Beer Review 0310: Victory Storm King Imperial Stout

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The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.

Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.

Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.

On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.

Storm King Imperial Stout was actually meant to be a “dark IPA,” using whole hops in the brew from the United States. Not much information is available on the exact hop or grain bill, but Victory says the beer is named because the flavors of bitter hops and rich malts collide and produce a “storm.” This beer is 9.1% ABV (alcohol by volume).

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Pouring made for a small, tan colored head, creamy in texture but fast fading. The color of the beer was true to Imperial Stout standards — jet black, opaque, with just a little hint of lighter brown toward the bottom of the glass. The body seemed to be clear and free of particles and sediment as I poured, and the lacing was good, leaving behind a nice coating in places.

The aromatics is where I began to have a problem with this brew. True to description, hops and malts do collide, and it’s not exactly pleasant. While the aromas themselves, on singular teams, are good, when combined, they kind of make for an unpleasant window cleaner smell. That aside, at first blush, you get a ton of herbal, grassy and pine hops. Stick your nose in further, let it linger a bit, and you’re rewarded with the nice malty base that delivers roasted notes, caramel, chocolate, and plenty of coffee. It’s an odd combination, and not one I’m sure my nose fully appreciated.

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Tasting is a much different experience. It’s all malt up front; dark fruit, raisins, then some dark chocolate. It opens up in the middle of the taste to some brown sugar, coffee, and caramel. The heavy hand of hops punch you when the finish starts, washing up a massive grapefruit and pine bitterness, which couples with the lingering chocolate and coffee notes to create a dry ending that is crisp and delightfully savory at the same time. Storm King is definitely full-bodied, with a thick texture and creamy mouthfeel.

This is a head-scratcher of a beer and sometimes that’s a beautiful thing. A perfect storm of two styles? Yes, and it works. The stout flavors are most excellent and the bitterness from the hops create an interesting and damn good finish. Grab one and think about it for awhile.

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout, 87 points. Price: $2.49 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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