Saturday, 21 May 2011

Now Drinking: Cigar City Jai Alai Humidor Series (Cedar) IPA

I've got an irrational hatred of wood-aged beers. Well, that's not quite true - my dislike is based on having tried dozens of wood-aged beers, and finding the majority of them to be an over-concentrated, spirit-influenced, hot, boozy mess, which I don't enjoy, so it's not entirely irrational. Let's start this post again, shall we?

It's my experience that wood-aged beers are over-influenced by the wood that they've spent time in. I like the soft, silky polish that you find in the Ola Dubh series, and of course Greene King's beers that incorporate their wood-aged Old 5X are usually a symphony of complexity. But what I really dislike is a 9% imperial stout put into a whisky cask and coming out as a 14% mix of beer and whisky. Your mileage may vary, but that's my experience and opinion.

So I'm not really sure what I was thinking when I bought this from the BrewDog shop - it's one of their guest beers, and I thought, well, why not. It has a good reputation, and sometimes you simply have to spend a bit of money and see what all the hype is about. The fact that the Cigar City Brewery's website is a touch hard to operate did nothing to inspire me, but hey, I wanted to try some new beer, and so I took the plunge.

And you know what? I'm glad I did. I can't vouch as to whether this bottle is representative of what it should be, but it's a surprisingly robust, almost English-style IPA (think Meantime IPA) crossed with a typical American IPA, and aged with cedar wood. I'd guess that it's aged over cubes or staves - it's definitely not a barrel-ageing treatment. But regardless of the technique, it's the end result that counts. Alongside the brown-sugar and marmalade aroma, and the sweetish initial attack, the spiciness of the cedar wood swooping in mid-palate adds a dimension that I'm not sure could be achieved any other way. It's a pungent, resinous spiciness that sits between the malt and hops, and adds a new dimension that throws both into relief. Crucially, by doing this, it actually makes you concentrate harder on what's happening on your palate.

A really interesting beer, a really interesting treatment, and a really interesting experience, and crucially, it's one I'd like to repeat. A lesson in abandoning your preconceptions.



  1. Yeah, I'm no fan of the whole wood-aged thing. There are are some pleasing ones but on the whole I reckon they just lead to a mess of flavours with the bonus of a dollop of damp cardboard flavour.

  2. I agree generally with you on the oak-aged stouts (though I must make an exception for the Hardknott Aether Blaec, which I thought very well balanced) but - and I suspect you'll agree given your writing about it - the Fullers barrel-aged beers have been wonderful. The brandy barrel was particularly good - I wonder if the smoother nature of brandy is a better complement to beer..?

    Have you ever tried a stout aged in a sherry cask? Dark beers and barley wines (I'm thinking Adnams Tally Ho especially) often take on very sherry-like flavours if aged - an 18-month old cask of Tally Ho I had some of last year was sensational. Would sherry cask-ageing work?

  3. I had a bottle of the white oak version a couple of weeks ago. I plead ignorance as to whether it was barrel-aged, dry-oaked, or however it may have been treated, but the oak was delightfully subtle, to the point of non-detectability. As an IPA, it wasn't bitter or dry enough, though it was loaded with nice resiny hop flavour and aroma. Not as miserably crystal-malt-laden as YIPAs usually are either, which helped a lot.

    And I'm not a fan of whisky/bourbon/wine barrel-aged beers in general either.

  4. Jeff, JJ - of course, know I think of it, there are more exceptions to the rule than not. But I guess it means something that whenever I see the words 'barrel-aged', I immediately become wary. Fuller's are perhaps the best example of the practice done right.

    Erlangernick - I actually thought it was quite restrained overall, and the subtle cedar spicing was quite classy

  5. Still not managed to get my hands on any Cigar City wares. I don't mind Barrel-aged stuff; but I think if you're doing darker beers then it's a bit of a no-brainer.

  6. The Revelation Cat Woodwork Series beers and the oak aged La Trappe Quadrupel are also pretty damn good.

  7. Leigh, John - several people have mentioned to me various wood aged beers over the last couple of days, and each time I've sais "oh yeah, of course they're great". I'm starting to think that the basic premise of this post is flawed - actually, I do quite like wood-aged beers, it's just that I dislike anything in which wood (or alcohol) is the dominant flavour.

    jj - I didn't respond to your second coment - yes, I think sherry ageing would probably work very well.

  8. I think the Thornbridge Alliance series needs a mention too. Top stuff. I've seen the cigar city stuff in the Brewdog shop and made myself pass it over (mainly down to costs), might try to pick one up next time if there's anything left. :)


  9. I do like my wood aged beers I have to say.

    I have had regular Jai Alai so this sounds interesting.

    You are right about the website. I can't stand websites that simply link to PDF files which can often crash a computer before you realise it's a pdf and your viewer integration is broke. Mine works but I can see it being a problem for some people from experience.

  10. Sounds well worth a try, where was it bought, as in are there any UK stockists?

    On the Ola Dubh beers, I have a bottle of the Special Reserve 40 which I'm waiting for the right moment to drink. I bought it thinking, lets go for the oldest, most expensive as it's bound to be the best.

    Am I right or is there not a huge difference between them?

  11. mark bbb - yeah, it's expensive, but price and value are two different things

    beersay - the difference is certainly noticeable - you get what you pay for, really.


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