hoo braised boar and habanero cured bacon. Chili cheese fries are about as “typical bar food” as you can get, but this deluxe version was full of rich, deep flavor in the boar meat, a bit of heat from the bacon and diced peppers, and an awesome combination of crisp and soft potato from the fries. Paired with this course was Founders Double Trouble, which enriched the boar with its hearty malt backbone and accentuated the heat with its ample hop profile.

Glancing at the menu ahead of time, I was a bit worried about this next course. I didn’t worry about how the yard bird & waffle topped with bourbon maple syrup and powdered sugar would taste, but it seemed like something that may be too heavy after three courses and…well, we’ll just say many beers. I shouldn’t have worried, though–the waffle was light and crisp, and the savoriness of the waffle and bird melded beautifully with the sweetness of the syrup and sugar. Paired with this course was Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton. The oak-aged hybrid of an Old Ale and Double IPA somehow snuggled right in between the savory and sweet of this dish and the wood lent a bit of earthiness to the protein.

Continuing the now ridiculous parade of gluttony was jerk swine, beans, and pineapple jasmine rice paired with Avery Maharaja. The jerk swine actually came from a whole hog, whose head was shared with the guests of honor (I may have stolen a bite as well). As the third Imperial IPA in a row, you might think that the beers were getting a bit boring. The nuances in each beer, though, were so well matched with each course that I don’t think anyone even thought twice about having three Double IPAs consecutively. In this course, the rich pork worked perfectly with the malt sweetness, while the spiciness and pineapple sweetness of the beans and rice enveloped the flavors of the hops. Another play on sweet and spicy, but somehow completely different.

As a sweet end to the bittersweet night, we were served Pastel Barracho made with Founders Breakfast Stout and Terrapin Moo-Hoo paired with a glass of the former. Meaning “drunken cake”, this Tres Leches-like cake was light on the dairy and heavy on the booze. The creamy and caramel flavors of the cake were exactly what you’d want with the dark Breakfast Stout and chocolatey Moo-Hoo, lending them levity and underlining their heft at the same time.

After dinner, I was treated to Cigar City Brewing Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, a local beer from Charlie’s, one of the guests of honor, future home. The bottomless pit of a stout was a great ending to the evening, with all the deep, robust flavors of an ideal Russian Imperial.

Lastly (yeah, I thought it was over too) before we left, I tried some of another special cask: Terrapin Monk’s Revenge aged in a Calvados barrel. The Belgian yeast and brandy notes made an awesome pair, and were still quite enjoyable…even after the entire dinner.

The entire meal was a great exhibition of Chef Miley’s mastery of the ingredients and understanding of how the each course would play with each beer. The sense of community felt that night as many of those who produce, sell, serve, and lovingly consume beer in Athens came together to send off a few of their own. As I prepared to leave town myself, it cemented the great things I had come to feel about the Athens beer community.


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Filed under Avery Brewing Company, Chops & Hops, Cigar City Brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Events, Founders Brewing Co., Terrapin Beer Co.

Field Trip: Hunahpu’s Day

In Georgia, the beers from Cigar City Brewing are much talked about, but rarely seen. Although the brewery plans to begin distribution in the state very soon, the only ways to get your hands on a bottle of their brew currently are to either trade with someone who lives within their distribution network or go directly to the source yourself-which is precisely what I did. For the second year in a row, Cigar City held Hunahpu’s Day for the release of their imperial stout. Available only at the brewery, Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout attracts quite a number of avid beer drinkers, who come to sample it and other Cigar City beers and eventually take home up to four bottles of the coveted stout brewed with Peruvian cacao nibs, Ancho and Pasilla chiles, Madagascar vanilla beans, and cinnamon.

This year’s Hunahpu’s Day was held on March 12, at the brewery in Tampa. I traveled down for the weekend with a group of others from the Athens craft beer community to see the brewery and get my own bottles to bring home. While the festivities didn’t begin until 11am, the line outside the brewery formed early…very early (the first person arrived around 5:30 Saturday morning). Once the gates opened, however, a full day of beer, food, and music began. In addition to Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, there were limited and barrel-aged offerings from Cigar City as well as beers from a few other local breweries. Some local homebrew clubs even had tents set up to offer free samples of their members’ brews. A variety of local caterers and restaurants fed the hungry crowd with an assortment of eclectic cuisine. Over the course of the day, I was able to try more beers than I’ll even attempt to comment on, but here are a few of the highlights:

Peach IPA – Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA already offers subtle hints of peach and apricot flavors from the several varieties of hops added to it but this ups the fruit flavor with the addition of actual peaches to the beer, adding aroma and flavor of fresh peaches while still maintaining enough of a hop bite to be a satisfying India Pale Ale.

Red Wine Barrel-Aged Sea Bass – One of the barrel-aged versions of a Cigar City release that were on tap, this takes the tart dark farmhouse-style ale made with wild yeast from St. Somewhere Brewing and adds another level of rich complexity.

Red Wine Barrel-Aged Vuja De – Another wild ale using yeast from St. Somewhere with black currants, hibiscus, elderberry flowers and lemon leaves added, the dark fruit flavor from aging in red wine barrels helps create subtle hints of mulled wine to contrast the bright fruits and sour of the base beer.

Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Porter – From a brewpub in Boca Raton, this is perhaps the most complete breakfast beer I’ve ever had. Smoked and roasted malt to lend bacon and coffee flavors with sweetness from maple syrup to balance it all out.

Peg’s Cantina Bloody Berliner Weisse – This is an amazingly creative brew from Cigar City’s Production Manager, Doug Dozark, who is the brewmaster at Peg’s Cantina & Brewpub in Gulfport. The tang of a Berliner Weisse went surprisingly well with the addition of tomatoes. Hints of peppercorn helped complete the ode to a bloody mary that was so refreshing and drinkable, I wish I could begin each day with a pint.

Check out all of my photos from Hunahpu’s Day here.

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Filed under Cigar City Brewing, Events, Field Trips

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