Russian Imperial Stouts are currently classified as style 13F within the BJCP guidelines, and are described as being “brewed to high gravity and hopping level in England for export to the Baltic States and Russia.” The popular belief is that the likes of Catherine the Great loved this style, but after I went down an Internet rabbit hole in search of more information on this idea, I came across this interesting article that contends she actually liked nut brown ales. Whatever the truth may be, Imperial stouts have been made wildly popular and hopped with reckless abandon by modern day American craft brewers. This style really encompasses all Imperial stout variations, be they “Russian” or not.
BJCP Summary of Russian Imperial Stout: (full description here)
“An intensely flavored, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity, and bittersweet, with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavors meld with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barleywine with every dimension of flavor coming into play.”
I sampled the following stouts:
Old Rasputian Russian Imperial Stout (North Coast Brewing)
Yeti Imperial Stout (Great Divide Brewing Company)
Abduction (Pipeworks Brewing Company)
Bona Fide Russian Imperial Stout (4 Hands Brewing Company)
Black Chocolate Stout (Brooklyn Brewing Company)
Beverage: Almost all of the stouts I sampled were very dark brown. Only the 4 Hands and the Brooklyn stout allowed any light to shine through a few tiny garnet windows, while Pipeworks’ was the darkest drink, nearing black. (It’s worth noting that according to BJCP standards, this beer can range in color from “very dark reddish-brown to jet black.”)
Head: Most of these stouts had a thin, pronounced head of tiny tan bubbles that dissipated after awhile, but Yeti and Old Rasputin had sticky, lacy heads that hung around. Great Divide’s was ridiculously foamy, sitting on top of the beer like a pile of brown, melted whipped cream.
Most of the beers had a dark roasted grain and chocolate aroma combination. Brooklyn’s also smelled of vanilla extract, and the Pipeworks stout had strawberries and coffee on the nose. Old Rasputin and Yeti stood out as totally different with their incredibly hoppy bouquets. Yeti’s aroma was harshly hoppy, smelling a bit like motor oil and getting a little nostril-stingy. Old Rasputin’s hop aroma was less pronounced than Yeti, but, was a bit funkier. To quote my husband,* “It smells like feet.”
Nearly all had creamy, medium-full mouthfeels. Only Yeti and Old Rasputin–the two oddballs–had full ones.
These all tasted very different, so this time I will come up with a quick flavor statement for each:
4 Hands Bona Fide: A chocolate cake with malty sweet cocoa puffs and hints of coffee
Great Divide Yeti: Grassy chocolate hop syrup with a bitter aftertaste of grain and coffee
Old Rasputin: Bitter, hoppy strawberry, like a less intense and fruitier Yeti
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout: Smooth coffee-chocolate bar with tart cherry and raspberry
Pipeworks Abduction: Coffee-forward chocolate booze
This winner was really hard to pick. At one point I had my head in my hands and actually felt stressed about having to pick just one. And then I realized that I was drinking beer … for fun … for a blog I made up. No one was making me do anything! Ha! So, I’m not going to pick a winner this time. These beers were all really good in their own unique way. I will say that I wish I’d been able to find a Bell’s Expedition Stout to compare among this group, because boy do I love that beer. OK, and I will also say that the liquid chocolate cake-ness that 4 Hands created was awesome. 🙂
Now go out there and drink some Imperial stouts for yourself … or don’t, ‘cause it’s Spring now!
* My husband does have a name, by the way, and I’m tired of referring to him instead of calling him “Matt.” His name is in fact Matt, he is awesome, and lucky for me he has an English degree so he shows me how to properly punctuate my sentences and have a consistent voice, or whatever. 😉 He also participates in all of the tasting comparisons that I do, and obviously comes up with great descriptors for aromas. Thanks, Matt. I couldn’t do this without you!