Tag Archive: Imperial Stout

Brewdog: Abstrakt: AB 21 (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 12% ABV)

Visual: Black. Inch of caramel brown froth. Redish if held to the light

Nose: Dry black liquorice. Blackberry. Sour cream.

Body: Liquorice all-sorts. Blackcurrant. Sour chewy sweets. Sour black cherry. Dry. Slight charred wood and charcoal. Slight funky, yeastie note. Some bitter chocolate. Light toffee. Creamy as it warms, yet still dry late on.

Finish: Black liquorice. Tart black cherry. Black currant. Bitter and lightly charred. Black pepper and pepper seeds. Charcoal dust. Gooseberry and Ribena as it warms.

Conclusion: Erm, well, it does what it says on the tin – well, bottle anyway. Blackcurrant? Somewhat. Liquorice? Very much so. Aaaand, that’s kind of it.

The base Imperial Stout is kept to simple notes – fairly polished simple notes though – predominantly using a charred, bitter back with some hints of bitter chocolate, but not much. The main thing the base gives is a very good texture – it is a nice, kind of oatmeal stout thickness kind of thing – just the kind of feel and grip the beer needs.

The berries come out more with warmth, the liquorice plays with the cold. With the liquorice ascendant it feels very dry, and very, very liquorice filled. I will admit it tastes better than most uses of liquorice in a beer – there is a slight sweetness that makes it feel like all-sorts, and that helps it get not too dry, which is a common problem I find. However it is much better as it warms, the light tart edges becoming a more fruity front face.

It gains a mix of Ribena, tart black cherry and tart fruit gum sours. A more bright mix and far more enjoyable for me, plus a bit more complex. However, while it is more complex than before, it still isn’t very complex in general. It is a good drink, but very similar to already existing blackcurrant and liquorice stouts that aren’t ten quid a bottle. It is well made enough, but not better than those, nor is it particularly innovative or unique. As a standard Brewdog beer, I would give this a thumbs up. As an expensive Abstrakt it doesn’t earn its place with either ingenuity or complexity, Good, but too costly for what it is.

Background: This seems kind of normal for an Abstrakt beer – for those who don’t know Abstrakt is Brewdog’s one off specials, and tend to be pretty out there. This one is an Imperial Stout made with liquorice and blackcurrants. Grabbed straight from Brewdog’s shop, as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Abstrakts have started waxing their bottles – eh, it is done kind of ok – wax does get on my nerves these days due to overuse, but at least this one was fairly easy to get off. Think that is everything for this one.

Law Man: Obsidian: Barrel Aged Stout (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 8.4% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. No head despite a vigorous pour.

Nose: Smokey coffee. Raw coffee beans. Vanilla toffee. Bitter cocoa dust. Light moss. Bready. Slight sour cream notes.

Body: Smooth. Treacle. Smoke. Moss. Milky chocolate. Sour cream. Bitter cocoa. Bourbon.

Finish: Charred oak. Cocoa pops and milky chocolate. Grassy. Bitter. Sour cream. Alcohol air. Rye. Bourbon

Conclusion: This feels paradoxically light and yet overly harsh beer. Odd. It has very smooth mouthfeel – in fact the front feels like it lacks grip resulting in the chocolate notes coming in kind of floaty and lacking weight. Then as you are digging into that to try and investigate suddenly charred oak and harsh bitterness seems to set up shop on your tongue, just coming out of nowhere.

It is an odd, not entirely pleasant, experience. Doubly odd as the aroma is excellent – absolutely booming with tons of coffee and tiny hints of treacle amongst cocoa dust. You get full on roasted bean character just floating out of the glass.

By contrast the body, well it still has that treacle character, but now in a slightly artificial way. It is kind of similar to what a bunch of low abv dark beers use to build up the body to compensate for the lack of malt, but this is far from low abv. it is a gosh darn imperial stout and shouldn’t need to use such tricks. While they use whisky barrels for the ageing, the general feel of this is more towards the rougher edge of bourbon. That is not a slight on bourbon – there is plenty of good stuff out there – but this isn’t it. The influence seems the more simple rye crackers and alcohol air rather than the sweet subtleties that a good barrel can bring.

It is a pity, as there is something unusual and kind of worthy in there. There is this slightly savoury, mossy character mid body, and a grassy finish that hints at a more grounded beer, one with more weight and an almost Springbank influenced character. Something decent. Something with more weight to it. As is the beer doesn’t have enough weight to manage the barrel ageing, it loses the heavy stout middle, becoming overly smooth, and those empty moments get filled with the rougher spirit notes. Like this, the grassy notes, instead of being a pleasant backing, instead match with the charred character for a rough finish.

There is a good beer in there somewhere – some chocolate, some coffee, but overall it doesn’t really mesh. A rare case where barrel ageing seems to have actually hurt a stout.

Background: Saw this at Independent Spirit, a whisky barrel aged version of their base Obsidian stout. It had good buzz about it so I grabbed a bottle despite not having tried anything from law Man before. Drunk while listening to Bowie: Black Star. Heavy haunting music for heavy beer. Not much else to say, I’ve really been spoiled by great barrel aged Imperial Stouts over the years so any new one has a lot to live up to.

Kees: Barrel Project #05/2016 (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. White swirl and loose bubbles over it but no real head.

Nose: Caramel. Thick. Molasses. Treacle toffee and chocolate toffee. Chocolate liqueur. Alpen. Rye bourbon. Shreddies and fresh white toast.

Body: Belgian chocolate. Bitter cocoa. Thick vanilla fudge. Orange liqueur. Nutty. Rye bourbon. Bready base. Light earthy notes. Figs. Cream. White sugar. Very smooth.

Finish: Wholemeal bread. Rye bourbon. Chocolate biscuits. Earthy notes. Bitter cocoa. Lemongrass. White sugar and white chocolate. Raisins. Bitter coffee cake. Nutty and praline.

Conclusion: Big, yet restrained. Bourbon backed, yet earthy. Thick, yet smooth and somewhat light at times. Ok, you have my attention beer, are you going to earn it?

The base, while you can feel the oatmeal stout thickness, slips down very easily – it is smoothed, I presume, by its time in the oak. A lot of the notes in there are the expected ones – bitter cocoa, chocolate – albeit in a very high quality Belgian style, fudge. Everything very well done. There is however an unusual, restrained rustic earthy set of notes – common in standard stouts, but something that big booming imperial stouts often neglect. It is unusual to find the more savoury notes working against the sweetness.

It is a good look, especially against the bourbon ageing. The more rustic side of the bourbon character seems to match the earthy notes well giving shreddies and rye style characteristics which ground a heavy flavoured beer. Thankfully neither side dominates, the beer or the bourbon – there are orange sweet notes from the bourbon boom, and distinct spirit characteristics, but the beer is big enough to take it and layer the bitter chocolate flavours over the top without losing either.

Initially, when chilled, it was a tad too light but heat brings it out into excellent balance. It is still smooth, but with a bit more grip to let it really shine. It can still have thin moments, but generally the oatmeal stout character pulls it through. Warmth also brings a bit of dark fruit play, which is nigh always a good choice.

So, generally good? Aye, very much so. Downsides? Well the cocoa notes can stick to the tongue, as if you have been licking the cocoa itself. Occasional thin notes as well, but not really much on the downsides.

As I always say, the Imperial Stout category is a packed one, and this doesn’t shift out the top few. However this is more savoury and grounded than most, while still letting the flavours boom. Well done and less over the top than many in the category which is worthy of respect.

Background: An Oatmeal Stout Aged on Heaven Hill barrels, as you can probably read on the bottle. There was a whole bunch of the Barrel Project beers at Independent Spirit and since I have been hearing good things about Kees I decided to grab one of them. I went for this one as 1) I love oatmeal stouts and 2) In My experience Heaven Hills’ barrels do lovely work for barrel ageing a stout. Anyway not much else to say – this was a big beer so broke out some big music. Iron Maiden: A Matter Of Life And Death. Seriously love that album, barely a bad track on it.

De Molen: Hel and Verdoemenis: Bruichladdich (Peated) BA: Brett Edition (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 11% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Brown rim around the glass but no real head.

Nose: Bitter chocolate dust. Smoke. Cedar wood. Charring. Bitter coffee. Honey and treacle mix. Pecan nuts. Blueberry. Smoked meat.

Body: Smooth. Big bitter chocolate. Smoke. Big bitter coffee. Charred meat. Thick sour cream mouthfeel. Slightly soured. Beefy. Bitty feeling. Orange juice notes. Blueberry touched.

Finish: Bitter chocolate and bourbon biscuits. Smoke and ash. Sour cream. Bitty feel. Bitter coffee. Slight wet rocks and salt. Nougat.

Conclusion: Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect here with the brett involved. What I got was something big, something full of bitter chocolate, slightly cloyed, thick, and bitty feeling, all backed up by a lot of smoke and beefy flavours.

So how does it compare with the real ale, non brett version of this? Very favourably actually. It seems less harsh, thicker, letting more of the subtle notes come out. There is an odd sour cream kind of twist to it – at a guess I would say that is the brett playing about – thought I couldn’t be sure. It also makes it feel kind of bitty, and it seems to be this character that breaks up the harsh notes from the real ale version.

It really booms out the flavours this time around – still not up there with the Octomore aged Hemel and Aarde that I still kick myself for not doing notes on, but what is? Not as good as the 666 either, but there still feels to be so many odd notes hidden inside this that it has appeal. At times there are subtle hints of orange juice, blueberry and nougat that are just teases at the edge of the beer. I am so tempted to grab one of these to age, just to see what happens.

Still, as it currently is it is a solid set of flavours; Big, surprisingly mellow in the barrel ageing compared to the harsh real ale version – there is a lot of smoke but little harshness. Not a stand out favourite in the Imperial Stout crowd, but utterly rock solid and a bit unusual. That different texture really makes it with that cloying yet bitty mouthfeel. Worth a try as it is, and I am intrigued to see what a bit of brett ageing will do.

Background: Damn that is one long name to type out. Some people may wonder why I am revisiting this, as the Hel and Verdoemenis: Bruichladdich I tried at the Great British Beer Festival didn’t impress me too much. Two main reasons. One, I can find that the real ale delivery can sometimes not suit high abv beers like this. Two, this is a Brett edition, as marked by a tiny label on the side, and I was intrigued by what that would do to this. So, yeah – I tend to return to De Molen for their Imperial Stouts a lot – I really should try more of their other styled beers as they are an excellent brewery. This was grabbed from independent spirit and drunk while listening to Carcass- Surgical Steel. Big beer- big music!

Närke: Kaggen Stormaktsporter Börb’nåhallon (Sweden: Imperial Stout: 9.1% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Brown rim of a head around the glass.

Nose: Bourbon. Vanilla. Spicy rum. Toasted teacakes. Buttery popcorn. Cinnamon. Treacle. Chocolate liqueur. Smoke. Fudge.

Body: Treacle. Molasses. Toasted teacake. Bitter chocolate. Cherries. Chewy. Black cherry. Heavy. Chocolate liqueur. Spicy rum. Bourbon. Honey. Vanilla toffee. Alcohol edge. Marshmallows.

Finish: Bitter chocolate. Fudge. Toasted teacakes. Cherries. Butter. Spicy rum. Long lasting spice – jar of seven spice. Rye bourbon air. Bitter cocoa air. Red wine. Charring. Smoke.

Conclusion: There are times in a beer reviewers life that you wonder, am I just looking for flaws to be controversial? This beer has a huge rep, am I just being contrary? So, I have indicated I think this beer has a flaw, what is it? Kind of two fold. One, it is so packed that it can get crowded. Two, that it does show its alcohol. Yep, that’s it. Not much really.

Thing is, imperial stout is packed field of awesome beers. Is that enough though to disqualify it from being the best of the best? Good question, but we are getting ahead of ourselves, lets talk about the beer first and come back to that.

This is thick, spicy and chocolate liqueur loaded, all layered over a real wonderful toasted teacake base. Very good start. The spicy character reminded me of the excellent De Molen 666, but the rest of the beer means it is grounded completely differently. It is utterly intense, delivering cherries, cinnamon, chocolate, bourbon and smoke. Definitely spirity, but despite the alcohol very much showing through it is not harsh. It really lays that spice character on heavy, but thankfully the rest of the beer is big enough to cope with it. Similarly it lays down massive sweet honey, again relying on the weight of all the other elements so it is not sickly.

It is a mix of so much, creamy with fudge notes like the sweeter end of the Imperial Stout scale – Spicy like a rum aged IS, Vanilla and rye bourbon like ageing notes like a, well, bourbon aged IS, Even smoke like an Islay aged IS. It has so much depth, and frankly I’m guessing a few more years ageing would sooth that extra alcohol that is the problem.

As it is, rather than as an imagined aged version? Erm. Well, it is basically insane complexity vs that alcohol edge. Well, I am a fan of rough edged gem beers, but for smoothness the aforementioned 666 is better, for complexity this wins. I think it comes down to the fact that this doesn’t quite come to a coherent whole with all its elements, but each individual element is excellent. So, not quite a personal favourite, but bloody good, and I’m sure that it will be many of yours, it is on that knife edge.

The everything and a kitchen sink of the Imperial Stout range and impressive as fuck.

Background: WE GOT ONE! After finding this but not being able to buy it on the first day in Gothenburg, I was put in a dilemma on finding it on the last day in Akkurat, Sweden. I had already done two sets of notes. I tend to limit myself to that as afterwards I find alcohol and conflicting tastes make the notes less reliable. Then again, I had been taking my time, drinking water between beers, having lots of conversations and enjoying the awesome band that had come on at this point. So, I figured that I could do one more – let’s face it, it is an imperial stout, a big imperial stout, that should kick over anything drunk before it. By this point Akkurat was ram packed, with an awesome live band playing behind us – great atmosphere but because of this light was down, so my photo was not quite as good as it could have been. Apologies. According to a quick bit of google translate, this is the same base beer as the standard Stormaktsporter, which is brewed with honey – this has been flavoured with raspberry and aged for fourteen months, three of which are bourbon, and bottled in 2015. It is currently the highest rated Swedish beer on ratebeer, and one of the world top 50. As I was finishing this a kind Swedish man bought me a pint of Oppigårds El Dorado – a very good show of the hop but damn after everything else drunk I did feel pissed. Many thanks still!

Brewdog: Paradox Islay (2016) (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 15%)

Visual: Black. Brown froth edge, and light brown dusting across the still main body.

Nose: Iodine. Wet rocks. Black coffee. Bitter cocoa. Light salt. Brown bread rolls.

Body: Charred oak. Medicinal dryness. Bitter chocolate. Dry character. Riesen chocolate chews. Toffee. Resinous middle.

Finish: Charred oak. Drying. Bready. Popcorn. Medicinal. Bitter cocoa. Nettles. Slightly resinous. Chocolate toffee. Liquorice. Treacle. Smoke.

Conclusion: This is drier than I expected. I don’t know if it is due to the medicinal barrel ageing, or if they have changed the recipe, but this is very different from the usual intensely sweet and frothy Paradox we have generally seen since the jump to 15% abv.

It still has the chocolate and coffee notes, but then now lean more towards the bitter side rather than the creamy or sweet interpretations – less booming and less boozy, which I would imagine would be welcome for some. For me it seems slightly weird, slightly more restrained the base beer feels closer to the old 10% abv Paradox style from many a year gone by.

With a smaller base it instead become all very big in the medicinal influence, a reasonable bitter chocolate kick, but it definitely feels like it is letting more of the oak show. Also oddly it is slightly more resinous alongside that Islay character. Now, I loved the 2015 version of this as I felt it provided the perfect balancing of the base stout’s character and the Islay punch. This leans too much towards the Islay for me and because of that a lot of the complexity of the base beer seems to have got lost beneath it.

It doesn’t make it a bad beer as I often say, but it does mean that is basically exactly what you would expect from this kind of barrel ageing, but not really more than that. It is still fine, but for me the Islay ageing always works better with a bigger character to complement it, otherwise they will end up the same as every other Islay aged stout.

It is still a competent beer and does show the barrel ageing well, but hasn’t anything really on top of that. Not disappointing if that is all you want, but it doesn’t stand out.

Background: Back in 2015 I tried on tap a 13.8% ABV Paradox Islay and it was amazing, at 15%, and bottled I’m guessing this is a bit of a different recipe, and probably aged in a different Islay Distilleries cask – so a great excuse to do another set of notes then🙂 Grabbed directly from the Brewdog online store along with a few other beers, this was drunk while listening to Garbage: Strange Little Birds. Not quite as exceptional as their first two albums, but still a great one burst of alt-rock whateverthehecktheyare. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Omnipollo Noa Pecan Mud Imperial Stout

Omnipollo: Noa Pecan Mud Imperial Stout (Sweden: Imperial Stout: 11% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Dark caramel rim of a head, and some small suds over the main body. Leaves a viscous sheen in its wake.

Nose: Massive dry roasted nuts. Pecan pie. Brown sugar. Milk chocolate and chocolate fondue. Fudge. Madeira cake. Custard.

Body: Moderate milky coffee. Pecans. Bitter cocoa and milk chocolate mix. Light choc orange. Sherry trifle. Creamy. Vanilla ice cream

Finish: Milky chocolate. Pecans. Fudge. Creamy. Bready notes. Bitter cocoa. Rum and raisins ice cream. Nutty.

Conclusion: Big imperial stout time again! Oh, how I have missed you. This one opens up big with an aroma that just booms nuts – both pecan and dry roasted. Initially it is an all nut assault that slowly slides out into chocolate and Madeira notes at warmth opens it up. Good start.

The first sip didn’t impress quite as much, it took a few seconds to get going. It was never empty but there was a moment where it was more just feeling the texture rather than tasting the flavour. It wasn’t until the second sip that I really started getting more than that. It is worth the wait though – that pecan and chocolate style comes through – initially light then building to an intensity to match the aroma. The flavours progress interestingly as well. Initially big and creamy, as it warms it becomes drier in the pecan notes and a slight chalky backing grounds it and stops the sweetness from becoming sickly.

The finish takes all that and adds a little bit of rum and raisin sweetness, matched by the aforementioned light chalkiness, giving a little twist on the way out. This however is only a small overview, as the notes above attest there are lots of subtle complexities to find in here.

So, this is big and sweet, booming and nutty that makes for a savoury contrast, all complemented by side notes that fill in the Pecan Mud Pie imagery excellently. The only thing that stops this being one of my favourites is the strength of competition in the Imperial Stout range. That is it. On like for like comparisons this is far better than Genghis Pecan, and so stands out as the top of these sweet yet savoury touched Imperial Stouts. So, very good job, good quality, and because of the pecans a bit different. A good package all round.

Background: Had a hard time finding the name for this, it is only written on the back of the bottle and was partly smudged away. Yes the big smily face of this is what caught my attention, the promise of a pecan mud stout what made me buy it. This was another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. Drunk while listening to Alleujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! By Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I had been playing Dark Souls for the first time during the day, and after dealing with that brutal difficulty I needed good music and beer to relax. That game does not hold your hand at all.

De Molen Hemel & Aarde

De Molen: Hemel & Aarde (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Moderate brownish creamy head.

Nose: Iodine. Peat bogs. Smoked kippers. Seaweed. Blue cheese. Beef broth.

Body: Smooth textured body. Iodine. Light cherries. Chocolate. Salt. Caramel. Beefy – soft and falling apart beef chunks. Milky coffee. Cane sugar. Smoke. Light blue cheese comes out late on.

Finish: Bitter cocoa. Iodine and salt. Coffee. Charred oak. Smoke.

Conclusion: Ok, first things first – this is not as good as the legendary Octomore Barred Aged version of this. How could it be, that thing was liquid heaven; I seriously wish I had done tasting notes on it. This, unfortunately does not manage to quite scale those heights.

The aroma does come close though – big, chewy with blue cheese, seaweed and peat. Beefy, yet medicinal, it is an absolute luxury of big, strong flavours – albeit ones that are learned pleasures – everything is challenging and all mashed up in an aromatic meal.

The body doesn’t quite match that – it still kicks the iodine out, backed by caramel sweetness – still a mix of sweet, bitter and beefy notes, but not overly well integrated. This is where the Octomore barrel ageing in the other version took it to the next level – it took each of these strong elements and mixed it into a coherent whole. Here it is still a mix of big flavours, but you get either the strong medicinal, or the strong sweetness but rarely both at once.

It still has a lot of punch – smoke, cane sugar, coffee – Unfortunately the blue cheese takes a very long time to turn up in the mid body, which is a missed opportunity I feel. I love a good blue cheese filled strong beer. Filled with flavour, not literally blue cheese, of course. Anyway, this is utterly unbalanced – in can be sickly sweet at one moment then drying medicinal the next. I love the flavours it uses but it is very far from polished.

As you have probably worked out already, the octomore aged version rocks on toast. This one is an interesting, but not coherent, experience.

Background: I have tried this beer before! Well, not this exact beer, the octomore barrel aged version. It was heavenly (no pun intended, as the beer name translates as “Heaven and Earth”), an absolute legend of a beer. Unfortunately I did not have my review kit to hand, so now, I try this, the standard version grabbed from Independent Spirit. This imperial stout is made with the most heavily peated malt from the Bruichladdich distillery, so is right up my alley. Drunk while listening to The Algorithm: Brute Force – originally on their youtube channel, but have since bought my own copy of it as I enjoyed it.

Siren Evil Twin Barrel Aged Even More Jesus VIII - Hazelnut Liqueur Barrel Aged
Siren: Evil Twin: Barrel Aged Even More Jesus VIII – Hazelnut Liqueur Barrel Aged (England: Imperial Stout: 11.4% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Moderate brown head.

Nose: Thick and oily. Green olives, Balsamic vinegar. Walnuts. Chocolate liqueur. Burnt sugar. Caramel.

Body: Very thick. Brown sugar. Hazelnuts. Chocolate liqueur. Crème brulee. Chocolate fondue. Also slight bitter chocolate. Fudge. Brandy cream. Nougat.

Finish: Custard and chocolate mix. Bitter cocoa dust. Bitter coffee. Sherry trifle. Cherries. Rum. Hazelnut liqueur. Brown sugar. Nougat.

Conclusion: This is such a wonderful example of how to have a huge, thick feeling, big tasting, high abv, Imperial Stout, without having to have it taste overly boozy. In fact, it is worrying how well it does that, I could drink this all down without realising how much I had just drunk.

All the old “Even More Jesus” traits are here – dangerously decadent, thick like chocolate fondue, creamy liqueur notes building up over soft crème brulee mixed with rum spicy complexities. The Siren version was always the louder yet less well integrated version of the two. Here the barrel ageing has papered over the cracks, smoothing, enhancing and integrating the base – and when it can’t quite manage full integration it just layers sweet hazelnuts over it, managing to do with pure force what it cannot do with subtlety and giving yet another string to its bow.

It is therefore still the less subtle of the two, but now it actually manages to shine by itself. It feels like it is trying to show you everything it has at once. The chocolate liqueur – the nuts – the spirit notes – the cream – the nougat. Everything is in your face and awesome, but all manages to complement each other now. It is hard to get bored with it, even before the alcohol hits. After it hits everything just looks warm , fluffy and happy.

So, it is its own thing, not just Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus, but what would happen if all that was turned up to 11 and dosed in Hazelnut. Love it.

Background: Well, any excuse for more “Even More Jesus”. I adore this beer. Yes, grabbed from Independent Spirit. Again. They are close, friendly and have a great selection, so I end up using them a lot. Anyway, this version is aged in Hazelnut Liqueur barrel’s which is enough for me to give it another try. This needed big metal music, so Metal Up from Miracle Of Sound was the order of the day.

Stewarts Elysium 3 Speyside Sherry Malt Edition

Stewarts: Elysium 3: Speyside Sherry Malt Edition (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 11.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Short lived brown head that settles to a brown dash over the main body.

Nose: Raisins. Nutmeg. Tannins. Liquorice. Charred oak. Port. Raspberries. Brandy cream. White bread rolls. Mildly astringent.

Body: Sour red wine. Tannins. Charred oak. Bitter cocoa. Cream. Slight cream cheese and chives. Blueberry. Thick. Milky coffee.

Finish: Black cherry and blackcurrants. Slightly dusty. Charred oak and charcoal touch. Raisins. Bitter red wine. Bitter cocoa. Cream cheese. Spiced grapes. White chocolate. Brown bread.

Conclusion: Back when I tried the bourbon version of this I thought it was slightly too light and needed a heavier barrel to give it some heft. Well, damn, this is a heavier barrel.

The nicely textured, creamy, body below is still present with its mild white chocolate notes, but any of the light points have been barricaded up by spicy red wine, tannins and a range of dark fruit. Exactly what the doctor ordered. Though, slightly ironically, this now almost suffers from the inverse issue – that of almost overpowering the base beer. Almost. It keeps just on the right side of the line. While not performing miracles of complexity the base beer provides an excellent thick, creamy, yet slightly dry and bread base beer to work from on the texture side; On the flavour side the sour cream, bitter cocoa and white chocolate seem to create suitable grounding notes for the barrel ageing.

And what wide ranging barrel ageing it is. There are a mix of spiced grapes, dark berries, charred oak – sweet and sour notes meet, harsh then relieving the kick. The oak influence doesn’t feel overly booming though – the drier body keeps it grounded in that cream cheese and sour dough like notes. Generally it works so the experience isn’t as sickly sweet as many big imperial stouts, and so seems less garish.

The dryness does work against it in the finish though – initially fine it does become over dry and cloying over time. A pity as this is generally a very rewarding imperial stout indeed – not one that instantly shows everything, or instantly appeals due to the dryness. One that instead rewards you time.

A challenge and a beer with some flaws, but a challenge worth taking on and drinking.

Background: I managed to get through the wax on this bottle very quickly. This makes me happy. Hard to get into waxed bottles are the bane of my beer drinking existence at the moment. I grabbed this from Independent Spirit as the bourbon aged version had been interesting but just a tad light – I wondered what the extra weight of a speyside ex-sherry barrel would do. This is bottle number 204 of 621. That is a fair small run. Drunk while listening to David Bowie – Blackstar. An absolutely haunting final album from an excellent artist.

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