Beer Review 0567: Boulevard Imperial Stout (2013)

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Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

Recently, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.

In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all big beers in big bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — Imperial Stout is only produced every other year, and fittingly so after you find out all the work that goes into it. 60% of the beer is fresh ale, while 40% is whiskey barrel-aged; that 40% that gets the barrel treatment is also a blend of several different years of beer.

The beer itself is brewed with a large grain bill that features several types of malted barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt. Imperial Stout is brewed with a Belgian yeast strain, comes in at 11.8% ABV (alcohol by volume), and registers 63 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour made for a large, lasting, creamy head that settles with large bubbles as it finally begins to diminish. The head was a dark khaki color atop a pitch black, opaque beer. The color is spot on for an Imperial Stout; there are some lighter brown/mahogany edges. I noticed as I poured that the body was clear, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving thin and creamy sheets of foam.

On the nose, gear up for an impressive amount of dark, roasted malt. It’s got smoke, caramel, chocolate, coffee, toasted and roasted notes galore — super deep and complex. Add in notes of dark fruits (prune, raisin, and a jammy, dry grape) along with licorice, char, and pinches of grapefruit and oranges, and you’ve got one yummy beer that is dying to be sipped. And as it warmed, all of these aromas became deeper, more pronounced, and more delicious.

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The palate opens with a heavy punch of roast and a snippet of the Belgian yeast in the form of some earthy, dry orange peel. Didn’t know this brew uses Belgian yeast? Well, it does — you’d think the aroma would be a giveaway, but all the roast hides it. As with the aroma, the roastiness catches up quickly, dominating the taste buds with layer after layer of dark chocolate, black char, coffee, smoke, licorice, and dark fruits. Holy complex! Dark, rich flavors swirl around the tongue until the conclusion, which sees caramel come to dominate and bring out just a hint of whiskey barrel. For 40% of the beer to be barrel-aged, you’d never guess it. And the alcohol is completely hidden in taste, but apparent in feel, like it ought to be. Boulevard’s Imperial Stout is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy and frothy mouthfeel.

Wow. This brew is extremely nice and there really isn’t much to say except that it’s full of complex flavors, aromas, and it’s nice to see a beer that is barrel-aged where the particular spirit used doesn’t become an overwhelming flavor. You can tell Boulevard spent some time on this beer and it’s simply wonderful. Perfect for a nightcap, a treat, or an anytime offering — dance in delight, Imperial Stout fans. This is your jam.

Boulevard Imperial Stout (2013), 95 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.

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