If you’re going to plan and properly execute a five-year beer vertical, you need to choose the right beer and the right beer style. You need a bigger, higher alcohol beer that will stand up to aging (depending on how many years you’re looking to cover), which is where Resurgence Brewing’s Imperial Sponge Candy Stout and its 10% ABV come in. When Resurgence dropped the first vintage of this beer back in 2014, I immediately planned a five-year vertical. Then, the next year, the brewery released the first year of Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Sponge Candy Stout, so of course I had to buy and age those bottles as well.

Fast forward to 2018, and I was finally able to see my plan come to fruition with a pair of huge verticals, 2014-2018 Imperial Sponge Candy Stout and 2015-2018 BBA Imperial Sponge Candy Stout. And with our powers combined, fellow Buffalo Beer League founder Scott McMillan and members Jesse Walters, Mark Jowett and Jill Campbell, along with Resurgence Owner Jeff Ware, we hunkered down at a table inside Resurgence on a cold, snowy night to drink way too many imperial stouts to remember. Thank god for my wife keeping tasting notes and Scott Panfil and the WNY Brews podcast recording the whole thing. Oh yeah, that happened, so keep an eye out for that podcast soon.

Each armed with a microphone (why Scott thought that was a good idea is still beyond me), we started with the 2014 Imperial Sponge Candy, and moved on from there. It opened with aromas of rich, dark chocolate (a running theme for these beers you’ll find), and featured notes of raisins, booze, figs and dark fruit. It was a bit thin, but featured enough of a coating mouthfeel to be enjoyable. The 2015 vintage was much sweeter with notes of vanilla cream, toasted marshmallow, sweet cocoa powder and a bigger mouthfeel than the 2014. 2016’s version offered a thicker head and better retention, with a thin body similar to the 2014. Notes of plum and fig, subtle raspberry and lots of chocolate led to a creamy finish. Moving onto the 2017, it imparted vanilla and a cherry cordial nose, with a spicy alcohol burn and bitter chocolate feel. Finally, the 2018 vintage was straight chocolate and perhaps the most well rounded of the vertical.

As we took a break from the festivities for a much-deserved pint of water, we discussed which versions we thought stood out. Our consensus was that the ’15 and ’17 were the best of the bunch with some other votes going to the ’16 and the ’18.

Here are our breakdowns:

Brian – 17, 15, 18, 16, 14
Scott P. – 17, 15, 16, 18, 14
Jesse – 15, 16, 18, 17, 14
Scott M. – 17, 15, 16, 18, 14
Jeff –15, 18, 17, 14, 16
Mark – 15, 17, 16, 14, 18
Jill – 17, 15, 18, 16, 14

After enough water to cycle out the first round of the imperials, we embarked down a darker path with the Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Sponge Candy Stouts. As we did with the imperials, we started with the oldest, being the 2015, which was aged in Breckenridge Distilling bourbon barrels. It opened with aromas of sweet booze, before flavors of chocolate, vanilla and oak took hold. The finish was great with lot of warming alcohol. The 2016, aged in Woodford Reserve barrels, again opened with booze, with some dark fruit mixed in. According to Jesse, this beer was ‘more angular and sharp.’ It featured bitter chocolate and a very boozy finish. 2017, aged in Jim Beam barrels, had a dark red cherry wine note to it, with more intense bourbon and barrel flavors – vanilla, char, cherry, oak, and dark fruit. And finishing off this half of the vertical was the 2018, which was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. Lot of complexity to this vintage, with sharp flavors of big dark chocolate, oak, and vanilla. It was smooth and a little sweeter than past years. We all agreed it should age pretty well.

After some discussion, we all decided that the ’15 and ’18 were the strongest, with some votes registered for the ’16.

Here are our breakdowns:

Brian – 15, 18, 17, 16
Scott P. – 18, 16, 15, 17
Jesse – 15, 18, 17, 16
Scott M. – 15, 18, 17, 16
Jeff – 15, 18, 16, 17
Mark – 18, 16, 17, 15
Jill – 15, 17, 18, 16

And, as if five imperial stouts and four more bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts weren’t enough, we thought it was a good idea to add in the 2017 and 2018 Imperial Milk Stout (thanks Mark and Jeff) for good measure. The ’17 was super smooth, like silk going down your throat. The lactose rounded out the mouthfeel nicely. 2018 was velvety soft with notes of smooth dark chocolate and a clean, creamy finish.

We capped the night off with countless baskets of soft pretzels and stuffed pepper queso dip, so it’s easy to say this was a truly special experience. The beer, the people, the atmosphere, everything was simply tremendous. The first time we ever had Sponge Candy Stout, it was one of Jeff’s homebrews, and we drank it in an empty building that didn’t yet have a floor. To think of how far we’ve come with these verticals is incredible, and pretty awe-inspiring. Thank you Jeff, thank you Resurgence, for everything – the beer, the friendship, the memories. Thank you so much.

First, it was a 2013-2018 vertical of Southern Tier Brewing’s Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale, then it was these Imperial and BBA Imperial Sponge Candy Stouts. So, what’s next? Maybe Big Ditch’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Towpath Imperial Stout. Maybe their Bidwell Wild Ale. I’d love to do Community Beer Works’ Heat Rays Barleywine or The Snow Imperial Stout. Who knows – I’m open to suggestions.

You can purchase bottles of Resurgence’s 2018 Imperial Sponge Candy Stout and Milk Stout as well as the 2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Sponge Candy Stout right now at the brewery.

Brian Campbell is a co-founder/Brand Manager of the BNBA’s enthusiast arm, Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at buffalobeerleague@aol.com, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague) and www.buffalobeerleague.com.