Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stone Imperial Russian Stout review

Stone Imperial Russian StoutHere it is, the end of April and it snowed today down here in the northern plains of Colorado. So what better way to stay warm than to crack open a nice imperial stout. but this was no ordinary imperial, this was a Stone Brewing Company brew. I sampled their Spring 2008 release of their Imperial Russian Stout (IRS). Stone is known for their "big beers". My previous encounter with Stone was with their Arrogant Bastard ale and that was quite an experience. So at least I knew what I was getting into this time around. I chilled this beer ever so slightly as I wanted to drink this beer around 55 degrees F. It had been in the fridge about 1/2 hour and it seemed a bit colder than I wanted it, so I let it breathe a bit before sampling.

Appearance: The beer is a dark as night with no light shining through it. It poured with a dark tan head and grew to just over 1 finger high. While the head didn't last long, it did last long enough to show that it was capable of showing well. I've seen several stouts with similar heads. The only beer I've seen pour darker was the Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. The Stone IRS is a powerful brew on paper. It's measured at 10.8% ABV and an IBU of 90+. Strong and bitter by label but was it?

Aroma: I could smell the rich dark malts and a hint of black licorice. The other thing you could sense is the alcohol. It's definitely has a big part of the aroma. Stone put in a generous amount of Warrior hops into this brew yet that hop smell was hidden well. While I couldn't see through this beer I could detect the slightest bit of carbonation coming up from the bottom of the glass.

Taste: The first sip of this brew told me that this beer was still a bit too cold yet. I swirled the beer around in my mouth to warm it up slightly then swallowed. There is a huge amount of flavor here. You can taste the dark roasted malts. It reminded me of chocolate, coffee, licorice. The beer is mildly bitter but the sweetness of the malts balance it well. As in most stouts, the brew coats the tongue a bit. This is one of the reasons why when sampling a wide range of beers in a single evening, you want to sample the darkest beers last.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout back labelComparing this beer to other imperial stouts, I felt that this beer was better balanced and less "intense" than a brew like Old Rasputin. This beer starts out strong but grows on you as you go along. The warming effect of this high alcohol brew doesn't really hit you until half way through your first 12oz glass. After the first glass I was feeling good but not overpowered. Still, I feel if you're going to be drinking an imperial stout, it's best to go with one glass as two glasses may put you over the limit.

This beer got better the more I drank it. As it warmed the malts and aromas really started coming out. I didn't know at first if I was going to enjoy this beer but by the end of the tasting I was sold on this. This is one damn good Russian Imperial Stout. The beer rating sites concur with me. BeerAdvocate gave this a top A grade, while Ratebeer put this in the 100th percentile (highest) and a 4.24/5 rating. Worthy praise and I can see why.

Overall: I was really undecided how to rate this beer. I think it's best to finish your beer before passing judgment. If the beer gets better as you go, you should tend to wait to grade it. My initial rating was about a 3.7/5 but I think this deserves better. I'm going to give this a solid 4.0 out of 5 and call it one of the better beers I've had. Now granted, if this would have been a much warmer day, then I'd probably not go anywhere near this beer. But since it was snowing earlier in the day, I qualifies as a decent Springtime in the Rockies beer.

Now compared to it's brother, Arrogant Bastard, I much preferred the Stone IRS. It was better balanced and I didn't have to struggle with this despite the high ABV and high IBU. Kudos to Stone for making a truly wonderful Stout. I'll look to buy this again and perhaps age it a while and see how it tastes after a year.

Food Pairing Recommendation: I drank this brew while eating a delicious raspberry chocolate ice cream. Simply wonderful!

Related articles:
- Stone Levitation Ale review.
- Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale review.
- Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale review.
- Samuel Adams Imperial Stout review.

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