Monday, 23 January 2012

Lava: An Icelandic Smoked Imperial Stout

I have had two smoked beers before this one and I was not much of a fan of either - not because I don't like smoked things, in fact I love them, but because they seem to me to have over-smoked the hell out of the beers so that you can taste nothing else.  I mean, they usually have way more smoke than an imperial IPA has hops.  They're like ghost peppers to someone who says, "I like my food to have a little kick every now and then."

Yet, of these two overpowering smoked beers I'd had before, neither was an imperial stout.  So of my cellared options, what made me reach for this extreme option tonight?  I wanted the imperial stout boldness, excessive smokiness be damned!

Thus, I grabbed a Lava, a smoked Russian Imperial Stout, brewed by Ölvisholt Brugghús - a craft brewery situated on an old dairy farm in Iceland within view of an active volcano for whom this beer is both inspired and named.  (As they say on their website, "The active volcano Hekla is visible from the brewhouse door and occasionally, eruptions are visible from the Ölvisholt farm. The bottle label resembles the view from the brewhouse door when an eruption occurs.")

Lava pours a fairly thick jet black with a fair mocha head, with moderate retention and good lace.  The aroma is primarily of deeply roasted chocolate malt, with hints of coffee and smoke alongside an ever-so-faint trace of earthy hops.  Flavourwise, it begins with a grainy mealtimes of remarkably dark, dark chocolate followed by a slight smokiness and moderate earthy hoppiness that keeps it quite dry.  It is fairly full bodied and warming on the tongue as the 9.4% alcohol (by volume) can truly be tasted!  Unlike most smoked beers that overwhelm you, however, the smoke here is much less overt, which is nice, though it is present for both the nose and tongue.  However, much as this appealed to me, I'd say this is an otherwise unremarkable - but good - imperial stout.  That is, it is good for its unique capacity to fill a niche by intentionally intensifying the natural smokiness of a RIS and good insofar as it does that in a smooth and balanced way, but isn't something I'd long for quite like the top RISs.  It is, thus, good but not remarkable, yet simultaneously worth trying for those into smokiness, extreme beers, Russian Imperial Stouts, or who just want something different.  For me, however, it grades well, but not extraordinarily at a Grade: B

Yes, by the way, this beer is available in pint bottles at the LCBO so, if interested, grab one/some while you can!

Okay, I posted this while on my first few sips and am now editing it as I get towards the end of the glass since the coffee notes, cereal hints, and chocolate tastes come more to the fore (in the way a chocolate with alcohol might on your second bite) and I am enjoying it more and more with each sip.  Hence this addition.  Let's call it a B+ for now - though I have one more in the cellar and may reevaluate down the road!

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