October was a busy month across West Yorkshire (and beyond) for beery events. Tap takeovers, beer launches, and tap room social events all activated the FOMO (fear of missing out) sensors, but with a visit to this year’s IndyManBeerCon on the cards too, i had to ration my outings.
One event that I really didn’t want to miss was a rare opportunity to taste a selection of beers from Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, Florida. Whilst I’d tried the odd third here and there over the years, the lure of Jai Alai IPA and the much vaunted Hunahpu Imperial Stout on tap is a rare enough occurrence to bring out the squeaky voiced nerd on my shoulder telling me to go along.
The reason for the timing of the event was seemingly that Magic Rock had invited brewmaster Wayne Wambles over for a collaborative brew, and he had very kindly arranged for a fresh pallet of kegs and cans to be flown in. Fresh beer is always a good way to seal a cross-atlantic friendship. Mr Wambles was there to offer a few words on the beers on offer, and also to sing the praises of traditional British brewing – their Brown Ale is a homage to those of the UK, Cask beer can’t be beaten, Fish and Chips is the ideal accompaniment to good ale.Aside from gracious comments about your hosts, the best way for a guest to leave a good impression is to provide a thoughtful gift. The first of these that i tried was the much-vaunted Jai-Alai IPA. Described by Wayne as pitching up somewhere between the West-Coast and New England/Vermont/East Coast IPA, it does indeed provide identifiable elements of both – a huge aroma, stereo pineyness, hazy but not definitely not turbid, but also dank and pillowy to taste, juicy on the finish and without a cutting bitterness.
The Maduro brown ale was my next choice, and whilst Wayne discussed about how british brown ales influenced the recipe for this beer, its clear that there’s plenty of local flavour. Initially, i thought that it was crisp but traditional, and perhaps even a bit pedestrian, but the further down the glass i went, extra depths were revealed – chocolate roastiness, hints of espresso and, obviously, cigar smoke. As a standalone beer, its good, if not jaw-dropping, but pair this with a roast beef, ribs, or rich dark ganache and you’ve got a pairing of pure joy.
The only Cigar City Beer i didn’t get excited about was Ligero – a black lager whose name is a reference to a part of the tobacco leaf that gives cigars a spicy flavour. As you may have guessed, the smoky, spiciness was reflected in the flavour of the beer – Wayne explained that he was inspired by German Schwartzbiers, and while the smoke was certainly not overpowering, it was enough for me – perhaps the contrasting sweetness of the Maduro and Jai-Alai meant my palate suffered slightly. One I’d like to give another go in a different place and time.
Having heard about the feverish demand amongst US devotees, the promise of a taste of the 2016 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout intrigued me to say the least. Brewed once a year, the ingredients include cacao nibs, cinnamon and ancho and pasilla peppers. Personally, the inclusion of chillies in a beer is usually an instant turn-off, having drunk my way through a series of underwhelming or plain disgusting chilli beers i wasn’t expecting to enjoy Hunahpu stout as much as i did. Brewmaster Wayne discussed the beer in terms of its relation to a chocolatey Molé sauce, and the sensation of drinking this thick stout, full of dark chocolate and sweet, piquant chilli was revelatory. Ultimately, the strength of the beer was its fine balance – sweet yet warming, rich but not chewy. It was a shame that the keg kicked shortly after I finished my third, as I would have drink more of this. A lot more.
As well as the keg delights, I also picked up weeks-old cans of Jai Alai, Maduro and also Invasion pale ale to take home, which was, like Maduro, seemingly inspired by UK equivalents – dry, tantalisingly bitter, and gently aromatic . Currently, I understand that it is unlikely that there will be a wider distribution of Cigar City’s offerings in the UK, but if you see them, have a chomp.