The Brewery: Four Peaks Brewing Company, Tempe, AZ
The Stats: 9.5% ABV
Appearance: Black and opaque with a head that disappears as quickly as a shooting star, this beer conveys intensity as it sits in its tulip glass, almost daring you to take on its strength and complexity.
Aroma: Barrel aging this imperial stout creates aromatics including sweet bourbon, vanilla, and oak. The majority of the upfront aromas are byproducts that come from the barrel aging process. The base beer's aromas are therefore secondary and remain in the background, but are led by chocolate and roast malt with some additional caramel-like sweetness. A pleasant heat and sweetness come compliments of the alcohol. You won't find "off" flavors of any kind nor will you perceive much, if any, hop derived aromas.
Flavor: The vanilla, oak and pleasantly sweet bourbon notes carry over into the flavor. Low level hop bitterness is just enough to balance the malt sweetness, while no real perceptible hop flavor can be found. Being a malt showcased stout, this is entirely acceptable. Sweetness is present throughout, though it's presence is strongest on the front of the palate. The resulting oak'y characteristics from the barrel aging provide a certain drying quality on the back end of the palate, helping reduce some of the overall sweetness, especially in the finish.
Feel: Sirius Black's medium-full body is actually on the light side for the Russian imperial stout style beer. The alcohol does provide a certain level of viscosity, which adds to the fullness of the mouthfeel and somewhat fills the palate. A hint of astringency from the high molecular (fusel) alcohols leaves a bite at the end, though this is acceptable for a beer of this strength that has also been barrel aged. Ethyl alcohol is the type of alcohol consumers most often relate to beer, but fusel alcohols have a higher molecular weight and tend to come across as sharper or "hotter" to most palates. Fusels can be created when yeast strains are stressed during fermentation, which can be a regular occurrence in strong beers. With beers of this size and style, subdued fusel alcohol presence is acceptable and expected, as long as it remains subtle — which it does — in this beer.
Overall Impression: Sirius Black finishes with a combination of chocolate and bourbon sweetness, but is not too sweet for a beer of this strength. It'd be a good match with a meaty entree, but this beer should be enjoyed alongside a dessert, preferably one made with dark chocolate and raspberries.
Sirius Black provides an array of flavors, is intense yet approachable, and exudes a complexity that can be enjoyed on many levels. Those who enjoy a big, dark stout need to seek out this well made seasonal. This beer was enjoyed at the Four Peaks 8th Street brewpub located at 1340 East 8th Street in Tempe. Check out the Four Peak Brewery website for more information on Four Peaks Brewing Company or its line of seasonal offerings including Sirius Black.