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Connecticut Valley Bravo Tango

Connecticut Valley’s first bourbon-barrel-aged offering — an 11% imperial stout released in limited quantity for its first anniversary — wowed our panel with a fantastic, syrupy mouthfeel and huge notes of chocolate, coffee, bourbon and some smoke. They knocked it out of the park on their first barrel-aged offering. The aftertaste was a bit mouth-drying, but the lingering bourbon and chocolate more than made up for it! Grab some while you can.

89 points

Jackie O’s Oro Negro

Our panel marveled at this full-flavored imperial stout. A World-Class stout with a label on the bottle as beautiful as what’s inside.
93 points

Connecticut Valley Brewing 1901 First In Flight Coffee Porter

Our panel was “wowed” by this creamy coffee porter, from Connecticut Valley Brewing of South Windsor, Connecticut. Smooth mouthfeel, huge coffee notes with a trace of smoke.
92 points

Harpoon Czernoboak

exclusive

rating_worldclass95 points

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.”

harboon_czernoboakWe 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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Stone Imperial Russian Stout

78 points

rating_verygoodWhen I think of Stone Brewing, my thoughts immediately turn to their wide array of IPAs.  Interestingly enough, The Basement Beer Tastings has yet to rate any of Stone’s IPA offerings.

Viewed by beer enthusiasts as a travesty, I’m sure, this is something we’ll have to make up for in spades before we close out 2016 — or at the rate we’re going, the beginning of 2017.  Alas, here we are now, left to review Stone’s take on an Imperial Russian Stout.

stonerussianimperialstoutIf you’re keeping track — and I’m certain you are — we’ve rated Stone’s seasonal Coffee Milk Stout and year-round Smoked Porter.   The panel greatly enjoyed the stout, but the porter left many feeling as if they just drank a beer out of a chimney…and not one that had been recently swept, I might add.

As our spoiler-inducing heading indicates, Imperial Russian Stout falls closer to Milk Stout than Smoked Porter.  So let’s dive in and find out exactly what the panel enjoyed about this brew.

Appearance was — you guessed it — black.  The panel noted that Stone didn’t appear to pour as thick as other imperial stouts, but produced a nice carbonated head.

Smell elicited a wider variety of descriptions.  Smoke dominated the panelists’ thoughts, but also sensed were bacon, vanilla, malt, molasses, caramel and a hint of butteriness.  No matter what scent was found, though, every panelist scored smell as a solid 9 out of 10.

The mouthfeel was thick and creamy at first, but then fizzy — good, but not great.  The taste scores echoed this sentiment, as well.  The panelists couldn’t shake the strong flavor of alcohol that seemed to dominate all other flavors in the beer.  The alcohol also affected each panelist’s enjoyment of the aftertaste.  Those that downgraded aftertaste felt the flavor was too strong and lingered too long.  For the panelists that enjoyed Stone, they felt the alcoholic aftertaste proved the consistency of the beer.

Once again, the high ABVs of our Imperial Stout night seemed to have an affect on panelists’ ratings, as there was only one comment about the beer’s drinkability.  Because of the predominance of alcohol in the flavor, one panelist felt this stout was a “one-and-done.”  That would be me. I said that.

On the other hand, one panelist felt Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout was very easy to drink because of the strong alcohol flavor. (It was Jon).

Unfortunately for him, everyone else seemed to agree with me — and I’m basing this on their scores since, apparently, they were too lazy or buzzed to write any type of comment about drinkability.

With all that said, indeed Stone Imperial Russian Stout is a very good beer.  You’ll like it even more if you’re a fan of a strong alcohol flavor.

As for the rest of us? This stout will be more enjoyable than Stone’s Porter, since it won’t leave you feeling like you just sucked on a smoke stack.  Unless of course you’re into that sort of thing…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

(Appearance 8.4, Smell 9, Mouthfeel 3.6, Taste 20, Aftertaste 16, Drinkability 21.4)

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The Great Pumpkin Beer Reviews, 2016

pumpkinbeers

If you’re lucky enough to live in New England like us, you know that autumn is arguably the most beautiful time of year. The shortened days and chilly nights paint the landscape in vibrant scarlet, blazing orange and sunshine yellow.

And it’s about this time when “pumpkin spice” finds its way into pretty much everything, from coffee to muffins to…well, pretty much everything Dunkin’ Donuts sells.

So I guess it was inevitable that pumpkin would eventually find its way into beer. And when we first saw an early pumpkin beer a few years ago, we were skeptical.

But it turns out that not only does pumpkin have a place in the brewing world, it’s actually carving itself quite a following.

Visit the renowned Eastern States Exposition fall  fair in West Springfield, Massachusetts — fondly known as “The Big E” — and you’ll find several stands selling pumpkin beers in plastic cups with rims that have been dipped first in caramel, and then in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

And before you recoil in disgust, we need to tell you that not only is it absolutely delicious, it’s becoming so commonplace that ordering a beer “with a rimmer” is something you can know say aloud without receiving uncomfortable, suspicious glares.

Pumpkin is now in everything from ales to shandies to imperial stouts. We tasted a handful of the styles to offer you some guidance as you traverse the pumpkin beer landscape.

So, happy autumn, everyone, and enjoy our collection of pumpkin beer ratings below. Maybe you’ll find something you like, so you too can get rimmed this fall.  Wait, that didn’t come out right.

Pumpkin Beer Reviews

Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale (85 points)
Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin (82 points)
Southern Tier Warlock (81 points)
Jack-O Traveler (78 points)
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (73 points)
Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin (72 points)
Shipyard Pumpkin (71 points)

Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale

rating_excellent85 points

Rogue beers certainly stand out in the package store — big, hulking bottles with screen-painted labels. But their Pumpkin Patch Ale stands out even among the stand-outs.

It comes in the same hefty bottle, but this one is fully painted an impressive bright orange. But it’s what that orange paint hides that really impressed us.

roguepumpkinpatchPumpkin Patch has a near-perfect appearance, with a slightly cloudy tobacco leather color, ample carbonation and good lacing.

Smell and taste are both laden with pumpkin, which makes sense, since Rogue grows its own pumpkins in Oregon for use in its beer.

The pumpkin aroma is balanced with notes of buttery caramel. Mouthfeel is sudsy, yet mouth-coating.

The taste of Pumpkin Patch is different than most other brews in this variety. While the cinnamon and allspice flavors typical to the style take a back seat, what isn’t lacking is the taste of pumpkin — sweet, buttery pumpkin — and the taste of beer.

Aftertaste is very smooth, with a sweetness and a bit of hops.  That smoothness, coupled with a mix of true beer taste and fresh sweet pumpkin, earned this beer huge points on drinkability.

If you’re looking for a true beer that allows you also to enjoy a pumpkin taste without all the spices that mask it, give Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch a try.

In that huge orange bottle, you shouldn’t have trouble locating it.

(Appearance 9.33, Smell 7.83, Taste 25.33, Aftertaste 15.83, Drinkability 26.33)

Continue reading Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale

Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin

rating_excellent82 points

Molasses. If we could sum up our review of Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin in one word, that’s it. Molasses.

Of course, we have a hard time writing these reviews in short form, so we’ll continue. But if you hate molasses, you can stop reading now.

harpoonimperialpumpkinGood. They’re gone. It’s just us now. What’s wrong with them? Am I right?

The imperial in Imperial Pumpkin, in Harpoon’s case, is imperial stout. Thick, syrupy, black-as-night stout. Intrigued? Yeah, we were, too.

This witches’ brew pours with the opaqueness of black coffee with a brownish head that dissipated quickly. Our panel found it very attractive, but we would have liked a little more carbonation.

Smell was rated high, with huge aromas of molasses and smoke, immediately invoking visions of drinking it around an autumn campfire.

Taste and drinkability are where Imperial Pumpkin grabbed big points. The mouthfeel is thick and syrupy, almost that of a sipping liqueur — which our panel agreed is exactly the way to enjoy this beer.

The taste is pure molasses, through and through. There is a smokiness and slight roasted bitterness, like many stouts. But the molasses notes and high alcohol content (10.5% ABV) augment the taste wonderfully.

What’s missing is a notable pumpkin flavor. We assume that it’s in there, and most of our panelists docked the beer points on its absence. But the ghost of pumpkins past did little to dissuade our panel from raving about the taste.

Aftertaste was judged fairly high, dominated by a sweet smokiness accompanied by a warming sensation of the high alcohol content.

So, we suggest that you grab a bottle of this, light up a campfire, and enjoy this autumn masterpiece as slow as…yup, you guessed it. Molasses.

(Appearance 7.17, Smell 8, Taste 25, Aftertaste 16.33, Drinkability 25.33)

Continue reading Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin

Southern Tier Warlock

rating_excellent81 points

Warlock is at the dark end of the pumpkin spectrum, but packs a lot of flavor and complexity. It’s supposed to be a pumpkin imperial stout, but with a lot of competing flavors in it, it suffers from a bit of an identity crisis.

southerntierwarlockBut luckily, all those competing flavors are delicious, making it an unmatched experience when it comes to the pumpkin theme.

Warlock pours like a big dark beer — near-black with a lasting brown head that laces the glass. Our panelists loved the appearance, but loved the smell even more.

This beer is loaded with aroma…vanilla bean, hints of licorice, sarsaparilla and marshmallow. It’s a crazy combo for sure, but our panel marveled at the complexity and the uniqueness.

Taste was rated well, though not as strongly as the smell.  Flavors of marshmallow, vanilla and molasses are strong, though a couple of panelists noted the vanilla was somewhat artificial, and lent to a slightly medicinal note. Others felt the huge malt character gave it a sugary cereal backing flavor that they enjoyed.

Aftertaste is vanilla Coke, some smoke and overtones of licorice, with a warming alcohol sensation. This is a big beer — 10% ABV –that needs to breathe, and our panel found Warlock really opened up as it came up to room temperature.

Drinkability was rated solidly at 23, with two factors detracting from a higher score. First, with such intense flavor and a high ABV, the panel felt this was more of a sipper — a “one-and-done,” if you will. Second, you’ll notice that we made no mention of pumpkin.

Southern Tier markets Warlock as having a “pumpkin pie” scent and flavor, though none of our panelists detected a trace of it. So we felt that we had to dock points for that, especially if someone ventures into a store looking specifically for a pumpkin beer.

Be that as it may, our panel felt Southern Tier Warlock was in keeping with the season, with warm, fall flavors. It’s a unique take on a pumpkin imperial stout that won’t disappoint…you know, unless you’re looking for pumpkin.

(Appearance 9, Smell 9.83, Taste 23.83, Aftertaste 15.17, Drinkability 23)

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Jack-O Traveler

rating_verygood78 points

If you’re a fan of candy-like pumpkin flavors, but not particularly a fan of beer, then holy crap do we have the beverage for you!

Meet Jack-O Traveler, a pumpkin shandy exploding with pumpkin, cinnamon and sugary caramel.

travelerjackoJack-O pours a cloudy reddish amber color, which our panel rated fairly well. It resembles a glass of juice more than a glass of beer, but considering shandies contain a fair amount of juice, that’s to be expected.

The aroma of the brew is spectacular, with pungent aromas of pumpkin, caramel, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove.

We put this one to the test of an 11-person panel, since shandies are perceived as a love-them-or-hate-them niche.

travelerjacko2But our panel overall responded very favorably to the juicy, sweet taste of Jack-O. Pumpkin pie spice — cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice — dominate the flavor.  Mouthfeel was somewhat juicy with a fizziness that most panelists enjoyed, though a couple noted the beer seemed somewhat watery.

The pumpkin flavor and sweetness lingers into the aftertaste, however the taste of beer does not — after all, this is a shandy. The aftertaste is pleasant, but we wish it had more of a wheat beer finish.

A couple of panelists noted that pumpkin pie spice flavor was a bit too sweet and that would probably temper their ability to have more than one or two.

So if you’re not a fan of shandies, you probably aren’t going to be swayed by this brew. However, if you do enjoy the flavors of fall in a glass, then you’ll want to try this one out…because when it comes to pumpkin shandies, no one holds a lantern to Jack-O.

(Appearance 8.3, Smell 8.6, Taste 23., Aftertaste 15.4, Drinkability 22.4)

Continue reading Jack-O Traveler

Thoughtful reviews for the modern beer drinker.