Beer Review 0030: Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout

It’s supposed to be spring, right? Time for warmer weather beers such as fruit or wheat drinks — well, not here in North Carolina, where today has dipped decidedly back into a cool funk of rain, fog and general unpleasantness.

So I found it appropriate to pull out a dark beer more typically associated with colder weather. Today, I review Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout.

This beer is brewed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire (England) and has been so since 1758. All of the beer Samuel Smith makes, including this imperial stout, is brewed in “stone Yorkshire squares,” which are fermenting vessels made out of solid slabs of slate. (A great picture of these squares can be found at the Samuel Smith website — samuelsmithbrewery.co.uk) It is believed that by brewing with slabs of slate the beer gets a fuller bodied taste.

The original well sunk at the brewery is still used today and the same yeast strain has been used on beers made at this facility since the nineteenth century.

The bottle on this one is quite original and interesting; the top is wrapped in golden foil and the design on the oddly shaped bottle is intricate and a throwback to another time.

ATTENTION VEGANS! (and vegetarians): This beer is suitable for you! Ingredient list: water, barley, malt, sugar, yeast, hops, seaweed finings. This drink is registered with the Vegan Society. I’m not sure how much beer is actually Vegan approved, but this is the first time I’ve seen it advertised by a company.

Let’s get to drinking…

The pour produced a motor oil black liquid that was topped with an averaged sized tan head. The color contrast was very nice and made this an inviting beer to look at, especially when you factor in the creaminess of the head and how long it lasted. A nice billowing foam followed the drink as it emptied from the glass, leaving behind a solid coat of lacing. I awarded this beer a perfect score in appearance. Very nice —an intimidating yet inviting looking brew.

Aromatically, things leaned heavily malty, as one might expect from an imperial stout. The main scent is sweet roasted coffee, with a back end of caramel and some port-like dark fruits. This beer is like a fine spiced rum in two ways; the complexity of the aromas remind you of the higher alcohol liquor, and there is actually a rum note present in the scent profile. There’s also a faint alcohol note in the background.

Here’s where things start to go a little haywire, at least for me: When this beer initially hits your palate, you are greeted with a fruit acid blast (think lemon or lime) which I found immediately not enjoyable. It opens up to a nice malty finish of coffee and caramel, complete with a warming sensation good for those cold winter months. The finish is long lasting and quite exceptional in terms of strength and complexity of flavors, but is the initial unpleasantness worth going through to get there?

It’s a difficult question to answer, but after drinking an entire glass, I’m going to have to say no. That is unfortunate, because everything else about this beer is so good. Keep in mind, if you like incredibly sour or tart things, this may be right up your alley, but after much thought, I can’t think of anyone that really would find the sharp acid of this imperial stout to be pleasing.

Worth a try, but go in expecting a disappointment. And still, with all that said, this beer pulls a high rating because the appearance, aroma, and finish are all so exceptional!

Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout, 88 points. Price: $1.99 US for one bottle.

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