Apologies for the delay between posts. The lady and I just finished relocating to the brand new Nuber Brewing facility (slash-apartment). The place is a tremendous upgrade with a garage, patio and utility sink that will allow me to go All-Grain very shortly. So exciting times ahead. But, that is not what I am here to talk about today.
As the place is still overrun with boxes, I decided my first post from Nuber HQ would be a tasting challenge. Since we are located in the blazing San Gabriel Valley in the middle of July, one beer immediately jumped to mind for a review. You guessed it… Imperial Stout!
Yes, no better way to wash away those sticky summer blues than with a thick, opaquely black, nearly gelatinous stout. But this was less a dare than a crime of passion. See, I am an unabashed Stone Brewery fan-boy. I celebrate every release, track the seasonals, and have been known to refer to their brewery as “Adult Disneyland”*. It just happens that Stone’s current seasonal is their Imperial Russian Stout, but with a twist intended just for folks like me.
Back in December, Stone announced a new concept called “Odd Beers for Odd Years,” meaning that in odd-numbered years such as this, Stone’s seasonals would be available in both “Classic” and “Belgo” versions. I immediately flipped for the idea, as it combined my fanaticism for Stone and Belgian yeast into one delightful bomber. But the question that remains is: Are these mutated Imperials a true upgrade over the original, or is Stone just blowing smoke to drum up excitement for their limited releases?
This brings us back to today. A 90° day in Pasadena. Perfect weather to stay inside with the blinds drawn, 2 bottles of Russian Stout and 3 Harry Potter movies. The test was as follows: my volunteer, Alex, and I would chill the stouts, then mask off all the labels with duct tape**. Then my girlfriend, Dana, would step in and swap the bottles around, marking one of them at random with an “X.” After that, Alex and I would taste the bottles and see if we could discern a difference and/or improvement between the two. After that, we would run around the room yelling “Expelliarmus!” at each other until the girls looked like they wanted to leave us.
First up was bottle X. Poured into a snifter for Alex and an official Stone IRS glass for me***. Its appearance was as anticipated. Dark black with a thick, deep tan head, and aroma of coffee, anise and dark chocolate. One sip in and my Belgian alarm went off. There’s almost no mistaking the sweet, well-rounded character of a Belgian, even in a brew as overwhelmingly roasty as a Stone IRS. But as the glass came up toward room temp, I began to have my doubts. A bit more of the bitterness and alcoholic tang started to shine through. We put bottle X to bed just as Dumbledore’s Army fled through the Hall of Prophecy.
Next up, the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Ryan Nuber and the Unmarked Bottle. We used the same glasses. Appearance was exactly the same. The aromas were similar, but a bit heavier on the coffee note. Flavor profiles were similar, but overall sharper with what Alex described as “almost double the bitterness.” Not even a hint of Belgium. Stone’s IRS has always been, along with Old Rasputin, among my favorite brands for this style. It is potent, flavorful and satisfying. This was no doubt the Classic.
Was there a difference? Yes. Comparing the two, it was not difficult to tell them apart. These are distinct variations on a theme. Was it an improvement? This is an entirely different question. Alex and I agreed that the Belgo stout had lighter, more drinkable flavor profile. The Belgian yeast hid a lot of the powerful alcoholic sting that Russian stouts are known for, and on a sweaty summer day, that was an improvement. But if it were December (when Pasadena temperatures have been known to drop into the mid-50’s!) I’m not sure I would welcome it quite as much. When I want to warm my bones with a Russian stout, I look forward to the aggressive nature of it. Both bottles were well crafted, but beyond a tasting I would probably stick with the classic.
What did we learn today?
– Pasadena is hot in the summer.
– 3 HP movies in one day is FAR too many, even when accompanied by a strong beer buzz.
– And finally, Stone’s Odd Beers program provides a great opportunity to fine-tune your tasting skills on similar, yet distinctive brews. But, at least in the case of the Russian stout, the Belgo is no replacement for the classic.
* Seriously, if anyone at Stone reads this, you should start having a Gargoyle mascot walk around and take pictures with drunk patrons. You’d make a mint.
** Including the caps, since Stone has a rotating series of caps, and these two didn’t match.
*** Told you I was a fan-boy.
– Ryan N.