Thursday, 12 January 2012

One Mighty Bold and Tasty Beer: St. Ambroise Stout Impérial Russe

My first experience with a Russian Imperial Stout was underwhelming.  Kinda like when one tastes a bad American IPA (or a poorly spiced chicken wing) and the only thing you can find to describe the taste is "Holy shit that's hoppy (or spicy)" as if hops (or spice) on its own were enough of a flavour/balance to be pleasurable.  That said, some of the best meals I have ever eaten were spicy as heck and some of the best beers boast hops in ridiculous quantities, yet they smooth those flavours out with others that make the harshness appealing in its balance.

St. Ambroise's Stout Impérial Russe, from McAuslan Brewery in Montreal, Quebec, is one of those beers and it is currently available at the LCBO for a limited time for $5.95 and I strongly suggest you try one!

For those who don't know, the history of Russian Imperial Stouts (an English beer style oddly enough) is similar to that of India Pale Ales - that is, both are heavily hopped and of higher alcohol content to withstand the ancient shipping methods to their places of consumption.  In this case, Russia's Catherine II allegedly adored the porters of trend that were in her day readily available in London and had some shipped back only to discover they had spoiled.  Thus, she got them to add the preserving hops and spike the alcohol so she and her peers could enjoy them in Moscow.

The St. Ambroise version (brewed annually in limited quantities and aged in Bourbon barrels) pours an oily black into a style-appropriate snifter glass I used for it.  It leaves a thick, but smooth and creamy brown head with a lot of clinging lace.  The head offers a nice platform for the predominant malty/oak aroma of vanilla alongside the lesser hints of coffee and chocolate, alongside a smooth smokiness and just a faint hint of grainy cereal.  The flavor is of smoky dark chocolate and deeply roasted espresso up front and is followed by a drying yet grainy finish.  On the tongue, it is creamy and warming, with a fairly full body and just a finely tingling carbonation.

This is a very, very fine beer!  It is, however, bitterly dry in the ways hinted at above: that is, like a spicy curry but one that is so tasty the spice is irrelevant, like a hoppy-as-hell IPA with such nice citrus notes you can't help but drink more.  This is one of those bold-yet-not-only-bold beers that must be tried, though I can't say all will enjoy.  Those who will enjoy it, though, will probably adore it.  If you like bitter espresso and American IPAs, you must try this beer!  I wish I could afford to buy many more... perhaps just one more this year as I await next year's vintage!  Buy one, try one, but make sure at least one more remains for me!  Grade: A

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