Brewed for Battle: Russian Imperial Stout

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At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Russian Imperial Stout

What's the darkest, most flavorful beer you've ever had? Guinness? The Russian Imperial Stout laughs at your Guinness. Originally brewed in Great Britain in the nineteenth century to satisfy Czarist Russia's demand for ever-thicker English stouts, the RIS was purposefully crafted with a high level of alcohol to keep from freezing during the frosty trip across the Baltic. Today most Russian imperial stouts are made with malts that are roasted to within an inch of their lives, making them inky black, thick as Alaskan crude and intensely flavored. You might taste chocolate, molasses, espresso, plums and smoke.

Zach's Pick: Great Divide Yeti Untamed, imposing, hairy -- Great Divide's Yeti is like the un-evolved missing link between hops and malt. Along with roasted barley that imparts flavors of bitter coffee, tangy dark chocolate and subtly sweet cocoa puffs, the beer's got an enormous quantity of American hops, adding tastes of grapefruit and pine trees. The combination feels like a walk through a forest of cedar, where the Yeti might be hiding behind every branch. Many species of this mythical beast exist: Great Divide offers variations aged with oak chips, espresso, chocolate and cayenne, and inside whiskey barrels.

Jonathan's Pick: Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout Full disclosure time: Leinenkugel sent me this in the mail. I'm not sure that the journey was kind to it. Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout is...well, it's drinkable. At 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, it's also packing a mean punch. Compared to the Yeti and the Ten FIDY, it seems watered down; almost pathetic. The bottle claims its contents are "dark and complex with 11 malts and grains balanced by three different and distinct hops." If they're in there, I can't taste them.

Shannon's Pick: Oskar Blues Ten FIDY Having been a big fan of Oskar Blues other canned beers(Mama's Little Yellow Pils and, all around good beer, Old Chub) I decided to take a chance on their version of an Imperial Stout, Ten Fidy. The 10.5% ABU, the black and silver can that matched my outfit that day, and the word chocolate were true selling points for me. The Ten Fidy pours out of it's pretty canned home thicker then motor oil and gives off a sweet, malty scent. The first sip is a bit rough, but once you power through it, it gets better. The more you drink, the more it starts to taste like a ramped up version of an iced coffee laced with hints of chocolate, caramel, malt, and hops. The aftertaste is a bit on the sweet side, which is a much welcome change from the normal tobacco-y taste other imperial stouts leave behind. A great cold weather brew and an amazing representation of this 18th century style of beer.

The Layman's Choice: Yeti

This week's layman is none other than Chow Bella contributor Kelly Green. She writes Crunchy Granola, and might be partial to Yeti because it tastes like it's made from happy wood. Closer to nature.

"I like the Yeti. The first two taste outrageously strong, kicking you in the mouth and leaving lingering flavors. Leinenkugel's tasted like burnt raisins. Ten FIDY tastes like you could bake ginger snaps with it. It's so syrupy and thick and tastes like honey and molasses."

Next week: Gourd your loins for a pumpkin beer battle of epic proportions.

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