Birrificio Birranova - Roccia Scura (Russian Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig Quarter Cask Barrels)
I spent a couple of glorious weeks last summer in Sicily (stay tuned for my review in the "Local Beer Guides"; one day I'll get around to that...) and sitting on the shelves of the Water & Beer in Catania in a slightly ostentatious bottle was Roccia Scura. I had never heard of the brewer or the beer, but a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig barrels grabbed my immediate attention. It wasn't Sicilian craft, but hailed from a suburb of Bari, Puglia (and so still incredibly south; I'm not sure that the temperature Sicily or Puglia ever reach what we would call "imperial stout" weather in Canada). I had no appetite to drink this beer under the Sicilian sun, but knew that it had a lot of potential. So I hedged my bets and bought two to bring back - the first of which I cracked today. Frankly, I would have grabbed a couple more had I tried it first.
From the first whiff, I was hooked. It was unapologetically Islay scotch heavy on the nose and through the palate. The underlying stout was decent, though somewhat suppressed. There were definitely some underlying chocolate malt characteristics and some subtle roast in the finish, but overall the peaty presence of the scotch barrels was dominant. There was a pleasant warming embrace of alcohol (un abbraccio, if you will) but still remarkably smooth. Overall, this beer wasn't as full bodied nor as refined as a BCBS, KBS or BOYD. If it was bourbon barrel aged, I probably would have chastised it as being too reliant on the barrel. But, given the choice, a fine pour of Scotch (particularly from Islay) will always resonate more than a good bourbon and I would look on this beer favourably compared to virtually any Ontario brewed BBA IS.