When it comes to beer, I’m a stout guy. I enjoy the flavor, the color, the smell and (especially when its on tap with Nitro) the creamy body. Stouts are the only beer that I can put down quickly, they just go down so much smoother. More specifically, I’ve been a dry stout guy, sticking with Guinness and Murphy’s (on tap only. If it has a nitrogen widget in the bottle or can, then it is a maybe for me. Tap is always first) whenever I find myself in a good pub (respect the beer, kids. If you see the bartender pour a nitro stout wrong, don’t get it. It makes a huge difference). Thats what It’s all about, respect the beer, and you won’t have a bad experience.
But when I strolled into a liquor store the other week I saw a stout that I couldn’t turn down. A ceramic pint bottle, marked with a familiar brand, with a high ABV for a stout. Why the hell not?
This stout lady is known as the XS Imperial Stout by Rouge Ales.
Type of Beer: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 11 percent
Color: It’s a stout dummy. What do you think?
Gravity: 26 Plato
Now an Imperial Stout (or Russian Imperial Stout, either answer will be acceptable on the test) originated from a stout that was brewed in the 18th century in England to be exported to the Court of Catherine II in Russia (or Mother Russia, either answer will be …) and just as the Russians would want, it usually has a high alcohol content. So lets see how Rouge serves up a stout … Russian Style.
So why this beer? Simple. I’ve had Rouge beers before and they are pretty darn tasty, so when I saw this fancy bottle, I really wanted to give it a go. A bit of a warning– this is the most expensive beer I have ever purchased. The cost of 17.99 for a pint at a liquor store (a store that is the cheapest in my area) is steep, especially for a bachelor on a budget — but I digress. … Rumor has it that it can be found on tap. Check the price, weigh your options and take the dive. If you are a stout lover, especially those of the imperial variety (or you just had a hell of a day and a Guinness won’t get you to happy town fast enough) I say give it a go. I’m not sure if its worth the sticker price I paid, but I’m willing to drop some extra cash to try something new, even if it is just once.
NOW TO THE BEER! It foams up with a nice solid light brown head that recedes after a moment or two. It smells as a stout should, not too harsh on the smeller, with noticeable malt aromas and a slight chocolate scent.
And the taste is wonderful, though bitter. It is crisp and intense. A expresso taste hits you mid sip, which, for expresso lovers, really makes the bitterness seem normal. It’s a stout, and tastes as a stout should, just amped up, which isn’t a bad thing. The only thing you need to worry about is at this ABV you need to get wary of the off flavors the alcohol will create. To be honest, my first sip I was expecting to notice the off flavor immediately, and I didn’t. Only after “searching” for it did I really notice it. Otherwise the intensity and complexity of the flavor seems to mask it well. I do believe that a little more time in the barrel could really benefit the flavor, at least for masking the ol’ booze taste that everyone has grown to hate. But lets be honest, a stout, by definition is supposed to be the strongest/stoutest porter, so that intensity means we are just sticking it to the roots. Right? Maybe, I’ve never had 18th century beer.
As a stout lover, I love this beer. I mean I really do. Maybe thats just because stouts naturally make me feel relaxed, and now amping up the ABV to 11 percent makes me relax quicker. I don’t know. What I do know is that everyone needs to test the waters — meaning — start with an easier stout, like a Guinness, that is beloved by all. If you enjoy it, try another stout and work your way up to the big leagues. If you don’t like Guinness? I suggest you proceed no further, the complexity tends to increase and your head might explode.
Beer in review …
It is a lot to take in. Very dark, very complex, bitter and intense. In my opinion, as a stout freak, I love it. I’d love to see how it would taste if the ABV was cranked back, but the other flavors still stayed present, it could really reveal something interesting. Such is the nature of the Russian Imperial. Strong, intense, and going on my list of beers that, when I’m rich, I’ll buy on the regular. But until then, it’ll just become a distant memory so I can say “Oh yeah, I tried that one time” and people will think I’m “hip.”
Don’t forget to put on your Russian accent, open your finest bottle of vodka, and then have your government collapse overnight. Then you can drink up. This baby gets the blood pumpin and the heart thumpin. Enjoy it. And while you’re at it, pour me one.
Thomas Conner, the ‘Beer Dude’ has known to taste and make some of the finest beers in Charm City. He figures he has made more beer than he drank or is that vice versa. He doesn’t remember. If you catch him at a nearby Baltimore establishment drinking a beer, he reminds us sternly, it’s solely for research purposes. He doesn’t jot down notes. In fact, he highly recommends not drinking and writing because it interferes with the tasting. As always, he brings along a designated note-taker who also multi-tasks by driving him home. Drink and write responsibly and never at the same time is his motto. If you would like him to test out your establishment’s home brew, just pretend you’re at the O’s game, and yell, “Beer man.” He’ll hear you.