Beer Review 0457: Stone 2013 Espresso Imperial Russian Stout

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Editor’s Note: Beer 5 of 7 in my birthday beer week, in which I celebrate my birthday by reviewing beers I’ve sat aside for the occasion. I turn 31 on August 14. I advise you to celebrate your birthday accordingly, too!

Tax day here in the United States (April 15) is typically not something worth looking forward to — but Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) release a treat each year on that date, appropriately known as Stone IRS — Stone Imperial Russian Stout. I reviewed the beer one year ago today, and rated it 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

Each odd-numbered year, Stone does an “Odd Beers For Odd Years” program, where they produce some variants of both IRS and their Barleywine. For 2013, Stone have taken IRS and dosed it with several hundred pounds of espresso beans grown in Indonesia and South America, then roasted at Ryan Bros. Coffee, a coffee roaster located close to the brewery. You might say just as Stone are a craft brewer, Ryan Bros. are craft coffee roasters, so the pairing is fitting.

And the flavors of espresso should be fitting for the IRS flavor profile. First produced by Stone 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. While classic IRS comes in at 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), the Espresso variant hits 11% and ramps the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) up to 65 from 60.

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Pouring produced a small, creamy head that was composed of tight bubbles and had lasting power. The color was pitch black, opaque, and with only a very small lighter brown edge at the top of the glass when held to light. Although completely dark, the body appeared to be clear, and there were no noticeable particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin, tan sheets with Swiss cheese-like holes.

The aroma features a mouthwatering blend of sweet Hershey’s syrup chocolate and sugary coffee, and is very much like a candy bar. As it opens up and warms, caramel comes out, and a big hit of dark fruits — raisin, prune, and grape. There’s also hints of licorice, and, believe it or not, ripe cucumber! Extremely nice.

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As this odd-year variant hits the tongue, a wall of coffee and chocolate slams down, mixing and mingling expertly. The coffee starts to take over and turns into strong espresso, a mountain of dominant flavor, but eases off and inserts in some mixed berry, raisin, fleshy grape, and prune. As the beer starts to warm, this section of the palate is quite complex and you taste something new practically each sip. The finish is a stiff roasted bittersweet espresso and dark chocolate. Full-bodied, the mouthfeel is thick, creamy and slightly foamy.

The intensity of the flavors alone make this a great beer, not to mention the quality of those flavors. My favorite part was how well the espresso mixed with the dark fruits from the base beer; put simply, this beer is a delight to sample, a complex beer that ought to be brewed more often than on an odd-year notion.

Stone 2013 Espresso Imperial Russian Stout, 97 points. Price: $6.49 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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