“Love is the only game that is not called on account of darkness.”
— Thomas Carlyle
До́брое сло́во и ко́шке прия́тно. (Soft fire makes sweet malt.)
— Russian proverb
November in Texas, while not the bone-chilling exercise it can be at points north, can still have a touch of cold to it. There’s been a couple of mornings recently when the heat has been turned on in my house, as hard as that can be to believe; it was just a month ago I was running the air conditioning.
Traditionally, this is the time of year when our fancy turns to darker, heavier beers. This month, we’re going to take a look at one of the big boys of those styles: the Imperial Stout. Imperial stout was originally brewed in England in the 18th century, but it was not created for English palates. Instead, it was exported to the court of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, where it served to keep the wolves of a Russian winter far from the door and provided the energy for the Byzantine politicking of the Czarina’s court.
Imperial s stout is rich, reasonably high in alcohol, and redolent of coffee, chocolate, and dark fruit. It is often higher in alcohol than most stouts, as compared to some it has a higher alcohol content. Imperial stout was almost dead as a style in the mid-to-late 20th century, but craft brewers — mostly Americans — brought it back, and its current popularity is the highest it has ever been. Many of the top-rated beers among beer writers and aficionados are Impy Stouts. If you want to wrap yourself around the dark fire that made Catherine Great, here are some good places to start.
I like any beer made by Colorado’s Left Hand Brewery, as long as it’s darker than an amber ale. Left Hand’s Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout is a great introduction to the style; not quite as heavy as some, with rich notes of baking chocolate and figs. It’s also relatively inexpensive for the style; I sell a 22-ounce bomber here at the Galleria for a paltry $5.69.
Looking for something heavier? I have just the thing. Pick up a four-pack (of cans, no less) of Oskar Blues Ten-FIDY Stout. Ten-FIDY is a seasonal Impy, with strong and rich notes of chocolate and malt. Oskar Blues recommends pairing it with malted-milk balls — it has a touch of oatmeal in the grain bill, which increases the smooth, viscous richness.
Still not big enough? All right, you leave me no choice but to pull out the Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. Great Divide takes their Yeti, which is a pretty big stout to begin with, and ages it on toasted oak chips, adding elements of vanilla and additional bitterness. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
As always, keep your head up, your lace delicate, your malt toasty, and your hops snappy.