The season of Yule demands big beers and there are few bigger as a style, rather than some stunt for high alcohol, than the imperial stout. The Beer Judge Certificate Program describes the style in this way:
Intensely fruity and malty, backed up by balancing roastiness and prominent hop bitterness and flavor. A "burnt currant" character may be present, along with a suggestion of cocoa or strong coffee. Alcoholic strength should be evident, along with a deep, complex malt flavor. The finish can vary from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness and warming character.Ka-pow. The unlight beer. Imperial stouts are the sort of beer that you need to work your way towards. I mean you don't try shoe polish on toast until a few months with Marmite, right? So looking at these three capped behemouths I have only one thought...which to open first...hmmmm...Harpoon?
- Harpoon Imperial Stout: As session 12 in Harpoon's 100 barrel series, this stout is a one of show piece for its brewer. Harpoon has won me over and turned me off with earlier examples within this series. I won't know what to make of this one before I get into it but the fact that even 4% of BAers say nay makes me think for a moment about whether I should try this one first or last...
OK, I decided to go with this one first and I am immediately intregued. It pours deepest brown under a smooth mocha head. The hops and roast are off set by some...sweetness - sweetness that immediately raises a red flag, sets the foghorn off and makes the crowd go "oooooh". Sweet means export stout not imperial stout, an export stout like Royal Extra Stout. But it is not an oil slick of sweet like that and other Caribbean examples of the style. It is subtle and does not drown out either the roast, the mint-twiggy hops or its somewhat boozy heat of 7.7%. Very interesting with notes of deep plum, coffee, chocolate, and dry burnt scraping of toast. I can't advise on the sort of bread the toast would be made of but I cannot rule out rye. Chalky creamy yeasty God's good goo at the bottle's end. Yum. I like this a lot.
- Dragon Slayer Imperial Stout: I was really excited to see this offering from Middle Ages of Syracuse, New York. My recent survey of a number of their beers left me with the impression that this is one of the great ale makers on this continent. The fact that 100% of BAers approve of this brew (three giving a perfect 5/5) does nothing to diminish my glee at possessing one 22 oz example this side of the border. Notes when I pop the cap.
OK. Next night. The appearance is the same - deep dark brownish black under a mocha foam head. The flavour is highly hopped as well as roasted. Both conspire together to absolutely hide the beer's 9.5% strength. The hop is mint and green and comes first across the palate before the big toastiness. They are bridged by very creamy yeast as well as a nice tang which may be made up of a bit of the yeast and a bit of the hops. It is dry but rich. The finish has a nice cigarette ash in vanilla ice cream thing. A real quality bit of brewing.
- Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout: The LCBO carries this beer most winters and it is a favorite of mine. I reviewed it lovingly with other selections from the Samuel Smith range last year and - at 7% - noted it is one of the lighter examples out there. [Hey, it was exactly a year ago today.] Interestingly, one source states that imperial stout was almost extinct until recreated by the British brewer Samuel Smiths in the early 1980s so this is sort of what Hoegaarden to Belgian white beer. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up side by side with others of the style as opposed to friends from home.
Licorice beer. Tonight it seems as simple as that. in 1986 I worked in Holland in an industrial seeting with older guys who sucked on unsweetened salty licorices all day. That is the main flavour in this ale, though I wrote differently last Yule - who knows if it reflects difference in flavour in the glass or in my mind?