Issue 29

Beer Chat: Imperial Stout

Beer Chat: Imperial Stout

Far from humble, the Russian Imperial Stout’s history dates back to the 18th century when it was produced in Britain for export to the Czarist courts. Today it has turned into an American powerhouse stout, and certainly my favorite of all styles (for now at least).

Always high in alcohol, it is known for its complex marriage of roasted malts and rich fermentation characteristics. Many examples are aged in Bourbon barrels, where the oak lends the flavors and aromas of vanilla and sweet bourbon to the beer.

If you do not have a beer cellar already, the time is now as this style pops up everywhere during the winter, and age will develop the flavors for years to come.

Goose Island – Bourbon County Stout (Chicago, IL) – 13.0 % ABV

Appearance 2/3: Pours black as night with no highlights to speak of. Deep tan head is somewhat creamy in texture, but quickly dissipates due to the high alcohol content. Very faint lacing clings to the glass.

Aroma 11/12: Heavy bourbon sweetness powers the nose, and is backed up by intense molasses and burnt brown sugar. Dark stone fruits are detected (plumbs), as well as vanilla.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 23/25: Like a shot of oaky bourbon. Massive malt complexity of lush caramel, dark roasted coffee, vanilla bean and plumb candy. High hop bitterness balances with a punch, and gives a spicy tobacco character. This elixir finishes moderately sweet with molasses lasting long into the aftertaste. Huge creamy viscosity with alcohol warming. Very light carbonation and slight astringency seems appropriate for this offering.

Overall 9/10: Flavor packed powerhouse of a beer. This is something to look forward to the release of every November. A true sipper that leaves your tongue numb from the incredible complexity. Top class bourbon barrel aged beer, and a must try.

Total score 45/50, A+

North Coast Brewing Co. – Old Rasputin XII (Fort Bragg, CA) – 11.2% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pours pitch black and completely impervious to light. Three fingers of a creamy mousse-like dark tan colored head is lasting, and left a foam blanket on top through the last sip. Some light lacing sticks to the glass.

Aroma 9/12: Deep chocolate dominates the nose with a backing of sweet bourbon and vanilla. Molasses and a powdered cocoa aroma are a standout. Rich roasted malts and a light alcohol note round out the bouquet.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 17/25: Roasted coffee and molasses start things off. A huge bourbon flavor is almost overpowering. Chocolate, vanilla bean and raisins add to the flavor profile. Moderately high hop bitterness lends a peppery quality. Finish is dry with an almost tequila-like flavor lasting into the aftertaste. Medium in body with moderate carbonation. Alcohol warmth is abundant, and a slight astringency from the roast malts.

Overall 7/10: This Russian Imperial Stout is filled with great qualities. The bourbon barrel flavors are a bit overwhelming, and should mellow with time. Some time in the cellar should produce a softer and more complex beer. This limited bottling is a delicious twist on a widely available standby.

Total score 36/50, B+

Odell Brewing Co. – Bourbon Barrel Stout (Fort Collins, CO) – 10.5% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pours an opaque jet black with a huge frothy tan head of large bubbles. Foam stand shows great retention and lasts through to the end, leaving creamy lacing blanketing the entire glass.

Aroma 8/12: Toasted caramel and poached pear accents the rather mild roast character. Vanilla bean and sweet bourbon come through, but do not dominate the nose. A hint of lactic acid only adds to complexity.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 20/25: A marriage of lush caramel sweetness and a chocolate brownie like flavor is in the forefront. Oaky vanilla and faint bourbon sweetness is balanced wonderfully by a light lactic acidity and moderate hop bitterness. Light fresh pear and red apple lends to overall complexity. Finish is dry with a delicate vanilla flavor lasting into the aftertaste. Medium-full in body with a creamy carbonation feel. Only the slightest of astringency can be detected.

Overall 8/10: A wonderful treat, and a good recommendation for those looking for an imperial stout on the lighter end of the flavor spectrum, as it is not quite as robust as others in this style. The light lactic acidity makes the flavor profile complex and delicious. Another great one to lie down in the beer cellar for a few years, and revisit again in the future.

Total score 39/50, A-

Boulevard Brewing Co. – Imperial Stout (Kansas City, MO) – 11% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pour is violent and ready to meet you upon popping the cork. Presents an inky black beer with a beautiful mocha colored billowy head that leaves an impressive web of lacing around the entire circumference of the glass.

Aroma 9/12: Roasted chocolate and black strap molasses mingle with a hint of lactic acidity. Espresso, dark stone fruit (plum), and toasted bready notes come to life as the beer warms. Light spices add an exotic complexity.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 21/25: Bittersweet chocolate syrup and rich toasted marshmallow are married with a touch of lactic acidity. Vibrant espresso, plum, black currant, molasses, and even a light cherry flavor shine through to make for an incredibly complex and luscious desert-like treat. Amaretto like alcohol notes peak through as it warms. A moderately dry finish lends way to a vanilla and chocolate-like aftertaste. Full in body and chewy with low astringency, and moderate carbonation.

Overall 9/10: Wonderful complexity truly makes this gem shine. The rich chocolate profile makes this seem appropriate to pour over vanilla ice-cream. The touch of lactic acidity shines. As with all great imperial stouts, this offering should continue to change for years to come. One of my favorites from Boulevard’s Smoke Stack Series.

Total score 42/50, A

Nebraska Brewing Co. – Black Betty Russian Imperial Stout (Omaha, NE) – 9.3% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pours a luscious motor oil-like black with a huge four fingers of impressive mousse-like creamy head, which seemingly lasts forever, leaving a tan blanket of lace coating the glass.

Aroma 9/12: Rich espresso roast and brown sugar combines wonderfully with the classic oaky whiskey barrel notes that warm the nose. Maple syrup infused with fresh vanilla bean and toasted cocoa nibs adds to a complex aroma profile.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 21/25: Deep dark chocolate and succulent black licorice control the first wave followed by bark brown sugar, caramel sweetness, and roasted espresso bean. Whiskey flavors of bourbon, vanilla and oak become more pronounced as it warms, and adds to the intense complexity. The finish is dry and well attenuated, with a focus on unsweetened cocoa into the aftertaste. Full in body with moderately low and creamy carbonation feel. Only slight astringency can be detected, along with welcome alcohol warming.

Overall 9/10: A true Russian Imperial Stout that shows the signs of great craftsmanship. The chocolate and barrel characters are outstanding. The complexity is wonderful and will only develop as the years go by. The reserve series that have started to roll out of this brewery have all been top notch, and this one is a must try to understand just how lucky we are in Nebraska.

Total score 42/50, A

Jason McLaughlin

Jason McLaughlin

Jason is a Certified Cicerone, ranked National as a BJCP judge (Beer Judge Certification Program), is a craft beer aficionado, a writer for the Nebraska Beer Blog, and award winning homebrewer living in Lincoln. Jason spends time traveling around the country judging beer competitions, and attending related events. Beer tasting and evaluation is his passion, and he can appreciate a great example of any style regardless of hype.


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