I did not see their Imperial Raspberry Stout - just the Old Heathen Imperial Stout and the Imperial Pumpkin Ale. You know, this use of the old "imperial" adjective is all the rage in the US craft brewing trade. It originally meant a honking big stout and was roughly to porter what barley wine was to pale ale. Not stout, you see, as stout was "stout porter" originally a second grade. So as light beers when from pale ale to ESB to IPA to barleywine, so too the dark beers progressed from porter to stout porter to extra stout to imperial stout with any stops in between. The kegs of lights were marked with a number of Xs and the dark with XPs, more Xs each according to strength. Nothing like a neat and tidy little system.
Then come along these brewers who think they can just break rules as if they made them and come up with any sort of combination using any sort of words to describe what they make. Imagine...the noyve. One of these is Weyerbacher Brewing Company of Easton, Pennsylvania - they like to mix good humour with good business. I first met them through met through Lew Bryson's Pennsylvania Breweries and I noticed these two at on the shelf when I was last at the Galeville Grocery. The quart of Imperial Pumpkin was $4.09 and the six of Old Heathen Imperial Stout was $10.60. They represent something about beer and the folks that buy beer that the good folks at Weyerbacher noticed:
It became clear that Weyerbacher's customers liked big beers. The Raspberry Imperial Stout had always been popular, a big raspberry truffle of a beer. Over the winter of 1998-99, Dan took the plunge and came up with three new big beers. The straight Imperial Stout was released alongside its raspberry brother. He introduced the dryish, herbal, Belgian style Triple, simplar to the famed triple of Westmalle, and blasted loose a huge, malty, 12 percent ABV barley-wine, whisically named Blithering Idiot.I like that attitude. I don't know if it comes from who they are or where they are in the world. Weyerbacher sits in the Lehigh Valley. I know very little about the Lehigh Valley except that when you bomb down I-81 from here seven hours or so you encounter a wall of a stone from horizon to horizon that you can't see how you are getting past until the last minute when you turn into the Lehigh Tunnel, shown above. That tells you nothing about beer but it is not like I run another website called A Good Automotive Tunnel Blog so I have to paste these gems prudently where I can.
The Old Heathen could have been called an Imperial Oatmeal Stout and I would have believed it. It's darkness is silky rather than stratified and shale-like like in Brooklyn Chocolate Stout or Mendocino Winter Ale. There is rich creaminess and minty hops perfectly balanced with an incongruously light and large ale. 8.0%, too, but you would never know it. There is a refreshing and moreish core of fresh water that you do not often find with a big ale or a big stout and this is good - this is nothing like, say, the sadly thin Strike Out Stout from Cooperstown. It is quite an interesting stout. BAers approve.
The Imperial Pumpkin is the best of this unique US style I have had. More and more US micros are making a pumpkin ale of some sort in the fall to celebrate Halloween as well as their colonial heritage when fruit ales were far more common. This beer pours a fine beige foam over red amber ale. The mouth is full of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice - the traditional spices for pumpkin pie. They are far more prominent that the pumpkin which sits below as a rich butterly layer of fruit and which makes this version of a pumpkin ale (other than my old pumpkin porterhomebrew) the best going. Still, it is difficult given these strong flavours to distinguish the hops, malt and yeast except to note that they are all nicely in balance. 17% of BAers say no thank you but this is a tough style to rave about anyway so that maybe is to be expected. I think it is well done but don't know if I would buy one again.
So these two are a great introduction to a brewery with big ambitions. Next time I am south I will try to remember to get a few more for trying out.