Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Nick’s Note: Like all of us, I was saddened by the terrible attack in Boston earlier this week. I just wanted to take a moment here in the forum I have to offer my condolences and best wishes to all of the victims, their families, their friends, and loved ones.
Let’s get on with it, then.
The early spring is a great time of year for craft beer fans. The warming weather brings yearly favorites made to refresh and to be shared among friends. There are also some releases in the spring that don’t quite fit in with the expected light Ales, Session beers, and Saisons. One of these is a beer craft fans know to look for as Tax Day approaches — Stone Imperial Russian Stout.
Largely unchanged since its debut in 2000, Imperial Russian Stout (or IRS, because it’s usually released around April 15th) is one of the best examples of the style made in the States. Clocking in at 10.6% ABV and 60 IBU, IRS pours coal black and settles in the glass with a dense, caramel-colored head. The aromas of coffee and cocoa jump out of the glass, with some interesting spicy notes from the yeast strain used to ferment IRS.
On the palate is where IRS sets itself among a sea of bigger, richer, and darker Imperial Stouts. The requisite chocolate, caramel, and coffee flavors that you’d expect in any fuller-bodied Stout are present, but it’s the dark fruit notes of plum and cassis along with hints of anise that make IRS extraordinary. This Imperial Stout also handles its high ABV level differently than most beers of its style. Some Imperial Stouts overwhelm with a rich mouthfeel and lots of heat from their alcohol level, while others strike such a harmonious balance that their palate feel belies the ABV of the beer. Stone takes a different tack with IRS — it has just a touch of alcoholic heat that adds some sharpness to the rich flavor while satisfying the needs of the Big Beer Drinker’s Club.
A newer tradition for Stone is the Odd Year releases. These are versions of their bigger beers with a special ingredient or process applied to them. The Odd Year releases started in 2011 with the Belgo Old Guardian and Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout, which saw Stone’s classic Barleywine and Imperial Stout fermented with a Belgian yeast strain with the IRS having star anise added to the tank.
So far in 2013 we’d only seen the Oak-Smoked Old Guardian made with German oak-smoked malt, but with the release of IRS also comes the release of its Odd Year variant for 2013 — Espresso-aged IRS. The addition of “several hundred pound of espresso beans” to the Imperial Russian Stout tanks post-fermentation turns the coffee flavor up to a level that can only be described as grin-inducing to dark coffee fans.
Both versions of Stone Imperial Russian Stout are available on the market this week, but neither will last very long. My advice is that if you see any out there, to do as Stone themselves advise: buy one to try now and a couple more to cellar if at all possible. Both beers will be drinking very well this coming winter and over the next few winters to come.
So who’s an IRS fan out there? What’s your favorite Imperial Stout? Share with us in the comments and if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Until next time.
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