Beer Roundup #1: THREE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUTS

Food and Drink

beer expedition landscape

THREE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUTS

Just a word about the scale of my ratings.  I use the weighted average scoring system developed by Beer Advocate, http://beeradvocate.com/help/index?topic=reviewing_beers . Also, here’s how I translate my numeric ratings into actionable intelligence.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average (many better beers out there, won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

Bells Expedition Stout

Rating:  4.49/5

look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

I seriously have to upgrade my previous 3.75 rating from last summer. Perhaps that bottle at the Come Back In (Madison) last June was oxidized. Even more likely, I simply drank it too cold, without a glass, and distracted by the Come Back’s legendary karaoke scene. Whatever the case, the specimen I’m now this moment holding in my hand is fabulous.

A fairly aggressive pour into a tulip glass gives a small head, w/ almost no lacing, the slippery solvent alcohol refracting on the glass.

The aroma is still remarkably tame, though subtly rich with burnt coffee, uncooked pasta,  maybe caramel, and faint woody alcohol.  And a bit of leather (but in a good way; I normally detest leather in beer).  There’s undoubtedly a quiet majesty, here, just a bit too quiet.

The flavor in the mouth, wow, now that’s a different story.  Incredibly complex. It oscillates between many different dyads of bitter and sweet:  burnt toast and milk chocolate, anise and  toffee, honey-baked ham and oatmeal-raisin. Wait, that last pair are both sweet. Plus an alcohol heat and an odd salt that help give shape to the mouth-expanding sweetness profile.

A fullish-bodied, slick-viscous texture, like warm maple syrup. Yet that syrup is leavened by a moderate carbonation, even as the pour in this tulip glass has risen to room temperature.

Update: several hours later, I’m getting more aroma, now, from the mouth of the empty bottle. Orange peel, black pepper, black cherry juice, unripe tomato, and dopplebock malt.

Founders Imperial Stout

Rating:  5/5

look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This one has tipped the scales. It’s cracked my Top-5 list of all-time favorites, of all beer styles.

I should make special note, though, this beer has the unfair advantage of aging.  I somehow found this four-pack at a nearby bottle shop this week.  That means it must be 10 months old; the Founder’s release schedule for “Imperial Stout” is January. How this sat on a Madison store shelf in plain view for nearly a year is beyond me.  Elite beers don’t last long in this town.

One of the blackest beers I’ve seen all year (cf. Dark Horse Reserve Special Black). A chocolate meringue-like brown head chokes the neck of my tulip glass and leaves lacing plastered on the glass.

Dark chocolate and burnt coffee rise in the nose, first. Then a cascade of stone fruit, especially overripe cherry and prune.  Boozy vapor cuts what might have been cloyingly sweet.  There’s also a nice dark bread aroma.

I just the other day had their Founders Porter on tap, and I’m now struck by the same particular roasted coffee flavor in the mouth, here. Except this of course comes with an undergirding of overripe cherry and dried fig to replace the bright/tart hop bitterness of the porter. The massive, corn-syrupy fruit-cake and pecan flavors remind me of Southern Tier Mokha, another of my favorite double stouts. The alcohol politely makes itself known on the backend.

I’m cognizant of the mellowing effect the ten months worth of aging has imparted to this beer.  I had this on tap last spring during Mad Craft Beer Week and, sure, I was impressed, but this, this has rocked my world.

Narwhal, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Rating:  4.26/5

look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

From a 12 oz. bottle into a tulip glass.  Black.  Oily.  Chewy brown head whose lacing slides off the glass via some obvious alcohol solvency.

Boozy aroma, w/ coffee, barely detectable chocolate.  Nice, but fairly simplistic.

Booze first on the tongue.  Then tart stone fruit, cherry, prune, or is it black plum? Cocoa’s next, along with bitter molasses reduction. Then more booze, which is an issue.

Thick, oily, despite the significant carbonation.

Very much like Old Rasputin, which isn’t my favorite RIS. I like them sweeter than this and with less alcoholic heat. The simplistic aroma is the weak spot, here. And one wishes there were more chocolate and/or vanilla involved. It’s still quite good.  And at this price point ($8.99/4-pack), I’ll drink this regularly.

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