Bristol Beer Factory: Ultimate Stout (England: Imperial Stout: 7.7% ABV)

Visual: Opaque black, smooth pour that froths up brown but never settles into a head.

Nose:  Roasted hazelnut and peanut mix. Dry coffee granules. Slight gooseberry sourness and hints of alcohol force. Slightly salted at times. Overall very fresh however.

Body:  Bitter chocolate, smooth as silk mouth feel.  Black cherry or even black forest gateaux. Grape like elements at the back. The chocolate froths, almost like chocolate fondue at times. Tart apple, and a chocolate orange mix in subtly.

Finish: Molasses. Fudge. Still feels heavy at this point. Bitter chocolate again. Slight crab apple. Dry rough feel on the tongue. More roasted nuts.

Conclusion:  I’m starting to pity new entrants to the Imperial Stout field.  It’s such a packed scene, and so many brewers make it their flagship beer, pulling out all the stops and limits to make it a huge beer, regardless of cost.  In such a packed field, anything less than balls out insanity can find it hard to get noticed.

This then comes in at a restrained 7.7% ABV rather than some of the monstrous ABVs that exist in the range.  It is solidly in the bitter chocolate stout range, easily outdoing Southern Tiers Choklat Stout in bringing those lovely bitter chocolate flavours into play, even without dicking about with using actual chocolate. You can however feel that it is playing a very different game to that expected by the big guns of the field.   As well as the lower ABV it’s also noticeably less viscous.

This however does not reflect a lack of quality, just the different game it is playing, odd sour and fresh notes mix into it, making it refreshingly easy to drink for an Imperial Stout.  It’s this element that really shows how they are crafting this beer. The slight freshness and ease of drinking means it suits its 500ml package perfectly.  Most of the insane big Imperial Stouts work best at the 330ml package, and become sickly afterwards with 660ml bottles definitely working better shared. This despite being a heavy duty beer, makes itself work well on a full pint (or close enough) and doesn’t become wearing during any of its run. Heck I could have easily enjoyed a second bottle without the flavours getting dull.

A good middle ground then between the complex rich and heavy beer, that is freshened up for a pint pour journey, its bitter chocolate flavours coming through well.  A deliciously strong entry. For pure contemplation punch and flavour it may not knock off the big guns from their perches.  It will however carve out its own niche as an imperial stout to last, to take with cheese, meats and to play alongside their strong flavours.

About as good as you will get with an Imperial Stout without going into the insane beer territory, and top of the game in the specific niche it has set itself.

Background:  Bristol Beer Factory have always done well by me, strong on bottle or from cask, and their various stouts have always been an impressive part of their line up.  As such I was happy to grab a bottle of this to try.  I may criticise the craft beer scene some times for it’s occasional over obsession on the Imperial Stouts, but that is no fault of the style, which is a great one and one of my favourite styles.