It has been mighty cold recently, something which is much harder to bear when one lives in a country where it's pretty much impossible to buy imperial stout. Fortunately I had the good sense to stock up on my travels over the summer, so I've been braving my chilly attic and bringing down rich dark bottles of winter comfort.
To the US first, and a small bottle of Old Rasputin -- a 9% ABV imperial stout by North Coast Brewing in California, featuring Boney M's favourite mad monk in mid-benediction on the label. From the bottle it is totally opaque with not even traces of ruby when held up to the light. The head quickly subsides to a thin tan skim. Texturewise it's quite wonderful, slipping down silkily and leaving a warming buzz as it goes. The big surprise for me, however, was in the taste. Since it's a Californian I was expecting citric hops in spades, à la Gonzo or Yeti, but they're not here. Instead it's all about a sweet Irish coffee aroma and a mild roasted bitterness on the palate. Sumptuous, and requiring very little effort to drink.
Amager's Imperial Stout was harder work. The Danish brewery haven't put quite as much effort into their label, and the half-litre bottle ends up looking like some supermarket's own brand of discount imperial stout. The head is thick and a light shade of beige, and the huge amount of sludge in the bottom of the bottle indicates that at least some of the 10-and-a-bit% ABV is a result of bottle conditioning. It is astonishingly bitter, but again not in a citric American hops way. Instead, the flavour is packed full of burning liquorice and the sort of coffee that's strong enough to stand a spoon in. The texture is incredibly full and quite greasy, but in a pleasant mouth-coating sort of way. Despite being the same style as Old Rasputin this is almost the diametric opposite. Yes it's still very tasty but it's a beer that forces you to take your time and lacks the hypnotic friendly warmth of the other.
Imperial stout, of whatever stripe, is such a rewarding beer. Why more (i.e. some) isn't made or imported into this stouty country of ours is really beyond me.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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