THE 6 PACK: Imperial Stouts

THE 6 PACK:
Imperial stouts

It’s the time of year for the imperial stout. Adrian Tierney-Jones charts the remarkable history of this beer and picks out six of the best

 

Ladies and gentlemen, please stand, an imperial stout has just walked into the room, a beer of gravitas and history and heritage, a muscular beer with a heft and weight that would bode well if it ever wanted to work as a circus strongman or woman. This is a beer that is ideal for contemplation, a brewing deal struck with the devil perhaps, a beer that, like IPA, was thought to be buried in the archives of history 30 years ago, and again like IPA it has sprung back to life, with the vivacity of a desert flower after the rains.

In the 19th century, it was oh so different, imperial stouts (perhaps masquerading under the name of Double or Extra Stout) were a common part of many a brewery’s portfolio, strong and expansive sipping beers. Then after World War I had decimated the British brewing industry in more ways than one, they declined and by the 1980s Courage Russian Imperial Stout was near enough all on its lonesome. In 1998, five years after it was last brewed, the then owners of the brand, Scottish & Newcastle, announced the end of the beer – in 2011, the beer was brewed by Charles Wells of Bedford, and there have been several vintages brewed since, though at the time of writing the beer seems to have vanished off the radar. Mind you, elsewhere the imperial stout is a healthy monster, a bold statement by many a brewery, large and small, throughout the world, in North and South America, in Europe, and of course in its British homeland, a demonstration that they’re not afraid of alcohol and heady dark malts. Though sometimes if you want an imperial stout you might find yourself flummoxed as I was during a recent trip to a Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen. I wanted was an imperial stout, but instead I was offered one fermented with Sahti yeast and another one that had cake mix and biscotti. I didn’t know whether to cry or raise a glass to such questionable ingenuity. The imperial stout has come a long way since its gaslit origins and I suspect it will keep on travelling.

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/ Harvey’s Brewery, Imperial Extra Double Stout, 9%

Brutal in its darkness, coffee, chocolate, dark fruit, figs and Demerara sugar, alongside an appetising roastiness and subtle hint of Brett.

/ Dark Star, Imperial Stout, 10.5%

A boozy stew of dark plum and currant on the nose, alongside espresso and almond liqueur; coffee, chocolate, more dark fruit, a cosy creaminess and a slight hop bitterness round things off.

/ Saltaire Brewery, XS Imperial Stout, 8.9%

Intense roastiness on the nose alongside a softer zephyr of chocolate, mocha and dark fruit; rich and roasty on the palate with a dry finish.

/ Brooklyn Brewery, Black Chocolate Stout, 10%

If you want an alternative to Sambuca then this is it; it is spirituous, rich and mocha-like in a glass, Herculean in its reach on the palate, a destroyer of worlds and perfect for ageing.

/ Troubadour, Imperial Stout, 9%

Roast barley reaches out from the glass, alongside an arch of mocha, chocolate and toffee; the same characters tread the boards of the palate, while the finish is bracingly bitter.

/ Wiper and True, Hard Shake, 10%

Hard Shake is the ‘imperial’ version of Wiper and True’s superb Milk Shake milk stout and is loaded with chocolate malts, vanilla and the addition of cacao nibs. It’s sweetly smooth and willingly warming for winter nights.