TAMPA, Fla. — With over one hundred and twenty unique barrel-aged beer labels to its name, Florida’s Cigar City Brewing has developed a reputation as one of the most innovative and ambitious players in the niche world of wood-aged craft beer. While many of their artisan beers are shared with the world, access to the brewery’s rarest and most ambitious brewing creations is granted only to members of the exclusive El Catador Club. With a new bottle format and a fresh approach to club offerings, the 12th Edition of El Catador Club promises to be the most indulgent club ever.
The brewery’s barrel-aging program continues to be led by its creator and architect, Brewmaster Wayne Wambles. “We are delving into new approaches,” says Wambles of the beers his team is preparing for the 12th Edition club. “Some with a more tropical theme and others that will be composed of new base beer styles that we have never offered to the club in the past. There will also be some familiar releases which reflect back to the brewery’s earlier days.”
Early in the brewery’s history, Wambles sought to develop his own unique approach to the time-and-labor-intensive art of crafting barrel-aged beers. Typically, malt-forward, strong, dark-colored beers are transferred to wooden barrels with the goal of extracting wood flavors and aromas, imparting some qualities of whatever wine or spirit was previously held in the barrel, and allowing for oxygen ingress to evolve and mature the beer. Wambles gravitated toward rare, exotic barrels and woods that were involved in the maturing of tequila, Sauternes, gin and others not typically used to age beer. He also embraced the tropical location of Cigar City Brewing and aged beers in non-climate controlled buildings that allowed for a more rapid extraction of flavor and aromas. The results of these early barrel-aged experiments earned the brewery an international reputation as a brand that was taking wood-aged beer in exciting new directions.
By using rare, exotic barrels and embracing Tampa’s tropical climate, Brewmaster Wayne Wambles has developed a unique approach to barrel-aged beers.
To bring some of these barrel-aged beers to their most dedicated followers, El Catador Club was founded in 2013. At the time, Cigar City Brewing was busy keeping up with demand for year-round brands like Jai Alai IPA, and only infrequently able to brew beers headed for barrels. The sporadic releases of extremely limited quantities of barrel-aged beers led to a hectic atmosphere in the taproom and long lines that stretched into the residential neighborhood abutting the brewery. Out of necessity and neighborly consideration, El Catador Club was founded as a manageable way to get their rarest creations into the hands of craft beer lovers.
Beer styles, barrel characteristics and beer names are not revealed to club members until the day a beer is released, making speculation on and anticipation of each beer part of the fun online banter between members. Members have been treated to a wide variety of wood-aged beers exhibiting the breadth of talent at Cigar City Brewing, including Amplitude, a Chocolate Bourbon Barrel-aged Doppelbock; Criminal Commission, a Rum Barrel-aged Bananas Foster-inspired collaboration with California’s Bottle Logic Brewing; and Double Barrel-aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, a beer that currently ranks as the 20th highest ranked beer of all time on Untappd. Each release aims to highlight a finely crafted recipe, a carefully selected barrel, the effects of oxygen and temperature, and the fleeting moment in time when these elements are in harmony
El Catador Club has continuously evolved, always with member preferences in mind. Accordingly, the 12th Edition is characterized by fresh talent and new ideas, led by newly appointed El Catador Club Manager Micki Bell. Rather than traditional 750 mL bottles, each member will receive seven different barrel-aged beers, each packaged in two 500 mL bottles. “Craft enthusiasts love the opportunity to taste and experience exclusive beer upon release,” says Bell. “We know how much club members enjoy having the opportunity to cellar and revisit their favorites from over the years, and this led us to change the bottle format and allocation.”
12th Edition releases will be re-formatted to 7 beers released as (2) 500 mL bottles each.
Additionally, 12th Edition Club members will receive membership cards granting them discounts in Cigar City Brewing’s taproom in Tampa and at Oskar Blues Brewery’s Pearl Street taproom in Boulder, Colorado; an El Catador Club barrel-aged Spiegelau glass; a hand-numbered club art print and access to exclusive events; and draft beers not available to the public. Membership to El Catador Club is limited to 1,000 people, many of whom have been a part of El Catador Club since 2013.
The 12th Edition El Catador Club is now accepting a limited number of new members. For more information on El Catador Club, Cigar City Brewing’s history and its barrel-aging process, visit cigarcitybrewing.com.