Harpoon Czernoboak

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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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