Brewery club memberships started popping around 10 years ago with a few creative breweries introducing the concept that has now become an industry norm. My first experience with a brewery membership came back in the early 2010s when The Bruery started the Reserve Society. For around $300, I got access to special release beers and, most importantly to me, I don’t have to spend hours waiting in line. Following in The Bruery’s success with its membership club, breweries across the country started jumping on the bandwagon which slowly changed my annual decision of should I renew my membership to which brewery should I sign up for this year. Over the past 10 years, I have had memberships to Ale Apothecary, Good Beer Co., de Garde, and several years with The Bruery and it has been a great way to get my hands on the best offerings from these breweries.
Cigar City out of Tampa was one of the early adopters of the membership concept with its Catador Club, which started in 2013. While I have not had the pleasure of being a member directly, I have been lucky enough to get my hands on a handful of their members-only releases via trades with fellow beer nerds. I have enjoyed all of them and today I am drinking a bottle of The Power of Friendship which is a collaboration brew with 7venth Sun Brewing that was released back in 2019.
It is a 12.3 percent ABV imperial stout aged in brandy barrels. The brandy barrels that were used started out as bourbon barrels then were shipped to Portugal where they held Portuguese brandy for several years. The freshly emptied barrels were then shipped back to the U.S. ending up in Cigar City’s hands. On the surface, this beer checks most of the boxes I look for in a barrel-aged stout. It is a straightforward stout with no crazy adjuncts, it is in my personal sweet spot in the ABV range and I am a sucker for beers aged in brandy, port, or cognac barrels. I have been a fan of Cigar City’s big stouts since the early days of Hunuhpu and I am excited to crack this one open.
The beer pours almost black with a thin halo of chocolate milk-colored head. The second I crack the bottle, the aroma comes jumping out of the bottle. Right away I am hit with the brandy followed by rich dark chocolate, oak, vanilla, and burnt toffee. The booze comes through on the bouquet in the form of brandy-soaked raisins and it is obvious this is a high ABV beer, but the alcohol does not come off sharp and is well integrated. This beer has a powerful aroma and I cannot wait to take a taste it.
All those big flavors I would expect from the bouquet are present on the first sip, but in varying intensities. The boozy brandy is the first thing that jumps out but like the nose it is evident but not in a negative way. The intense flavors come in waves as I work my way through the first few sips. The brandy barrel is front and center, followed by chocolate, vanilla, oak and bitter coffee. There is a lot going on with The Power of Friendship. The more I sip I get notes of butterscotch, prunes and more and more brandy. The barrel is really the star of the show in this beer but the supporting cast of rich malts helps it shine. When drinking a beer this intense I usually get palate fatigued quickly and the beer becomes taxing after a while but, that is not the case here.