Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stone Brewing Company Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout

As a style, the Imperial Russian Stout has a rather interesting origin.  The style did not develop in Russia; instead, it was English brewers who began to brew the dark, almost viscous beers.  In the 18th century, the Thrales brewery in London began to brew imperial stouts for export to the court of Catherine the Great.  The beer became a popular drink in the Baltics and Russia, hence the name "Imperial Russian Stout."  More recently, the Imperial Russian Stout has gained a lot of interest amongst American craft brewers.  

Stone Brewing Company has seized upon this style and twisted it in a fit of creative fancy.   Stone brews this beer with Warrior hops, but, as with any stout, it is the malts that provides the character of the beer. The creativity of the brewers is also displayed by their choice of a Belgian yeast strain for the fermentation of the beer.  Add a lot of star anise, as well as the technique of "oaking" the beer, and the result is a truly unique Imperial Russian Stout.  (As the brewer notes, the "oaking" of the ber is actually a tip of the hat to the history of the style, because the beer used to be kept in wooden barrels rather than stainless steel containers.)

As with any Russian Imperial Stout, the Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout pours pitch black, almost tar in color.  The foam that develops as the beer is poured has a brownish tinge that is reminiscent of cream as it slowly blends into coffee.  The star anise is prominent in the aroma of the beer, providing a nice tinge of spiciness.  The aromatic elements include some of the more traditional flavors, such as roasted malts and chocolate as well.

The flavors of the Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout are a little more difficult to describe.  Obviously, chocolate is the principal flavor of this beer, but it is not any ordinary chocolate. Whether it is the star anise or the oaking of the beer, the chocolate flavor takes on spice notes.  The spices go beyond the star anise and are take on almost a mild pepper flavor.  In many respects, the flavors of this beer reminds me a little of El Mole Ocho, New Holland's tip of the hat to Oaxacan cuisine.  While El Mole Ocho was definitely a piquant spice, the Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout nevertheless provides a similar drinking experience, perhaps better for those who (unlike me) do not like heat in their food or their beer. 

This beer packs a punch, with a 10% ABV and 52 IBUs.  It is available at many beer stores or supermarkets.  A twenty-two ounce bottle sells for about $7.99.


For more information about the Imperial Russian Stout style, check out the Beer Judge Certification Program

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