Beer Review 0204: Stone Imperial Russian Stout (Birthday Beer Week 4 of 7)

There isn’t much preamble when it comes to Stone Brewing Co. Imperial Russian Stout: It’s a big beer, coming in at 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume); it’s hopped with Warrior and comes in at 65 IBUs (International Bitterness Units); and it is supposed to pour like Siberian crude and taste even heavier.

First produced by the Escondido, California brewery in July 2000, the recipe has remained largely the same ever since. For many years in the mid-2000’s, this beer was one of the top beers in the world. While it doesn’t quite have that status today, it still ranks very high, and is known as a first class representation of the Russian Imperial Stout. Imperial Stouts were first concocted by Thrale’s brewery in London, in the 18th century, for export to the court of Catherine II in Russia.

Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout is released once per year in bomber bottles each spring. This bottle is the 2012 version, sent to retail on April 16.

Pouring produced a small dark brown head, creamy, but quickly diminishing. The beer was, as expected, a deep dark black opaque monster; murky and so dark that there was no clue when it came to particles or sediment. The head regenerated well with agitation and loads of alcohol legs drifted down the glass. Stone produced a great looking beer with this Stout.

The aromas were basic but classic Russian Imperial Stout: chocolate and coffee up front, along with a big scent of toasty, almost burnt bread. There’s equal parts caramel and licorice, hints of dark fruit, particularly raisin, and a light leathery yeast. The drink smells stiff, but there’s no alcohol presence to the nose, which is nice.

Taking a sip, the palate is first greeted with chocolate, roasted black coffee, and caramel. While not exactly sweet, it’s not bitter, either — and the mouthfeel is surprisingly thin but creamy. Carbonation was noted as above average, but not fizzy. Middle of the taste hits notes of licorice and heavily toasted bread, leading to a classic bittersweet finish that loads down the tastebuds with plenty of dark chocolate and acidic black coffee. One thing not present: the 10.5% ABV; it’s not there in taste, but you can start to feel it after a few sips.

Stone’s take on a Russian Imperial Stout is a treat of a beer, one I’m certain is a classic. My only flavor gripe with the beverage is I wish it were perhaps just a touch sweeter. Otherwise, I think this is released at the wrong time of the year — this is a winter sipper through and through. But maybe they’re onto something: It says on the bottle to buy a case and open one every 3-6 months to fully enjoy the journey. So, if you buy it in April, October is a damn good time to crack the crown!

Seek it out!

Stone Imperial Russian Stout, 95 points. Price: $9.99 for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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