Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Empress Wields a Wooden Stick: Reviewing Le Trou du Diable's Barrel-Aged l'Impératrice

One of the true delights about beer in its ongoing boom is the innovation that obliterates style descriptors, often resulting in new categories altogether or simply standing alone.  For me, Le Trou du Diable's l'Impératrice Brassin Spècial stands alone in this in many ways.  That doesn't make it the best beer I have ever had, nor even in its 'styles' or their fringes, but rather in blending marvelously that which I adore from their specifications.

As I disclaimer, I have never had the regular, non-barrel-aged release of this 9% ABV Russian Imperial Stout, that is presumably named in honour of Catherine the Great, whose stout appreciation helped brewers develop the style.  Nor have I had this barrel-aged variant fresh, as its rarity meant I have only once had the chance to purchase it - with a bottle per person limit that had eroded before I could return.

This bottle is dated 07/2013 and is being consumed as I type this, from a bulbous Bellwoods pint tulip, in November 2014.

It pours a deep, dark brown with a fine, yet audible mocha head of poor retention.  Scant remnants encircle the surface rim, but most recedes rapidly as the carbonation seems to depart slightly in the dissipation of this fizzy cap.

Upon initial pour, the nose wafts vanilla, some fruit, and no slight amount of must or wood qualities.  The barrel is initially ever-present and the vinous nearly infected (in a good way!) microflora presence is inviting to those who like such a thing.  The woodiness is quite intense with wet oak, and moderate to heavy bourbon vanilla notes.  As the head rapidly dissipates and (or?) the glass warms, the seeming infection and wood presence give way somewhat allowing the vanilla bourbon notes to come forward more while supported by a faint cacao roast character.  As a slight critique, the warmth comes through a touch more than desired at this point too, but it remains delightfully enticing either initially or afterwards, though it almost shifts so distinctly as to front a different beer.

Taste-wise this excites me most after an inviting aroma of fair complexity and substance.  It starts with a cofee-esque roastiness with a hint of nuts, but it quickly gets acidic and tannic before a moderately hot, yet still acidic lengthy linger.  It isn't acidic in a sour way, but rather in a vinous, oaky, and intensified export-stout-sour-kinda-way, but holy shit is it present and re-inviting.

The body is a touch thin for the style, especially for a BA variant,  while the carbonation is also a touch mild (though I enjoy this in a common IS, it limits the funky spread this brew demands).  It isn't watery as the aggressiveness of the flavours spread and compensate, but neither is it thick and chewy as are the standard BA imperial stouts I dream of.

This is not even close to style representative.  If I rank by (non-BA) imperial stouts, it rates poorly, as the roast and body are so mild as to be unrepresentative.  While many barrel-aged imperial stouts seem rather to exemplify and highlight the strengths of the style, or at least bring the vanilla and bourbon front-and-centre rather than the wood and microflora, this is another beast entirely.  Thus, if I rate as BA imperial stouts, it fares better, though nonetheless oddly - as if mismatched once again.

Moreover, it isn't exactly in the realm of other sour imperial stouts (such as The Bruery's Tart of Darkness, Bellwoods' No Rest for the Wicked, or Dunham's Vladimir Sour Pussy Riot) which present much more acidity and tartness.  In this again, even if a better fit, it falters some, and yet...



If I rate it alone, as it's own beast, it's own marvel, a delight it is.  I can overlook the body, the audibly-receding head (if not for the funk it removes with it in its departure).  These knock it slightly, but I want more.  Please Lord, or Devil in your hole, please... give me more!  Grade: A