From the Cellar: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 5 Year Vertical (2009-2013)

Brooklyn Brewery says:

“This is the famous Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, our award-winning rendition of the Imperial Stout style, once made exclusively for Catherine the Great. We use three mashes to brew each batch of this beer, achieving a luscious deep dark chocolate flavor through a blend of specially roasted malts. We brew it every year for the winter season. It is delicious when newly bottled, but also ages beautifully for years.”

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout 5Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Russian Imperial Stout, 10% ABV

Ryan’s been itching to crack into these bottles of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout for a while. Five years, as a matter of fact. Let’s take a look at how kind time has been (or hasn’t been) to this offering from Brooklyn: Continue reading

From the Cellar: Stone Imperial Russian Stout 5 Year Vertical (2009-2013)

While we were hanging out with the folks at 4 Paws (which you can read more about here), we thought we’d take the opportunity to crack into something fun from the cellar.

Something like five bottles of Stone Imperial Russian Stout:


Ryan had a few bottles of this high-powered beer from Stone that had been burning a hole in his pocket. See what happens after a full 5 years in the cellar:

Continue reading

From The Cellar: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine 5 Year Vertical (2009-2013)

Central Waters says:

“A barleywine ale aged for a full year on used bourbon barrels, this beer have flavors of dark fruit and wood, winner of the Gold Medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.”

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
American Barleywine, 11.5%


You know you’ve been cellaring a beer for a while when the commercial description changes somewhat drastically from the first bottle in the series to the last. When we first encountered this bourbon barrel aged hop-demon of an American barleywine, Central Waters was trumpeting the aging of “Charlie” in bourbon barrels. Charlie was a nod to Kosmyk Charlies Y2K Catastrophe Ale, also a barleywine, and the base for the barrel aged version. Seeing as how we’re now over a decade removed from Y2K, Central Waters changed up the marketing some to tout the hardware this beer brought home from the ’08 GABF as opposed to a laughable fear of all the things that would happen once the calendar turned over to 2000. Yes, we’re old enough to remember that.

Photos of the descriptions are below.

When we first encountered this beer, fresh, in 2010 I wrote of a challenging sipper of an American barleywine that seemed to fade in and out between aggressive hoppiness to cloying sweetness. Years in the cellar has done this beer well. Very well, in fact.

IMG_0797Working from oldest to freshest:

  • ’09: Highlighted by plums, dates, cherries and raisins this five-year old version was sweet, mellow and soothing. The hops have faded away leaving a pleasant, dry English-like barleywine. The bourbon is still present, but lingers in the periphery.
  • ’10: There’s a bit of an edge still to this one, but overall it’s relatively smooth. Grapefruit rind steals the show, accentuated by a still effervescent carbonation. The bourbon is present and pleasant and there’s a nice dash of orange peel in the finish.
  • ’11: This middle offering may be the most well-adjusted of the bunch. The hops are bright and citrusy, but not too abrasive. Dark fruits provide a nice balance and the flavors of oak and vanilla from the bourbon are just right. Perfection.
  • ’12: Bourbon beats hops in this round. Sure, there are splashes of citrusy hops here and there but the bourbon is far more pronounced than previous sips. In fact, the bourbon seems to bury just about everything under its warming blanket of booze.
  • ’13: If you like your American barleywines American-y, read explosively hoppy, then a fresh pour is for you. Orange peel, lemon rind and grapefruit lead the charge, warming brown sugar and pecans bring up the rear – all of the above are accentuated by deep flavors of bourbon and vanilla.

This was probably one of our best barleywine vertical tastings to date. We sometimes find ourselves disliking those middle years, when the hops haven’t completely faded away and the malts haven’t taken over, but each pour of Central Waters’ Bourbon Barrel Barleywine was stellar in its own right.

Sometimes, It’s Not All About The Beer; Even When It’s A 6 Year Vertical Of Schlafly

IMG_0628My notes on our Schlafly Russian Imperial Stout vertical are slight: A mention of raisins here, a note that says “roasted flavor jumps up like sand” which I don’t really understand, followed by “how am I drinking this so fast” and “chocolate covered bananas” rounding out the bulk of my writing at that late, loud hour. It’s the peril of a little too much beer to taste in any single night, and it’s happened a couple of times through the years, and it happens to us all. Somewhere during the course of that evening, we passed the point of “beer reviewing” – I think it was around the 2008 cellared Westmalle – and into the point of doing nothing more than drinking, talking, telling jokes, and hanging out.

I was going to try to fake this into some sort of pieced-together beer review of faked memories and cribbed notes from others, but above all else, one must tell the truth in matters such as these, so instead I’m going to take a few paragraphs to try to make a point. Sometimes even with the best beer, the point isn’t to detect notes of leather or compare IBU ratings, but rather to simply enjoy the company of others. We probably would have held off on opening all these bottles of Schlafly RIS (and to the fine people of Schlafly, whom we’ve interacted with a few times, I hope you don’t think we disrespected your product any) but we had a reason to drink them – one of our own was moving down south, and he simply wanted to drink those beers with his friends before he left.

IMG_0671I have no regrets about leaving more than a few half-dead tasting glasses of super-powered beer behind, nor do I have any regrets about opening them in the first place. I can hear people now, saying that we were terribly wasteful in leaving beer more than a half-decade old undrank and unappreciated, but I have a feeling that’s the same kind of person who would take those bottles and put them up on eBay anyways. If you can’t break out a good bottle and share it with a friend, if you value the status of the beer more than you value a good time with a few other like-minded gents, then perhaps you should get out of the game entirely and retire to your hoard of Dark Lords and Pliny’s. (Plinies? What’s plural for Pliny?)

It’s easy to get a little too into the habit of paying a little too much attention to each beer you drink. Not everything ever brewed requires discussion, and the level of seriousness about this stuff sometimes can get a little old, even from this self-admitted guy-who-takes-it-seriously. We don’t say it enough, and we don’t nearly write it enough, so let this serve as a reminder to you as much as it is to me – remember to have fun. Remember to relax a little bit. Remember that for most of us who would associate as “beer nerds,” this all started with a few cans or a keg, and a few good times. If a handful of aged Schlafly stouts has to fall in order to get me to spend a few paragraphs writing this to remind my own self of it, then I guess that’s the price that I have to pay.


In the end, we all stumbled home and went our separate ways and were all the better for it. I have a different perspective on all of this, of course, because I wasn’t the one who in the end was responsible for shepherding all these beers to this particular finish line. (Ryan hasn’t been able to actually talk about getting rid of the rest of those beers yet, but hopefully with time and therapy, we’ll all be able to come to terms with our loss.) Since I should probably say something about the actual beers in this “review,” I’ll say that they were quite good, and raisin-y, and strong. Thanks, Schlafly. More importantly, they were for someone who really wanted to have them while hanging out and having fun. If you’re doing it right, the company you keep while enjoying these beers is more important than any Beer Advocate rating or Untappd badge. We had fun.

I should sum it up with this: I don’t have a great set of tasting notes about those beers, but I sure as hell remember how fun it was to drink them.

From The Cellar: Stone Vertical Epic 06.06.06 – 12.12.12

Stone says:

“As with any good epic, herein lies the promise of larger-than-life experiences, heroics and twists & turns as the adventure unfolds. These bottle-conditioned ales are specifically designed to be aged until sometime after December 12th, 2012. Provided you can wait that long. At that time, enjoy them in a “vertical” tasting. Each one unique to its year of release. Each with its own “twist & turn” in the plotline. Each one released one year, one month and one day from the previous year’s edition.”

IMG_0666Generally speaking, we like to follow directions when it comes to consuming beer. We typically try to follow most “best by” dates knowing that the people who brewed this beer know it’s shelf life better than we do. So we took to gospel what Stone said in regards to its Vertical Epic series and assembled a crack team of craft beer drinkers to sit down with bottles of Vertical Epic’s 06.06.06 through 12.12.12.

David Kelley from Blue Nose Brewing and Matt Gebhardt from 4 Paws Brewing joined us for this much-anticipated journey into vertical epic-ness. As a side-note, we didn’t realize we invited to the two newest pup-inspired breweries to join us until well after the fact. Attention to detail is not always our thing.

Now, we’ve sampled a few of the Stone Vertical Epic beer’s prior to December 12th (or in our case December 17th), but that was to get a baseline for what to expect down the road – which, by the way, in no way prepared us for what we were going to encounter.

The previous Vertical Epic’s we dug into include the 06.06.06, 07.07.07, 09.09.09, 10.10.10 and 11.11.11.

Before we get into our thoughts on the beer, let’s take a look at what Stone had to say about each.

IMG_061006.06.06 – “In this year’s edition, you’ll notice a deep, rich aroma of toasty malts, anise, Belgian yeast spiciness, and a hint of cedar. The toasty, dark and roasty malt flavors combine with a soft palate – courtesy of specialty dark wheat and barley malts.”

07.07.07 – “In this year’s edition we took our inspiration from two Belgian styles: Saisons and Golden Triples. As such, the Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic has a deep, deep golden hue and the flavor is spicy, fruity, complex and refreshing.”

08.08.08 – “The Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale is a Strong Golden Belgian style ale highly hopped with American hops. The beer pours pale golden with a thick and creamy white head of foam. The aroma is full of depth: nuances of pepper, clove, and banana from the Belgian yeast strain, and the resin-y citrus notes from the American hops blend together nicely to provide a complex aromatic character. The taste is spicy, hoppy and fruity, with a very dry and a pleasant bitter end.”

09.09.09 – “Bold and smooth chocolate malt flavors combine with a Belgian yeast IMG_0621lending tropical fruit/banana flavors and hints of spiciness, all complemented by citrus notes from an addition of tangerine peel. Rich vanilla beans add a nice counter to the chocolate malt – actually enhancing the chocolatiness. The finish is smooth, with additional traces of vanilla and toasted characters from French Oak. The goal for this edition of the Stone Vertical Epic Ale series is to be reminiscent of artisanal chocolates accentuated with orange.”

10.10.10 – “This ninth edition of our Stone Vertical Epic Ale series takes two interesting left turns. A Belgian-style golden triple is the starting point of this beer, but the first left turn is nearly immediate with the addition of dried chamomile flowers, triticale, and Belgian amber candi sugar. The second, and rather unusual left turn takes us half an hour up the road from Stone to Temecula courtesy of the addition of just-pressed Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from our friends at South Coast Winery.”

11.11.11 – “Ale brewed with Anaheim chiles and cinnamon.”

12.12.12 – “This year’s Stone Vertical Epic Ale is the very last one. Yep, this is it. The final chapter. Or as they say on the last slide in some old films: “Fin.” No worries though: this edition is particularly well-suited for prolonging the experience, as it’s as cellarable as any in the series, or more. In this, the final edition, you can expect a perfectly balance *womp* of spices: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, sweet orange peel, clove (only a little!) and rosehips, all in the context of a dark Belgian style abbey-ish beer…but not as sweet. Dry even. Stone style.”

Now that you know what Stone says, it’s our turn:

IMG_0668Ryan: This was, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable tastings we’ve done to date. Cracking open 7 bottles of beer ranging in color from pitch black to vibrant orange – with different variations in between – none tasting similar to another. Well, except for one.

I’ll keep it simple and break this down by Epic.

06.06.06: This one has held up surprisingly well seeing as how it’s seven years old. The aroma was slightly smokey and nutty with hints of vanilla and chocolate. Belgian-y flavors abound highlighted by mint and bubblegum. This didn’t wow me, but it did serve as a good warmup for the remaining six beers.

07.07.07: Cardamom seed, ginger and juniper berry highlight the nose making for a pleasant shift after the heavy aroma of the ’06. Spicy and refreshing, as promised, with ginger, mint, bubblegum and banana dancing across the palate.

08.08.08: This VE may have been the simplest and also the most enjoyable. It’s hops all the way – very one-note – but I enjoyed that one note. Floral hops on the nose, spicy and grassy hops on the palate – with a slightly syrupy body.

IMG_061709.09.09: If Stone truly did set out to create a beer, “reminiscent of artisanal chocolates accentuated with orange,” then they delivered – in a big way. The aroma is heavy on the chocolate with light notes of orange peel and tangerines. The flavors are even heavier on the chocolate, reminiscent of drinking a chocolate malt with an orange wedge on the side. The only knock I have on this beer is it’s a tad chalky.

10.10.10: The ’10 was a favorite when we sampled it fresh and it remains a favorite three years later. The flavors are well-balanced and refreshing and the addition of the both the chamomile flowers and the freshly pressed grapes provides for an incredibly unique beer. The nose is very herbal with aromas of chamomile tea and green tea. This beer is sweet and a touch creamy, with dominate flavors of orange peel and tangerine.

11.11.11: We ragged on the ’11 when we tried it fresh because it didn’t deliver on a level of spiciness we deemed appropriate. It does now. There’s a nice bit of chili spice in the nose and even more on the palate. There are also pleasant hints of milk chocolate and vanilla bean mixed in too – with a nice punch of spice on the finish.

12.12.12: Stone certainly did cap things off with a bang, didn’t they? We likened this to Anchor Christmas on steroids. Abrasive and aggressive winter warmer flavors abound; ginger, all-spice, clove and cinnamon. The nose is piny as hell too. This one redecorated our palates and hung a wreath on our tongues in the process.


06.06.06: Wow – where does that wave of chocolate come from on the finish? A huge, rich wave of Oreo cookie blasts the palate at the end of this well-aged beer. The Stone website calls this beer one-dimensional, but it’s quite a dimension. There’s just a hint of fruit, a suggestion of nuttiness and an absence of any expected coffee characteristics. Still, quite a standout after 6 years left aside.

07.07.07: Tasting notes I’ve seen for this beer reference ginger quite heavily, but strangely enough I discovered a glass full of apple pie when I sampled this. Oh, there’s plenty of ginger in the nose, but the flavor is all musty bread, yeast and smooth round red apple flavor, backed up by some sweet sugar that all fades quite quickly.

08.08.08: As a noted fan of the style, this Belgian style Pale hasn’t benefited from a stint in the cellar, unfortunately. This brew simply reminded me of someone leaving a Triomphe from Brewery Vivant on the counter for about 50 minutes or so. Faded flavors, no real sharpness or up-front flavors. Creamy, light and mild.

09.09.09: Desert, arid, dry, dry, dry. Somewhat reminiscent of the ‘06 in some ways, mostly in the fact that there’s chocolate here that’s a pleasant thing to find after the previous two mild fruity ales in the succession of beers. Chocolaty, yes, but the word of the evening for this brew is “chalky.” almost as though it’s been unearthed and distilled from bedrock.

IMG_062410.10.10: The easiest drinking beer of the bunch, this probably is right at the sweet spot in terms of age. Chamomile tea like crazy, in a slightly off balance (in a good way) flower-forward punch of savory, followed by green pear and lots of it. Fun to drink, and relaxing – not challenging. Just a good beer.

11.11.11: Here’s that jalapeno spice I was hoping for from the last time we drank it! This beer just needed some time to get out of its own way. “Green” flavors of peppers and spice with no seeds and no white pith; I couldn’t drink this fast enough. In the full range of the beers we drank this evening, this was the first one I polished off completely.

12.12.12: You’d think to complete this full experience you’d brew a beer that didn’t really require much aging, since most people are going to crack this open ASAP and probably not lay too much aside for later. But I found that this brew could probably stand to sit back for a couple of years and calm down. Huge pine flavors with thick aggressive spices, followed by pine, pine and more dark pine. A holiday beer for people who live deep in forests.

From The Cellar: Founders KBS 5 Year Vertical (2008-2012)

Founders says:

“What we’ve got here is an imperial stout brewed with a massive amount of coffee and chocolates, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year to make sure wonderful bourbon undertones come through in the finish. Makes your taste buds squeal with delight.”

Founders KBS
Imperial Stout, 11.2% ABV

Ryan: To say this vertical has been a long time coming is an understatement. Those of you who have tried to scrounge up even one bottle of Founders elusive KBS in the last few years knows how hard it can be.

When we first began this endeavor, two years before we began this site, Founders KBS was still called Kentucky Breakfast Stout. It also wasn’t as impossible to find as it is now. Continue reading

From The Cellar: Anchor Christmas Ale 5 Year Vertical 2007-2011

Anchor says:

“Each year since 1975, Anchor Brewing creates a distinctive Christmas Ale, available from early November to mid-January. A rich, dark spiced ale, our secret recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life.

Each year our Christmas Ale gets a unique label and a unique recipe. Although our recipes must remain a secret, many save a few bottles from year to year. Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years. Different nuances emerge as the flavor mellows slightly, much like the memories of great holiday seasons past. Celebrate the holidays with Anchor Christmas Ale, an Anchor tradition since 1975.”

Anchor Christmas Ale
Winter Warmer
~5.5% ABV

IMG_0431Karl: It’s a little unfair to call this a “vertical,” since the Anchor Xmas recipe famously changes from year to year. So rather than treating this as a check-in to see which year’s offerings are currently paying cellar dividends, we’re looking at this as just a spectrum of brewing history. If you happen to have some of these tucked away for a snowy day in the near future, here’s what you have (in our opinions) to look forward to.

  • ‘07: For a half-decade-old beer this is surprisingly complex. Rich coffee, grapes, Christmas spices and even a touch of burnt marshmallow throughout and some nice cola-like complexity, this beer is still hearty enough despite having a body that’s thinner than the rest. No worries about that, though - you’ll spend enough time considering the dry finish and the long tail of spearmint this beer leaves behind. It’s developed a bit of mustiness on the end as well, but ain’t nothing wrong with this year’s brew. Still plenty of life left to it.
  • ‘08: A more bitter offering than the ‘07, it’s also got some nice full flavors of gingerbread poking through the spices and cola flavors. Not as much grape and a little more funk on the finish, and perchance even lighter in body than the rest of our offerings.
  • ‘09: Anchor did something very right with this year – I’m not quite sure what it was, but this beer just hit all the high notes for me. A gush of dark cherries and raisins up front, with a menthol-mint finish that reminded me of certain cocktails I’ve had. Maybe even close to a Manhattan minus the sting of whiskey, this one was an absolute winner.
  • ‘10: While I’m used to beers thinning out over time, the differing recipes for this make comparing the bodies of these beers virtually useless. The ‘10 is thinner, not thicker, than the ‘09, and definitely less complex, with added notes of hoppy bitterness and some snappy nutmeg. These beers are letting us get back into the lingering carbonation, making this beer similar to the ‘09 but much easier going down. There’s also something strangely savory to this, like a meal of a beer rather than a Christmas-cookie dessert.
  • ‘11: This year went back to the grapevines, with flavors of red grapes being most pronounced along with a surprising touch of lime and some biscuit-y, bready yeast characteristics – maybe like gingerbread minus the ginger. This beer definitely sparkles more than our other offerings, reminding me pleasantly of a Christmas berlinerweiss, with plenty of sweetness to offer a fresh palate.

IMG_0429Ryan: We’ve been sitting on this “vertical” for a while now, seemingly never having quite enough time to devote to a tasting of five different beers from the same brewer. Even at 4 oz a person it can seem like a tall task. So we tend to go for the single 12 oz bottle of something in the cellar. It’s easier and less time-consuming. During our last tasting, however, I threw caution to the wind and pulled five years of Anchor Christmas out of the cellar. And it turned out to be a really great idea.

Much like Karl did, I’ll break each beer down by year.

  • ‘07: This offering smelled clean with maybe a touch of raisins and brown sugar in the nose. Lots of carbonation greets the palate, which is surprising given this beer is five years old. The raisins and brown sugar carry over onto the flavor profile with some added cinnamon and nutmeg in the finish – which is remarkably dry. Quite the pleasant sipper.
  • ‘08: My notes lead with the phrase, “remarkable carbonation,” and it was quite pleasant – highlighting the brown sugar, molasses and black licorice flavors. It was a bit syrupy too and almost medicinal in body, but overall a very easy drinking and hearty Christmas Ale.
  • ‘09: Yup, here we go. Syrupy and thick with a heavy body, the ‘09 Anchor Christmas drinks more like a porter than a Christmas Ale. Spearmint or evergreen greets the nose and honey and raisins assault the palate. Amusingly, we tried this beer with about six months of age on it in 2010 and were not the least bit impressed. I guess that goes to show you what some time in the cellar can do for a beer.
  • ‘10: It would seem that, while Anchor uses a different recipe each time, that each beer has a bit more body to it the fresher it gets. I suppose that makes sense regardless of whether the recipe is the same or not each time. The ‘10 Our Special Ale is far sweeter than the previous three offerings with some plums and cherries on the nose and the palate. This one, even at a year old, is a world-class winter warmer.
  • ‘11: Well carbonated, creamy and very drinkable; the freshest of the bunch was maybe the least exciting but was by far the most consistent with a filling bready-ness and dark fruit sweetness.

Dispatches From The South Cellar Review: Sweetwater Festive Ale Vertical ’06-’08-’10

Sweetwater says:

“Winter Coat Season – a strong ale brewed with generous amounts of rich malt, coupled with a taint of cinnamon and mace to keep you warm and toasted all winter long. We double dog dare you.”

GDBcellarJan19Sweetwater Festive Ale
Winter Warmer, 8.6% ABV

Karl: When one normally considers a vertical tasting, the years are successive. This years, last years, two years ago and so on. Ryan reached way back into the cellar to break this vertical out, which is a bit of a “leapfrog vertical” if you will – we sampled a 2010 Festive, a 2008 Festive and went all the way back to a 2006 bottle. It’s like time travel, almost. As in, “Here’s what people smarter than me were drinking way back when I was still discovering Hoegaarden.”

When we last cracked into a fresh Festive (not reviewed by me, sadly) I noted that while it didn’t strike me as being a textbook Christmas ale, it was definitely spiced pleasingly with nice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg and really summed up the season of winter, without being overwhelmingly Xmas-y, if that even makes sense at all.

The differentiation between these three cellared ales are surprisingly slim, and the underlying (and underlined) takeaway as I wrote in my notes was that “All of these beers…are good.” The degree of good-ness varies somewhat, but I don’t think any of us could really pick a specific winner.

Rather than dance back and forth between the beers, here’s my yearly breakdown: Continue reading

From The Cellar: Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout 2010-2011

Goose Island says:

“Everyday Goose Island smells the wonderful coffee roasting next to our brewery at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. This world-class roaster puts the same passion and skill into their coffee as Goose Island does with its beer. This excellent stout is made with a different coffee from our friends next door each year. With the change in coffee comes a change in the flavor profile, making each release truly unique from the previous years.”

Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout
Imperial Stout, 14% ABV
2010 Release – Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso Beans
2011 Release – Intelligentsia Anjilanaka Beans

Sayeth the Guys:

KARL: Sometimes a beer is so good, it’s actually hard to review it. I’ve sat down to write my review of bcbcs a couple of times, got about a paragraph in, and just couldn’t figure out the way through to the finish. Early today I realized: it’s because no matter how fancy pants I try to set this up, it’s not going to be able to sum up all the awesomeness of not one but TWO years of Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.

So I’m just going to jump in the deep end here, and try my best.

It’s an embarrassment of riches when you’re sitting in front of not one but two of these beautiful red bombers. As soon as the caps are cracked the room filled with a rich aroma of intense coffee, as though the beer was trying to leap from the bottles and claw its way into us in any way possible, including straight through the nostrils. Continue reading