Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
From: Newington, NH
Brewery’s Note: “Aged in American oak barrels from Heaven Hill, this Russian Imperial Stout (RIS) clocks in at 9.5% ABV. Perfect for long, cold nights. This is the type of beer you can enjoy now or set aside and age for years.”
The beer pours chocolatey and thick, though not quite motor oil. It sits in the glass as black, dark roast coffee – it’s black with deep brown tinges. A small head of wispy, khaki bubbles forms and then swiftly recedes to a nice ring of latte foam, while thin oil slicks of scrim reach tendrils out towards the middle of the glass. The sheeting of lace is tight and thinner, mostly falling away like a curtain, though an archipelago of strands are left behind to last among an ocean of oozy, shimmering legs. The beer is dark and opaque, but at 9.5% ABV, she’s a little svelter than others in this category. Still, it looks nice and stouty in the glass. On the nose, the beer is a pungent glory, seeping dark chocolate over black licorice, with brown bread crust and a lingering coffee roast with almond flourishes. The flourishes build out of a middle-sniff of brown sugar/maple syrup sweetness, with almond and vanilla nuances. There is a heat to the nose from the bourbon, and there is a structure to the nose that suggests the barrels. Quick sniffs leave milk chocolate (not the initial dark chocolate) drizzled over medium roast coffee with a whiff of booze. On the tongue, the beer tastes initially chocolate sweet, with a light nip of booze. The sweetness builds and evolves, drawing maple syrup, milk chocolate, and brown sugar over the palate in wonderful balance. The booze falls to the sweetness for a time, though a bitter roast takes its balancing place and is eventually rejoined by a pleasant boozy tingle and snap of bourbon. Acidity is very mild in this beer, moving along the edges in unsurprising dark fruit undertones that snap a little with the booze heat. In the middle of the sip, there is bread crust, roast coffee beans, vanilla, milk chocolate, a touch of almond milk, and a balanced finish with just a touch of char. This is a nice, beefy sipper. The sugars are there, beautifully sweet and complex on the tongue, but they are well balanced by hot, softly spicy booze and bitter roast. Though I’ve never had it, I can taste the base stout beneath the barrels, and it is one hell of a well-made stout. In the mouth, the beer is full and syrupy smooth. Soft carbonation pillows the tongue as the booze nips and snaps to keep the palate light, and even going as far as to add a touch of crispness to the very finish. The mouth is left pleasantly damp when the beer leaves, though the tongue feels dry and tingles with alcoholic astringency. The beer leans toward the sweeter side of BA stouts, sitting succulent and rich on the palate, while never for a minute being cloying. Overall, the beer is a beautiful bit of barrel aging beside a phenomenal base beer. I personally wanted a little more dominant roast to balance out the richness of this beer, but I drank it before dinner, which I think is part of my problem. Treat this like a dessert and digestif. Savor the complex maple, vanilla, and milk chocolate tones. The barrel character is lighter than some, though the boozy bourbon is definitely evident. I would not have minded a little more charred oak and tannic structure, but it really wasn’t needed. I missed out on Stoneface’s rum barrel variant of this, but I’d be really curious to do a side-by-side, as I cannot confidently say what unique characteristics a rum barrel provides to beer and I would love to see what they would do with this beer… it is delicious with bourbon, and I bet it would be delicious with rum. I feel bad, as I sometimes forget to check back in on Stoneface. I honestly don’t have a reason. They keep nailing the hop game, and their malts and barrels seem to be very, very strong. Don’t be like me. Drink lots of Stoneface, as they are delicious, and this beer is a great one from them.