The story goes…brewmasters at Harpoon’s Windsor, Vermont, brewery were experimenting in early 2015 with barrel-aging imperial stout as part of Harpoon’s “pilot series.”
From their Czernobog imperial stout, they created a smooth, mellow, labor-intensive small batch pilot they simply called “Maple Bourbon Barrel-Aged Czernobog.”
We were lucky enough to stop by during its short window of availability, and while we didn’t officially rate it, it was fantastic enough for us to pen an open letter to Harpoon, begging them to produce it again.
That’s where we thought the story ended.
Fast-forward to November 2016 — a year-and-a-half later. The Basement Beer Tastings once again visited Harpoon, and noticed a strange spelling on one of the tap handles. It didn’t read “Czernobog,” as you’d expect. It instead read “Czernoboak.”
We asked our host, Harpoon staffer Cheyanne, about the curious spelling. And when we heard “barrel-aged,” all the pieces of the story started to come together.
See, little did we know at the time, but the brewmasters refilled those pilot oak bourbon barrels with more Czernobog, and placed them back in cold storage. There they sat, and were quickly forgotten.
They were rediscovered this month, Cheyanne told us, and what the long soak produced was truly World Class. We enjoyed Czernoboak almost as much as sharing stories with Cheyanne, and took home Harpoon’s barrel-aged Czernoboak to rate.
Czernoboak pours like its younger self, Czernobog — opaque dark brown, near black. But the carbonation of the oak-aged version produces a head that is even more of a mocha tan color. Our panelists awarded it a perfect score, as the head lasted and produced a fair amount of lacing on the glass. Carbonation was lively, but light.
Smell also received perfect scores. Czernoboak impressed with huge aromas of cocoa, vanilla and tons of oak, with notable alcohol. One panelist remarked, “The smell screams, ‘I bring the party!'”
Mouthfeel received near-perfect scores, with a rich buttery texture. While buttery, though, for an aged stout, we wished it had a little more of a mouth-coating feel.
Our panel loved the taste — a sweet, malt-forward stout with strong flavors of cocoa, vanilla and toasted coconut, with lesser notes of bourbon. The alcohol of this 9.5% ABV imperial tingles on the tongue.
The sweetness dissipates quickly as the aftertaste develops — dominated by cocoa, with a wonderful blend of light coffee bitterness. While near-perfect, the aftertaste lost a couple of points from the panel, which noted a bit of a chalkiness. Still, that’s little to detract from the complex flavor profile that lingers through the beer.
And as a nice side effect, that light chalkiness begs you to take another sip, and the entire voyage from sweet malt to cocoa bitterness begins anew. As a result of this effect and the overall quality of the brew, our panelists gave Czernoboak huge numbers for drinkability.
As of this posting, Czernoboak is our top-rated beer, with a overall World Class score of 94.67. Congratulations, Harpoon.
Did Harpoon read our 2015 open request for more barrel-aging, and take it to heart? Probably not…but at least we can say we knew continuing to produce a barrel-aged version of Czernobog was a good idea.
So, thank you, Harpoon, for the beer, the fantastic hospitality, and most of all…for continuing to pursue your barrel-aged imperial stout. Czernoboak is the reward we all share.
(Appearance 10, Smell 10, Mouthfeel 4.67, Taste 23.67, Aftertaste 18.67, Drinkability 27.67)
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