If you are like we were, you’re not sure what to expect from this beer. This heavily hopped IPA is aged on spirals of Spanish Cedar during primary fermentation. Who ages beer on Spanish Cedar, a wood normally used in the construction of humidors and high end cigar boxes? Cigar City Brewing, that’s who—and they are, to our knowledge, the first commercial brewery to use this wood in beer aging. Which had us asking: why didn’t someone else start doing this before? Could this possibly be any good? Well if the nose is any indication, then yes, because it smells amazing. Conjures up visions of a West Coast IPA rolled into a cigar. Very alluring. But let’s back up a bit… Pours a clear, coppery orange color, capped by an enduring off white, sticky, oily head. On the nose, it’s just amazing (did we already mention that?). This will be extra appealing if you happen to enjoy the smell of a seasoned cedar humidor. The spicy, fragrant notes of Spanish Cedar are unmistakable, and if you’re not sure what Spanish Cedar smells like, just take a sniff of this beer. However, the hefty dose of citrusy American hops imparts notes of orange, and the Spanish Cedar-meets-citrusy-hops gives a distinct aroma that is not unlike the scent of Orangina soft drink. Challenge your nose to get past the obvious cedar and hops, and you’ll find the aroma of a big, sweet malt base. We also get suggestions of tobacco, but that’s probably just a sensory cross-pollination of the oft-associated cedar and cigars playing tricks on our minds. We could sniff this all day long, but let’s get to drinking the stuff. The first sip romantically assaults the palate with a cavalcade of flavors. Big cedary spice, floral, aromatic hops, sweet, juicy malts, grapefruit rind (huge grapefruit notes!), sandalwood, kumquats (there, we said it), and a huge blast of cannabis—yes, pot (there, we said that too!). If you’re not sure what pot smells like/tastes like (uhhh, huh-huh), just take another sip of this beer. As it warms, lingering notes of fresh orange pulp emerge, blending with the distinct notes of white grapefruit imparted directly by the Spanish Cedar. The finish is marked by the rise of bitter hops which grab the palate, and come very close to thrashing it, but somehow the spice of the cedar helps to clean the hops off the tongue just a bit, and these two flavor elements converge with a long-lasting bristling of spiciness that ends with a remarkably grapefruit pulp-and-rind-like flavor. Hoppy cedar burps remind you how great this beer is, even after it’s gone. A remarkable brew that uses an exciting, new form of wood aging that we fully endorse. Don’t expect notes of oak or vanilla or funk that you’ve come to associate in the current wave of mainly oak-based wood-aging—this is something else altogether and we couldn’t be more excited about bringing it to you. Sets the bar perhaps unattainably high for any cedar aged IPA that may follow.
Brewer Wayne Wambles has advised us that this beer is best consumed within two to three months. That being said, the sample that won them the Gold medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in the Wood and Barrel Aged Category was about five months old, so it will hold up over time. The cedar presence remains pretty steady over time, but the other part of this beer’s appeal is the hops, and those will indeed fade with time, so, best to go for it now. So full of flavor on its own, it works nicely with super sharp cheddar cheese, yellow curry, or for a special treat, with freshly prepared, honey-drizzled baklava.