Tag Archives: Russian Imperial Stout

Brew Review: Russian Imperial Stout (2012 Vintage)

2 Nov

Brew: Russian Imperial Stout (2012 Vintage)

Brewed by: Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, CA)

Style: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5% ABV)


This brew comes out, for some reason, at the end of #stoutseason at the end of winter, or I guess in MN sort of in the middle.  Usually I see stouts showing up in stores at the end of fall or beginning of the winter so people can enjoy the big warming flavors of these brews as the weather gets cold.  Either way, I am not complaining about it this beer is widely viewed as one of the best in the style, beeradvocate agrees.  This wasn’t the first time I have tried this beer, if you go back to the Autumn Brew Review 2011 you can see that I was able to try a sample of this brew, however seeing as how I was at beer festival it was one of 80 or so beers I tried so trying to remember that specific one is pretty much impossible.  But I liked it enough or had heard enough about it to grab a couple bottles for myself when it came home.  This brew was bottled in the middle of April, I think the 16th.  I opened the bottle on May 17th so it only had about a month’s worth of time to develop and age in the bottle so I knew I was getting into a pretty fresh beer from the start. 

Stone’s RIS poured out black.  Not much else to describe here but black.  No light seeps through, no rose or red around the edges, it’s black.  Plain and simple.  The head was excellent, big rich mocha head settles after a minute or so into a cap on the top of the lightless brew.  It also leaves a nice ring on the glass from where it once was and the lacing that descends as I drink this down.

The aroma on this brew is big.  It has rich chocolate and coffee right on the start.  Those smells blend their roast smells together to create a large roast presence.  The hops are still present in the aroma, since this brew is still pretty fresh, which is telling on how much of a hop addition is in this brew since there are obviously pounds and pounds of grains in this recipe.  I don’t really pick up on any alcohol in this which is a good sign.  The aroma ends with even more dark chocolate.

On the first sip I realize how creamy and smooth this beer is.  It slides over my tongue and down my gullet without a hitch.  The hops are present, their bittering oils haven’t faded yet into the dark murky black that surrounds them.  The huge amounts of sweet sugars balance those hops out.  There is some coffee and chocolate but not as much as I smelled at first.  The hops and the bitterness from the hops and roast seem to dominate. 

I would say that this beer was a tad too fresh in the bottle to really enjoy it.  The hops were still fresh and the roasted notes hadn’t taken their hold yet.  After only a month it was too soon, maybe after 6 months or a year this will really come into its own.  Time to forget about the other couple bottles I have for a while and focus on some other beers.


Final Grade: B

Edit: I was able to try another bottle of 2012 RIS from Stone at 2012 Darkness Day, which means this bottle had a little over 6 months of age on it.  This brew was much better.  It had mellowed out, the hops had lost their edge and the smooth roast, chocolate, coffee and deeper flavors had begun to creep out.  I didn’t take any specific notes on this brew in particular but as I was drinking it I was remembering the first time I had it 5 months earlier and was looking at my notes from that tasting.  It has improved markedly since then and I think with a bit more age this will become a fantastic stout.


Beer Event: Darkness Day 2012

29 Oct

Brew Event: Darkness Day 2012

When: October 27th 2012

Where: Surly Brewing Co. (Brooklyn Center, MN)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending Surly’s annual release party of their Russian Imperial Stout Darkness at the brewery.  There was a lot that happened in the span from Friday morning to about 2pm on Saturday afternoon, I will try to recap in as few words as possible.

9am Friday the 26th, I woke up not feeling my best after trying to drown out the sorry excuse the Vikings called a football game they had attempted on Thursday night.  Got a text message from a buddy in Chicago that he wasn’t going to make it today since he has a kid on the way now (congrats) and is buying a house (congrats again) and is therefore a little busy at this time.  Didn’t blame him but I still put out the obligatory, ‘dude, you’re missing out’ message back to him and a picture of all the beer I was planning on bringing to the event laid out like an offering to an ancient God at Delphi.  Needless to say that text might have made him change his mind and about an hour later he was on his way.  Now this was a great turning point because he was planning on bringing some beers that we can’t get a hold of here in MN and I was excited to try some stuff that you can only find down there.  More on why this was a huge pick up later on…

So with the knowledge that he was coming up I rallied the other 2 guys who were going to go with me and we got everything ready to go for the night of trying awesome beers and camping out.  So we rolled up with the trailblazer packed with 4 guys and all our stuff at about 7 o’clock on Friday evening expecting to be fairly close to the beginning of the line, needless to say after some weird guys telling us where we were in the line we figured we were about 500-600 people from the front.  Not as close as we expected but we felt pretty safe on getting at wristband, of which there was only 1,500 so we settled in, cracked our first beers and fired up the grill for some delicious sausages and chips.  Classic camping foods.

So we cracked out first beer, and I will try to give a rundown of what I remember drinking at the end of the story, and ate and probably 2 hours later our buddy from Chicago gets a call.  Turns out that he is a manager at a liquor store in Chicago, pretty sweet, and his distributer buddy is also coming up for the event and he was going to show up in like 45 minutes.  this was the 2nd blessing of having this certain buddy from Chicago make that trip up on a text messaged picture whim.  Not only does he has access to tons of beer as a manager but this buddy of his had a whole distribution network at his finger tips along with all the people he knows from the business.  Our collection of cool beers was now looking pale in comparison to what he and his crew were rolling up with.  So about 30 minutes after that phone call, 5 guys roll up with like 3 or 4 coolers full of beers I have never even seen let alone think about drinking because of how rare they are.  I will try to get to those at the end like I mentioned.

So we now were rolling in a crew of about 8 or 9 guys and trying and sipping what amounted to some of the most ridiculous beer I have ever tried.  Needless to say I was very pleased with this development, it was an added bonus that everybody in our little circle now were pretty cool dudes and everybody was feeling good.

That night we tried plenty of beer, made some cool friends from not only these new Chicagoans but also just the people standing around us in line who were totally into sharing beer and swapping stories, it was a good time.  We hit the hay in the tent around 1 or 1:30 I would guess, I really didn’t check the time when we went to bed.  All I know was that it was freezing and I had a hard time really falling asleep.  Then out of the blue at 6:50 am we get the worst wakeup call of our lives.  We had to have our tent down by 7am so basically we had to get up and get all our crap down and ready to go in 10 minutes.  not fun.  It was still freezing and I had just started to get comfortable in that sleeping bag.  So we packed up, almost started breakfast and then we realized that everybody was compressing the line and walking towards the front.  Thankfully a few of us had the right state of mind to remember to bring a cooler of beers for the eventual wait in the line.  So finally when we stopped compressing we got to stop, play with an awesome golden retriever that was next to us in line and try some more insane beer.

Eventually they passed out the wristbands, which we got with no problem of course, and headed back to camp to try more beers and make some much needed food.  We had bacon, eggs, one leftover sausage and hash browns.  It was pretty jumbled together but that might have been one of the best breakfasts of my life.  The sun had come up and we were finally starting to thaw out as well.  Once about 12:30pm rolled around we packed up the remainder of our stuff and headed into the actual event to sample a couple beers and purchase our 6 bottles of 2012 Darkness.  After trying a couple beers, buying some t-shirts and grabbing our 6 bottles we headed home to take a nap that was long overdue.

To sum it up I got to try some of the most unreal beers ever, stood in line from 7pm to 12:30pm the next day, froze my feet and my nose and my fingers, ate some amazing food, met some really cool people, tried even more crazy beers, woke up far too early and went to bed far too late and had an amazing time doing it all.

Alright now I am going to try and remember all the beers I tried I am going to headline them by where I was or what was happening at the time.  Note – I had more than just these, however these are the only ones I can remember from a continuous string of beers being tried.

When we got there setting up camp and eating dinner:

Founders – Harvest Ale

Indeed Brewing – Day Tripper Pale Ale

Brux- Sierra Nevada and Russian River collaboration

Les Trois Mousquetaires Grande Cuvee Series 2010 Porter Baltique – cant get it in the US and it was one of the highlights of all the beers I had

Stone Russian Imperial Stout – 2012

Bells – This One Goes to 11 Ale

3 Floyds – Rye of the Tiger

Founders – Frangelic Mountain Brown

Founders – Furniture City Stock Ale

3 Floyds/Mikkeller Collaboration – Risgoop

Port Brewing Co. – High Tide Fresh Hop IPA

Walked up the line to the front and some tables where people were sharing whatever they had:

Steel Toe – Before the Dawn

New Glarus – Cranbic

Weyerbacher – Twelve anniversary ale

Fulton – The Worthy Adversary

New Glarus – Black Top

New Glarus – Old English Porter

Back at our campsite with the new guys from Chicago:

Left Hand – Smoke Jumper – Smoked Imperial Porter

Jackie O’s – Funky South Paw

Alaskan Brewing – Perseverance Ale (25 Years)

 Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen – Armand’4 Zomer (Summer)

3 Floyds – Baller Stout

O’Fallon Brewery –  B.D.S. Belgian Style Dark Ale 

Sierra Nevada – Estate Homegrown Ale

Founders – Nemesis (2010)

3 Floyds – Broo Doo

**note –  these guys loved sour beers so there were plenty I had never heard of as I am not a sour beer aficionado which makes them tough to remember**

In line waiting for a wristband:

Russian river Supplication batch #8

Darkness 2010 vintage, 2011 vintage

Founders Bolt cutter – this isn’t even released yet, like I said these guys were awesome

Why Winter – Two Brothers Brewing (this was in a huge 3L bottle that was passed around like the town bicycle, it was awesome)

Half Acre – Thunder and Son

Homebrew sour from the man with the nice dog we got to meet. Dogs name was Dude.

Back at camp for breakfast and wait to go into the actual event:

Dark lord – 2012 vintage, 2008 vintage

Darkness – more 2010 and 2011

Russian River – Pliney The Elder – bottled in the first week of October so still pretty fresh

Goose Island – Bourbon County Stout – 2005 vintage (maybe the best beer of the whole event)

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout – this bottle had gone bad which was very disappointing

Arcadia Brewing Company (Arcadia Ales) – 15

Mikkeller – Black

AleSmith Brewing Co.  – Speedway Stout

Shorts Brewing Co. – Anniversary Ale

3 Floyds/Mikkeller – Ruggoop

Rogue Ales – Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale (really gross)

Goose Island – Vanilla Bourbon County Stout 2010 vintage

3 Floyds – Zombie Dust

Once we got into the event:

Surly Darkness 2012 – straight from the keg, can’t wait to see how it develops in the bottle

Surly Brett Liquor IPA – IPA fermented with Brett yeast

So that is all I can remember at this time.  I will consult some sources and see if I can get any more on here and update accordingly.  Pretty much I can sum this year’s Darkness Day as awesome.

Brew Review: Blaecorn Unidragon

12 Oct

Brew: Blaecorn Unidragon

Brewed by: Clown Shoes Brewing (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Russian Imperial Stout (12.5% ABV)


Clown Shoes brewing out of MA until just recently was not distributed to MN.  That changed about a week ago but I had the pleasure of picking this bottle up on one of the great trips I took down to Chicago where Clown Shoes has been for a while.  Great to have another brewery with a large lineup coming to MN, although the competition is going to be fierce with the amount of new local stuff that is popping up here.  This is the 2011 release bottled on 9-11-11 and I cracked it open on 4-7-12 so this review is from my notes and the bottle had a solid 7 months of age on it which I am pretty proud of myself of for keeping it around as long as I did without getting into it.  Another Russian imperial stout (RIS), I seem to have an eye for these, must like them.

The Unidragon pours out a thick black and no light escapes from its depths. Looks like a RIS should.  A dark tan or mocha head rises up but fades quickly which creates a thin cap on the top of this inky brew.

The aroma is roasty right out of the gate.  This roast is followed up by big malts and a faint hop aroma.  Right from the start I see that this is sort of a traditional take on the RIS style.  Roasty, burnt, malty with a soft touch of hops.  These flavors flow into dried dark fruit and some toffee mixed with chocolate.  The one thing that I missed was coffee.  It was a good smell, nothing outrageous or anything but balanced and nothing seemed out of place.

I was excited for the taste, the aroma showed that this was going to be a really solid RIS right from the get go so the taste should follow up well with that. Right away I get lots of roast again.  The roasted and burnt grains lend some bitterness, the coffee finally shows up and some light chocolate all rise up from those grains.  The hops are once again faint but present giving a balance to the huge sweet malt flavor that also comes out at you.  The hops also keep the mouth feel from cloying or sickly sweet. The brew is thick in the mouth but those hops cleanse the taste somewhat and leave you wanting more.  A slight bitterness lingers but wraps up the taste nicely.

This RIS is not as ‘big’ as others (Darkness) but it really didn’t fall short of anything either.  I liked the roast aspect a lot.  There wasn’t a ton of depth to the brew but I liked the simplicity, for lack of a better word, and the somewhat traditional take on the style.  Another great or maybe not great piece of it was that at 12.5% I couldn’t pick up any alcohol anywhere.  This is a higher ABV for any beer in any style and masking that much is a pretty nice accomplishment.  A really good RIS, nothing jumps out as great but this could definitely be a backup on any night you want something dark, roasty, and deep.  The price tag keeps it out of the reaches of Old Rasputin but I still recommend it.


Final Grade: B+

Brew Review: The Czar

1 Oct

Brew: The Czar (Batch no. 10, Nov. 2011)

Brewed by:  Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)

Style:  Russian Imperial Stout (10.57% ABV)

Avery brewing company out of Boulder CO has some fantastic labels and names for their beers.  I am a fan of almost all of their Dictator releases, of which this was/is the first one. The Czar is a great name for a Russian imperial stout since the Czar’s were the rulers of Russia, pre-1917 or before the Bolshevik Revolution.   See, beer can be a history lesson too, it’s good for body and mind, skip that red bull stuff.  Not that I did much research on the label but I am now wondering what Czar they had pictured on the label.  I am guessing it was one of the very last ones since the picture looks like a copy of an actual picture and around the turn of century actual photographs were rare and not much photography happened before that.  Actually picked up two of these bottles so I am drinking this one on Valentine’s Day 2012 and around Valentine’s Day of 2013 I will pop the other bottle to see if it has changed at all.

The Czar poured out black.  Not totally black as there is a faint light that comes through the edges so maybe a really, really deep brown.  OK we can call it a black-brown or something close to that.  There is a light tan head that rises about a half inch above the beer as well.  Overall a solid looking beer, not spectacular, but not displeasing in any way. 

The smell of the brew was big on the roasted malts, a hint of roasted bitterness.  Coffee, caramel and some dark fruit aromas also greeted my nose. The coffee blended into some dark chocolate but that was a very faint notion.  Some hops but there were about 4 months of age on this brew and they had maybe diminished in their power in that time.

The first thing I noted upon tasting this beer was how silky smooth and creamy it was.  Definitely a good thing when it comes to big stouts.  That’s about as impressive as the beer was in the taste.  After the initial taste I really couldn’t pick up on much of anything that jumped out at me.  It seemed like a fairly bland beer when this part came around.  There were faint hints of coffee and chocolate.  The roasted aspects continued.  I might have gotten more of those deep dark fruits like plumbs and raisins but nothing too substantial.   There was an alcoholic finish to the brew, not overpowering and not in any way like taking a shot of anything but you could definitely tell that it was there.

So the brew was OK looking, smelled pretty good and tasted somewhat bland.  In no way was it bad though, it held together very well and I finished the whole bottle without a problem.  I guess I don’t really have one certain thing that I can point out why I wasn’t a fan of this beer but it just came up short on a few things that I was hoping the best for.  Here’s hoping that when I open the 2nd bottle I have it will have improved markedly.

Final Grade: B

Brew Review: Big Eddy

25 Sep

Brew: Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout (2011 Vintage)

Brewed by:  Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company (Chippewa Falls, WI)

Style:  Russian Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV)

I did a review back in March of 2011 for this brew and found it later on in the year in the bottle at my local shop so I figured would do a review of the more current year’s vintage.  So the one I had on tap at the pub was 2010 and the one I had in the bottle was 2011. My guess is that the recipe didn’t change much, if at all, since this is a macro-brewery run operation in WI and therefore probably streamlining in whatever way possible.  The best part of this brew was the price-tag.  I don’t remember the exact price but it something like $2.99, so not too bad for an RIS which tend to fetch higher prices.

The Big Eddy poured out big and black.  Perfect looking for an imperial stout.  Thick, viscous, black, tar and syrup-like are all words I would use to describe the brew.  Rising up from the depths of this dark pool was a solid half inch of tan foam that looked delicious.

The aroma brought some roasted smells along with deep dark fruits and some faint hops.  The depths brought up more fruits and hidden sweetness.  The faint hops were complimented by some dark chocolate as well.   I was surprised that I didn’t pick up more hops as this brew was still pretty young and therefore fresh.

The brew was sweet on the tongue right away with a touch of bitterness from the hops on the back end.  This is where the brew fell from being good to being alright.  There was not as much roast as I would have preferred and actually look for in this style.  It was also not as rich as I would have enjoyed.  Granted this brew was fresh and the hop presence in the taste was definitely more than wanted. 

Thankfully I did pick up 2 bottles at the same time and I am sitting on one until this next winter when I can crack that open after it ages for a year.  Hopefully the hops will have died down and more layers of complexity will reveal themselves and this brew will rise up in the ranks of Russian imperial stouts.  As compared to the 2010, it did come from a keg and it was probably 3-5 months aged in there so it had improved a bit from this fresh beer.

Final Grade: B

Brew Review: Old Rasputin

28 Dec

Brew: Old Rasputin

Brewed by: North Coast Brewing Co. (Fort Bragg, CA)

Style: Russian Imperial Stout (9.0% ABV)


I have had the pleasure of having this beer in the past and decided that I liked it enough that I would search it out again and take some notes on it. I especially like the name, a very fitting name for a Russian Stout, and it makes one think of a greasy, slimeball of a guy. Some of the words to describe the beer might be the same as for the man.

Rasputin pours out a thick rich black brew. Looks like it would be something from a witches cauldron, deep, dark and mysterious. A great big tan head also came with the pour, something that makes a good stout even better when it has that big foamy head resting peacefully waiting for you to take a sip and then end up with an upper lip covered with it.

The smell is perfect. There is tons of chocolate and the roasty warming presence of grains. The bitter dry aroma of an old school stout is also present and lends a foil to the sweet chocolate grain presence also present. There is also some dark fruity smells in there, like raisins or licorice. A great smelling stout, something that you would want a big hearty beer to smell like without showing that its going to be too sweet.

The taste of the brew followed in the aromas footsteps. It was a thick chocolaty affair, with toffee and caramel tastes mixed in there as well. It was big, deep, and chewy. This was a beer that could fill you up with the loads of malt and high ABV. The dry stout taste also showed up in the end, with a hint of the booze to finish it off. For it being 9% however there was no real noticeable alcohol tastes throughout, which was amazing. There must have been a fair amount of hops added to this brew as well since there was a lingering bitterness to it as well.

A great dry stout. It seems like a lot of small breweries are making stouts that are sweet and sugary these days. I like that North Coast has taken a step back and reexamined the dry stout category since those can be turned into excellent beers as well.


Final Grade: A