The Russian Imperial Stout: A Beer with Authority

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

I always thought I’d make a good Russian: I love cold weather, I can ice skate (kinda), and I can appreciate a bleak and tragic love story with the best of them. I even enjoy the balalaika! Why would I fail the Russian citizenship test? Vodka.

I mean, how do they do it? Granted, my experience with the stuff is pretty much limited to the plastic jugs available to you when you’re 19 and have to take what you can get. (That and the spicy shot of horseradish infused vodka I diligently drained in a midtown Manhattan bar where I was the only customer not affiliated with the Russian mob.) Fortunately for me, there is an alternative: the Russian Imperial Stout (RIS).

Much like IPAs, the Russian Imperial’s beginnings are tied up in Britain’s colonial aspirations. After visiting England in the early 1700s, Peter the Great got a taste for dark beer and requested some be sent to him back home. The obsequious English did so immediately, but the beer spoiled before reaching St. Petersburg. On their second attempt they upped the alcohol and hops (as with IPAs on their way to colonial India) and thus was born this, the most appropriate beer to drink on a cold night, ever.

The specs on Russian Imperials vary pretty widely, with one characteristic remaining unchanged: they are BIG. They always have a high abv, at least 8%. The one I’m drinking right now, from Founders Brewing, is 10.5% and looked like motor oil when I poured it. Every one I’ve tried has been opaque and near-black, but the hop character ranges from barely there to whoa there. Founders is toasty, a little fruity, and fairly dry — a state I aim to achieve during winter, myself. Continue reading

Imperious Imperials and Sexy Stouts

Spoiler Alert! This one wins.

“You can really taste the chics!” Ben quips after his first sip of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Upon review, this means nothing, and was in fact a harbinger of the nonsense to come. This tasting of stouts was brought to you by Ben and me and only Ben and me. The pressure to keep witty banter aloft between us while maintaining lucidity nearly buckled my resolve to try all six high-powered beers. Fortunately I’m known for both my resolve and my ability to handle alcohol.

When tasting beers it’s wise to begin with the brew with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume (abv) so as to not blow out your taste buds immediately. We tried the aforementioned Dogfish Head (5.2% abv), with high hopes for this perennially good and weird brewery, but unfortunately all we got out of it was a puckered face and a mediocre pun. The next was unremarkable enough to skip here. I began to question the prudence of taking this project on all by ourselves.

I was already feeling a bit warm at that point, which reminded me to follow my own advice. We took the next four beers out of the fridge to ensure we got the most of their flavors. The next stout was from Weyerbacher, a brewery I highly recommend. That said, this is when I began to suspect imperial stouts were just not to my taste. Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% abv) was sweet with a taste somewhere between licorice and raisins. Dry hop back, but little bitterness — too sweet, like those soccer moms you suspect are popping Valium in the back of their minivans. It is a good beer, but not my beer.  Continue reading

Move Over Hot Chocolate, I’ve Got a Beer

Superstorm Sandy, giving us Ohioans an excuse to drink good beer and worry about New Yorkers

Monday night Ben and I sipped Edmund Fitzgerald porters from Great Lakes Brewing and listened to the icy rain pummel our windows. We were waiting out Superstorm Sandy with candles, matches, and more beer within reach. The Mighty Fitz, to this day on the floor of Lake Superior, proved less seaworthy than Ben and me. Central Ohio has not been hit hard, though there is snow on the ground and the promise of even stronger winds and more rain. All this hubbub about the east coast being wiped off the map initially made me a little skeptical, but I worried for all my friends out there anyway — so I texted them to remind them to stock up on beer before the stores were down to Natty Light.

Since we’re headed into the winter storm season early, here’s some advice about how to stock up before the next one hits. You never know how long you’ll be stuck inside with the same increasingly-smelly friends and family members, so you should always prepare for the long-haul. While I usually gravitate to beers of heavy gravity, high alcohol content is, in this case, a detriment. What you really need is a session beer.

Session beers are often defined as well-balanced beers of 5% abv or lower. They do not hit your tongue with violence, nor do they leave you puckered. Essentially, they are easily-palatable brews gentle enough to enjoy for hours without worrying about sloppily embarrassing yourself. Continue reading