Imperial Stout and My Top Ten

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Royalty has run amok; Imperial Reds, Imperial IPAs, Imperial Lagers, American Imperialism. What the heck is going on? The influx of imperial-style beers has reached just about every corner of the U.S craft beer market. Essentially, imperial=high gravity=higher alcohol content than other beers of the style that are not imperial. The original, however, is Russian Imperial Stout. This extraordinarily dark beer was produced by English brewers to a high gravity and hopping rate so as to prevent infection while on the ships that were used to export it to Northern European nations. The style became popular in Russia, one brewer gained favor with Russian royalty, and the entire style thus became known as Russian Imperial Stout. Within the imperial stout style brewed in the U.S. there is Russian Imperial; American Imperial/American Double Stout; Belgian-style Imperial; Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial; Imperial Stouts with coffee; and others that I have seen but haven’t had the money to try.

As a group these brews are dark with no light penetration. They’re heavy, many with significant residual sugar. Complex flavor profiles; raisins, currants, chocolates, coffee. Hoppy, to balance all that sugar. And high in alcohol, 8-11.5%! Most are found in 22oz. bombers but several are available in 12oz. cans or bottles. In the last 12 months I have tried over 40. All of my Top 10 are extraordinarily complex in flavor and well-balanced and could switch places on this list in any given year. Here are my Top Ten.

1. Stone Russian Imperial Stout 2014 Release– Bottle conditioned for cellaring. Every bottle is great but some bottles are better than others. Very cool.

2. Mission Dark Seas Russian Imperial- Bottled conditioned for cellaring. Hands down the creamiest of the lot.

3. North Coast Old Rasputin– Regularly considered in everybody’s top 5, mine as well. This is a benchmark brew.

4. Avery Brewing The Czar– Bottle conditioned for cellaring, really close to the three above.

5. Epic Exponential Series Imperial Stout- See my review for We Like Drinking.

6. Boulevard Brewing The Dark Truth- Complex grain bill includes oats.

7, Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy– Not just the best beer I have ever had from a can, one of the best beers I have ever had.

8. Great Divide Yeti- I believe!

9. Victory Storm King Russian Imperial Stout- The one that started me on this journey.

10. Eel River Raven’s Eye- Certified Organic!

Try one, try them all and let WLD know how you would rate them. Cheers!