Imperial Stouts - which ones and where?

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A
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Postby A » Wed Aug 15, 2001 5:35 pm

Just got me thinking ... What other Imperial Stouts are there to us Ontarians (by any means) ?

The Wellington was a very nice example of the style, a pleasant surprise at the fest.

From Premier Gourmet, the Victory (Storm King) and Rogue (Imperial Stout) seem to be always available. Both very good. At one time they had Le Coq I.S. but I'm not sure if they still have it. I had mixed feelings on this one, mostly because both bottles blew up upon opening! (Corked)

My personal favorite, and one I am aching to get my hands on again, is the North Coast Old Rasputin IS. Had some of this on tap at the MapRoom in Chicago, and brought some back with me also but its long long gone :sad:

What else is there for me to try?
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Postby Lyle » Wed Aug 15, 2001 7:33 pm

Hooray! Someone wants to talk about malt instead of hops!!!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a malt-head. I love chewy, rich, roasty, chocolatey, bitter espresso brews. This is my favorite beer style by far.

For my wedding ~3 years ago, Tim Herzog - head brewer of Flying Bison Brewery, special-brewed a cask-conditioned baltic porter. It was definitely our best wedding gift and probably one of the 5 best beers I've ever had (and I drink a lot).

First off, "baltic porter" and "imperial stout" are essentially synonyms. If you want me to explain in a later post, no problem. (or we can have some fun arguing about it!)

We do have both the 1999 and 2000 A. Le Coq's at Premier. I spent a day on a little informal pub crawl of NYC with Miles Jenner, the head brewer from Harvey's Brewery (who brews the A. Le Coq) while he was visiting the U.S. Between sips of beer, I just kept asking questions about his A. Le Coq Stout and Elizabethan Ale - two of my favorite beers. For those who are interested, A. Le Coq Stout has ~60 IBUs and they use a traditional "hop back" system (sound familiar?). The original gravity is 1.106 and primary fermentation gets the beer to ~8.5%abv. They use their same Harvey's yeast for all their beers (which he believes is about a 50:50 combination of two strains). After primary fermentation, the beer is then stored for 8 months, emerging ~10%abv. The first vintage (1999) was a blend of three different batches with slightly different recipes. The second vintage (2000) was a single recipe. The beer travels by tanker from Harvey's to Gale's, where it is bottled in the corked bottles.

The beer is bottled completely still and carbonates in the bottles. We've found that the yeast tends to "over-condition" if given the chance (i.e. exploding bottles). STORE THE BOTTLES UPRIGHT (not on their sides!!!) and in a cool dark place and they will be fine. I think the 1999 is tasting fantastic right now. The 2000 needs a little more conditioning.

Anyway, here's a few more suggestions to try:

Sinebrychoff Baltic Porter. We have several vintages at Premier. It may be my favorite beer in the world. I also use it to make chocolate truffles (dusted with chocolate malt!).

Pripps Carnegie Imperial Porter - a little lighter in alcohol, but great big flavor. The 2000 (which we have at Premier) needs some time to age and gain some complexity. It changes dramatically. If you can find some bottles from 1996/7 (we're sold out) - they taste awesome right now.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout - a yearly favorite. Look for it around the holidays. I think it tastes best at ~2 years old.

Okocim Porter - this one is actually made in the baltic. A little sweeter and less roasty. Fruitier - almost "Belgian."

Zywiec Porter - another Polish example. The "baltic porters" that are actually made in the baltic tend to be on the sweeter side and less roasty, but quite rich and fruity (and lots of alcohol!).

Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout - considered a classic, but sometimes is a little acrid/burnt in character. When it is on, it is quite good.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout - this one is sort of a hybrid style. It actually has both chocolate and chocolate essence added to the beer.

Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout - a VERY limited seasonal. ~17% abv!!! Hopefully, we'll get some at Premier this year. Keep your fingers crossed!

Certainly the Rogue Imperial Stout and Victory Storm King are phenomenal. World class brews. They are definitely U.S. interpretations of style - LOADED with hop character.

When you are in Buffalo, be sure to try the Czar Nick's Imperial Stout at Pearl Street. It is always fantastic.

There will probably be some more seasonal versions released around the holidays.

Lastly - I PROMISE - I will email a Premier product list to Cass tomorrow!!

Cheers

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Lyle Ostrow
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email: premierbeer@adelphia.net

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Josh Oakes
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Postby Josh Oakes » Wed Aug 15, 2001 11:35 pm

I'll bite on the Baltic Porter/Imperial Stout point. They are most assuredly not the same beer style. They came from the same place, but the Imperial Stouts today are revivalists, more or less true to the originals. Baltic Porters are the holdovers. They are usually (but not always) bottom-fermented. As well, they don't have roasted barley, whereas Imperial Stouts do (same as the with regular porters/stouts).

I've spent a lot of time up there and had a lot of examples, and the differences are quite apparent.

Carnegie is just a regular porter. A very good example mind you, but merely being from the Baltic region does not qualify it to be in the Baltic style. If you don't believe me, ask any Swedish beer expert.

Koff is a rare top-fermented version, and is probably the best of style, followed closely by Zywiec. The Danes, Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russians all have examples. Similar beers are made in the Balkans as well, again bottom-fermented.

North American beers that would qualify would be Full Sail Imperial Porter and Okanagan Spring Olde English Porter from BC. I have not had the Heavyweight version.

A full dissertation of my thoughts on the differences between these styles can be found at

http://www.netcom.ca/~jdoakes/styles.html
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Postby esprit » Thu Aug 16, 2001 9:22 am

As far as what we have available goes, the Academy of Spherical Arts should still be pouring the Rogue Imperial Stout and we have some stock of Samuel Smith Imperial Stout if anyone is interested as it's all but disappeared from LCBO shelves. It will be coming back in January as part of the LCBO's Stouts and Porters promo along with Smith's Oatmeal Stout and Taddy Porter, Rogue Shakespeare Stout and Smuttynose Robust Porter from Vermont.
If only....a number of months ago we had reached an agreement to represent North Coast in Canada but it fell through at the last minute when the brewery decided that it did not want the hassle of having to strip label their bottles with info. required by federal authorities (i.e. metric volume, alc. by vol., etc....). Too bad, a lot of great products there. This is in fact the most common reason why we can't get most good U.S. micros in this market.

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A
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Postby A » Thu Aug 16, 2001 10:00 am

I quite enjoy the Brooklyn as an example of a completely different kind of Imperial Stout (much roastier). Its also one of the few cases where IMO the chocolate has been integrated properly. The Youngs Double Chocolate (and for that matter, the Rogue Chocolate) taste like chocolate pop (whats that called down there, Yoo-Hoo? Thankfully thats not available in Canada :smile: )

I don't know how I feel about a 17% stout. I have visions of Sam Adams Triple Bock...

BTW I had the I.S. at Pearl Street after last year's festival and I was highly impressed, very nice stuff. You're saying its on tap again this year?

Peter, Thats a damn shame about North Coast. (Any chance on picking up the Old Rasputin for Premier, Lyle?)
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Postby Lyle » Thu Aug 16, 2001 12:39 pm

Josh,

I actually totally agree about the Carnegie, and I'm sure any self respecting Swede would as well. When I first tasted the 2000, I was rather disappointed. The older bottles share a lot of the flavor profile of several imperials, and at least "taste" like they have more alcohol. Importer B. United swears that the recipe hasn't changed - that the beer just needs time to age. Anyway, I included it on that short list because a.)I think someone who likes imperial stouts would enjoy it, b.)for some reason, I think Michael Jackson classifies it as one, and c.)it is available for sale. Plus, it really is a great beer.

I've never been to the baltic and was completely unaware that most examples are bottom-fermented. I know of several that are fermented at lower temps, but still use an ale yeast. I'm quite interested - which ones are actually using a bottom-fermenting strain?

Historically, "baltic porters" and "imperial stouts" actually aren't from the same place, right? Imperial stouts were brewed in England for export to the baltic, whereas baltic porters were brewed in the baltic after the style cought on.

As far as today's imperial stouts being "revivalists," I spent a lot of time talking with Miles Jenner about this - specifically about the hop rates. He did a lot of research before brewing the A. Le Coq's. We often hear about the tremendous hopping rates of these beers so that they could make the journey (similar to IPAs). If you go to a brewers archive or similar resource, you'll find that the old recipes measure hops in "pounds per barrel" or similar weight measurements. Of course, they weren't doing the high-tech biochemical analysis of alpha acids and other hop components back then. Anyway, if you used the same "weight" of hops today, you would indeed have an insanely hoppy beer. However, it is generally accepted that the hops available back then were somewhere around a 4 alpha rating - REAL LOW by today's standards. i.e. with the hops available at the time, the beer might not have been quite so hoppy. Jenner calculated that they were probably between 60-80 IBUs. Its an interesting arguement, and one that I hope to research more when I have some time.

So - in my mind - the imperial stouts today (the ones brewed in N. America) are actually their OWN style, rather than revivalists. This is the great thing about N.American brewers - they take something from history, and make it their own - often with wonderful results!

As for the idea of stouts containing unmalted, roasted barley - ACADEMICALLY, I totally agree with you. At least in modern times, this is certainly the supposed distinction between a stout and a porter. Historically, I'm not so sure.

The real reason that Mr. Jenner and myself were in NYC in the first place was for an Imperial Stout Tasting at the Russian Tea Room, hosted by Ale Street News. ASN does a great job with special beer events - if you ever have a chance to attend one, I HIGHLY recommend it. Supposedly, this was the largest selection of the style ever assembled for one tasting. Plus, we had all the brewers! I think we tasted ~20 different examples - I'll check my notes. Some were called "imperial stout," some "baltic porter," some "imperial porter," etc.

Anyway, at the event I conducted a little informal survey of the brewers. There was no corellation between the use of roasted barley and whether the beer was called a "stout" or "porter" whatsoever. Truthfully, I was rather disappointed with this. One brewery actually brought two beers - one called "baltic porter" and the other called "imperial stout." Both had roasted barley.

I guess the main point again is that brewers call their beers whatever they like. Personally, I would divide the style into three categories (albeit with substantial overlap):

1. Beers made in the baltic. Tend to be fruitier and a little less roasty (at least the one's I've had). Almost a Belgian character. examples - Okocim/Zywiec. You have much more experience with this.

2. North American interpretations. Most are quite hoppy. Maybe we should call them American "India Dark Ales?" There are, however, some notable examples that have huge malt and very little hops.

3. Versions that tend toward the tobacco, roasty, dark fruit (prunes, figs, raisins), bitter espresso, and chocolate flavors. In these beers, hop AROMA and FLAVOR are basically absent, although there is often SUBSTANTIAL hop BITTERNESS. I consider Sinebrychoff the benchmark of this group. (Sinebrychoff actually has pretty huge bitterness on the finish).

I guess I just don't feel that the words themselves - "baltic porter" vs. "imperial stout" really mean much right now as far as distinguishing the styles. What'dya think?

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Postby Josh Oakes » Thu Aug 16, 2001 11:04 pm

To A: Do not fear the World Wide Stout. Unlike Triple Bock (which has its fans, I'm just not one of them), the WWS is very much drinkable. It tastes like beer, and is to my tastes more of a barley wine than a stout, due to its lack of assertive roast. After 3Bock, WWS is a revelation in the superheavyweight category. It is not rated #1 overall on Ratebeer.com for nothing.

To Lyle: Carnegie changed its recipe about a decade ago, so probably all of B.Uniteds are made the same way. That 1989 I told you about was made to the old recipe. My friends up there swear by the old recipe, and don't even bother with the new one (Pripps of course is not a well-liked brewery). Funny though, the Finnish beer lovers look past the brewer and are very much into the Koff Porter.

My understanding is that the vast majority of Baltic Porters are bottom-fermented, including the Polish ones. Koff is the notable exception. This is of course through the sources up there, but not direct news from the brewers.

I see the Scandinavian ones as being a slightly different interpretation (much closer to Imperial stouts) than the Eastern European ones. Polish ones are a world unto themselves. The are the sumo wrestlers of the beer world. Not all of them carry the weight well, but those that do are pretty formidable.
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Postby Lyle » Fri Aug 17, 2001 7:55 am

Josh - have you had a Carnegie Porter from the mid-90's? Every time I try a bottle that is more than ~3 years old - I swear that they must have JUST changed the recipe. It is as if there is a malt time-bomb in the bottles that suddenly opens up. I'm sure that the Swedish beer-lovers hate that the brewery was taken over by Pripps. I'm going to look into the recipe a little - see what I can find out. I wonder what exactly changed...

I also wonder about those "bottom fermenters." When I was in Scotland, some brewers made what they called "lager" beers, or even "cask conditioned lagers" - however, with further prodding - it turned out they were usually top-cropping yeasts, just fermented at a lower temperature. Sort of the European equivalent of a "steam beer." The Polish examples I've had tend to be quite fruity so I would be quite surprised if they were bottom fermented - where do all the esters come from?

At Premier, we also have a porter from Estonia called Saku (although I think it may be temporarily sold out at the moment). People either love or hate this one. Personally, I find it too sweet - sort of like alcoholic coca cola.

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A
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Postby A » Fri Aug 17, 2001 9:55 am

Josh, you've piqued my curiosity. Even though I disliked the Immort Ale from the same brewery, I'll give it a try if its available.

I've never actually been to ratebeer.com. Interesting site. Here's the top 10(9) stouts from there (WorldWide stout is in fact listed as a Barleywine):

1)Victory Storm King
2)McAuslan Oatmeal (Also listed at #10 as St Ambroise but its the same beer)
3)Old Rasputin
4)Brooklyn Black Clocolate
5)Le Coq
6)Rogue Shakespeare
7)Rogue Imperial
:cool:Kalamazoo Bells Stout
9)Kalamazoo Bells Expedition (Heard good things about this one too)

PS: I assume username 'Oakes', with #1 1492 ratings is you :smile:
Josh Oakes
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Postby Josh Oakes » Fri Aug 17, 2001 2:50 pm

Disliked Immort Ale? Heresy! But that's okay, more for me.

That is too bad about the Rasputin, I mean, North Coast. That would have gone over big time. But the Wellingon and Sam Smith's will be nice when they arrive. That Sammy Oatmeal is a beauty.
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Postby Cass » Sat Aug 18, 2001 12:41 pm

I remember a tasty imperial stout (Stout Impérial, 7.5%) from L'Amere a Boire in Montreal in April. A definite standout from a whirlwind brewpub tour (4 out of the 5 in one night). Obviously of little help to us here, but good to keep in mind if you find your way out to PQ.

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Postby Publican » Sat Aug 18, 2001 6:58 pm

Hi A, you mentioned Bell's Expedition Stout.
Back in 1999, when I was on visiting my brother in Detroit, I picked up a six pack of this beer and found it quite sweet. I am now cellering this beer in the hope that it will
become dry. Does anyone know if this is possiable or should I just drink my remaing bottles now?
ps F.Y.I this beer is 11%A.B.V
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Postby Publican » Sat Aug 18, 2001 7:01 pm

I forgot to mention Bell's Expedition Stout is Bottle Conditioned
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Postby Josh Oakes » Sat Aug 18, 2001 8:19 pm

Tough to say, since I don't find Expedition Stout to be too sweet, but in general all the really sweet superheavyweights will dry out eventually. I find it takes at least five years for Samiclaus (old version) to become drinkable.

In my experience, if it is a drying-out that you are looking for, two years will not be enough. It will need a few more. Two years can evolve certain beers to new states of greatness, but won't do much for excess sweetness.

A beer like Expedition Stout will last at least ten years, and probably much more, so it is far too soon to give up on it yet.

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