Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Russian Imperial Stout – the ultimate style?

Russian Imperial Stout is perhaps my all time favourite style. While Ordinary Bitter would top my list, as it’s what I like to drink on a regular basis, Imperial Stout is my favourite style to pull out of the cellar as a night cap with a cheese board or a good book.

The combination of intensive roasty dark malts, high alcohol, fruity esters and a body so stout it has legs there is no better way to end a winters evening.

I have never tasted Courage Russian Imperial Stout, the one example from the past that was brewed up until recent times. Considering the absolute lack of interest in ales of any kind shown by Scottish and Newcastle (the multi-national Courage has become) and dwindling number of bottles in existence it’s unlikely I ever will. Thankfully a number of breweries in the UK and America have revived the style with a wide range of interpretations. I have tasted Imperial Stouts brewed by Sam Smiths, Pitfield, Murry’s Brewing, Australis, Pink Elephant and now Durham. I also brew one myself called ‘Merchant of the Devil’ a recipe I have been tweaking for some years and which gets better with every vintage.

Naturally I was very interested to try Durham’s Temptation Russian Imperial Stout when it arrived on the recent import. I have very much enjoyed there beers in the past. They are repeat visitors to these shores, its interesting that Stonch says it hard to find them in London when they are available in Wellington, the global world.

Durham Temptation 10%abv

Pours a deep black with a wispy white head that disappears quickly. Aroma features big spicy slightly hot character that is hard to put a finger on, as it warms in the glasses it reveals its self as a soft fruity banana ester, woody whiskey notes are also evident. On the palate sweet malt is joined by an almost lollyish warm banana character and again scotch is hinted at. Like a strange cocktail of banana liquor and whiskey. Very interesting beer but lacking the dark malt character that Imperial Stout suggests.

So another interpretation to add to the list, to contrast here are my tasting notes for Pitfield interpretation of the style.

Pitfield 1792 Imperial Stout 9.3%abv

Bottle lovingly carried nearly the length of the globe so I could try a historical Imperial Stout recipe. Poured a deep black with a light thin head. Amazing aroma of sweet cocoa, leather and dried fruit , notably raisins On the palate raisin and leather character continues but is joined by an almost ash like roastyness and a rather strong lactic sour note. A touch warming character gives away its strength but all in all this beer hides its size. There is a striking balance between specialty malt roast character and sour aged character. I would probably prefer to drink an Imperial with more malt sweetness and body but this is still an immensely interesting beer.

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