One style that seemingly can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned is imperial stout. I remarked while judging an event last Saturday – Belgian and Strong Ales – that it would be pretty unusual for a beer in that particular class not to win a medal in a competition where medals are awarded strictly on merit. And it was true…I can’t say how many won medals but it was more than one.
So it also goes for imperial stout. Even the by-the-numbers examples score in the mid-to-high 3’s. The style is just inherently good, and judging by the Ratebeer Top 100 I’d say I’m not the only one with that opinion. On Monday, Mr_Kimchee put together a fine collection of imperial stouts and had a few Ratebeerians (three of whom I’d never met before, which was cool) over to taste them.
We started with an oatmeal stout, actually. Stoudt’s Fat Dog was nonetheless a good tone-setter. Though lightish in body it has a wonderfully unroasty style that I really liked. Next up was Bièropholie Imperial Stout. For those who don’t know, Bièropholie is a new brewery in Quebec…a micro for the Bièropholie website of francophone beer lovers. Their Imperial Stout raised the bar with its outstanding aroma of luscious milk chocolate, macadamia nuts and substantial roast. I wasn’t as taken by with the palate as the other tasters, but the aroma still lingers in my head.
Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout was next, with its rich, malty style. This was followed by the light but tasty Wellington County Imperial Stout, the only local entry. Always in favour of skipping dinner and moving right to dessert, we broke out the Weyerbacher Raspberry Imperial Stout next. This was followed, naturally, by Weyerbacher Old Heathen.
We then slowed thing down with another non-imperial, Avery Out of Bounds, which was like the Stoudt’s a very tasty beer regardless of imperial-ness. Then it was break time. We cleansed our palates with fresh bread, farmhouse stilton and some mineral water. Of the mineral waters on hand, I think the San Pellegrino was more robust and full-flavoured than the Labatt’s Sterling.
We got things going again with the most aromatically hoppy of the night – Storm King. I’ve never understood the appeal of this beer. It has a lot of things going for it, but it’s too light and simple to be at the top of the imperial heap. Maybe if you don’t have the Courage to embark on an Expedition to visit the Dark Lord I could see it, but the only way to make Storm King a champ is to stick it in the cellar for four years.
How do I know? Because I did it and that was the next beer. The hops drop away, leaving only their bitterness behind, and a complex palate awash with silky, milky, vinous malts. Aged imperial stout is rivaled only by traditional gueuze for greatness in the beverage world.
Next up was an enigma…Bushwakker Imperial Stout. Not listed on Ratebeer – not even the brewery – this had a few folks scratching their heads. I’d had five Bushwakkers back in 1997 when my parents picked them up for me while passing through Regina, but those ratings were too old to bother entering them on Ratebeer, and I guess nobody else has been to Regina since the site’s inception!
Brooklyn Black Chocolate was next. I am not sure what’s happened here. It was thin, astringent, with haphazard flavours that don’t at all come together. As bad as the Kaltenberg Pils that Matt makes. And nothing like the Black Chocolate Stout I remember. I can’t say whether it was the bottle or the batch, but I wasn’t impressed. I’ll revisit the issue next year.
A newcomer, Great Divide Maverick Imperial Stout was cracked. An impressive if ordinary example, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that it came in a bomber. I’ve come to despise the 12oz bottle in the last few years. I never want just 12oz of a beer, unless it’s WWS. It just seems miserly.
Rogue Imperial Stout came next…not bad but it’s never struck a chord with me, whereas half a dozen of their other beers have. A French lager, Boris, was the designated palate cleanser at this point.
Stone Imperial Stout kicked off the final round. Better than my previous crack at it, but still not worthy of the hype. The biggest question mark of the evening followed. When the Tall Ship Ale Co. of Squamish, BC, went under in 1998, I bought up a stockpile of their Imperial Stout and their No.1 Barley Wine. I had a barley wine not so long ago and it was very good. I hadn’t had an Imperial Stout since 2000, however, though at least that one was nice and thick. This one gushed, and while it was still drinkable, had clearly developed a sourish character. I figure it was a couple years past its prime. I still have three bottles left, leaving me with a quandary. If they’ve all turned, there’s not much I can do. If the other ones aren’t as far along, they’ll still be good now and I should crack them while I still can. Or, if they’re not at all turning, and never will, then I could keep them for another five years or more. Bloody hell.
The last two were the famously vinous (and deliberately tart) A. le Coq – 1999 vintage – and the famously roasty Speedway. I wasn’t breaking my neck to take notes at this stage of the proceedings. Both are killer beers. On one hand, I find Speedway is slightly overrated by the Ratebeer crowd, but on the other hand, in a room full of avowed Dieu de Ciel fans, I was the only one who felt that it was the best coffee imperial stout.
This is where I’d normally summarize the event, but at this point you’ve either fried your keyboard with drool and need to go buy a new one, or you want to run to your fridge/cellar/store and grab an impy. So I won’t keep you any longer.