Beer: Imperial Russian Stout Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. Style: Russian imperial stout ABV: 10.5 percent
Around this time of year, long days of sun and hot weather inspire drinkers to reach for refreshing, quaffable beers, so most breweries choose the summer season to release their lighter, low-ABV brews. Not Stone. April marked the annual release of Imperial Russian Stout -- the good kind of IRS -- which is one of the brewery's most popular ales. Here's why.
It looks like espresso: In a snifter, this beer is a pernicious black, impenetrable by any light whatsoever. A frothy mahogany head plants itself atop the thing and doesn't leave.
It smells like chocolate: Some cocoa powder and vanilla swirl in the nose. Notes of currants and medium roast coffee also are present, along with some sourdough.
It tastes like authority: Malt flavors (the bill: roasted barley along with pale, amber and black patent) lead the charge, imparting their sharp notes of charred coffee and chocolate at the start before currants and plums pop up in the swallow. Warrior hops lend a subdued pine note and a slightly more noticeable 65-IBU bitterness. The finish tends toward tanginess while keeping roasted malts and booziness in balance.
It feels rich: The body isn't quite as full as I would like, but it still slides over the tongue in a wonderfully silky way. Some subtle carbonation is just about perfect, and the high alcohol content is nigh unnoticeable.
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It drinks like a classic: As I make my way through the glass, I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how solid this beer tastes. If someone were to ask me for a classic example of Russian imperial stout flavors, this would be the drink I point them to. And it's even better when aged -- for your best drinking experience, cellar Stone IRS for a year. It'll still be a little hot, but a nice sweetness will rise to overtake the roast, with lots of molasses, marshmallow, milk chocolate and hints of anise. It's a nice balance of sweet and acrid, with perfect creaminess.
Food pairing suggestions: Today's menu comes to us from Dr. Bill Sysak, a former military combat medic and current beverage coordinator at Stone Brewing's World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido, Calif. A beer/food pairing expert, Sysak suggests bleu cheese-stuffed dates, oysters on the half shell, candied pecans and walnuts as appetizers; beef Stroganoff, Hungarian goulash, vegetable vindaloo orcoffee-rubbed pork tenderloin for the main course; and cheesecake or coconut crème pie for dessert.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.