They're serious ales, and I'm not a serious guy.
An Imperial stout is something that should be enjoyed once in a while: I don't think it's something that you should drink on a regular basis, unless you enjoy having your taste buds blown away and like a lot of alcohol. For myself, it takes at least an hour to drink one of these bad boys, more, if the bottle is a big one.
But as I go through my cellar, I'm depleting my collection, all in the interest of seeing what it's like to age some heavy ales. This week, I opened two bottles: one, that I purchased late last fall; the other, that my wife brought home for me in the autumn of 2013. Let's see how they drank.
Dragonslayer Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV)Appearance: cavernous black with a deep-taupe head that quickly forms to a full lace.
Middle Ages Brewing Company
Nose: espresso and chocolate malt that is as rich as a dragon's lair; bits of cedar.
Palate: dark chocolate and rich, full-bodied coffee. The alcohol comes through in the finish and leaves you with a fire-breathing dragon's breath.
Overall impression: this is a classic Imperial stout—neither dull nor spell-binding. I enjoyed drinking it but wouldn't want it all the time. After all, a dragon is fascinating to see, but you wouldn't want one roaming your neighbourhood. I bought this bottle last fall, directly from the brewery. I tried a couple of their brews once I got them home: I'm glad I hung onto this one.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
The next beer is something that I almost forgot I had. When my wife went to Toronto, to enjoy a ladies' weekend with her closest friends, I asked her to visit one of the city's newest breweries (at the time). I had never been, and only knew of their beer by reputation, from the opinions of other Ottawa beer bloggers. I didn't know what would be available, but I asked my wife to grab a sample.
When she included an Imperial stout in the awesome mix, I thought I would lay it down for a year or so and see how it would fare. And over that year, as I enjoyed all of the other brews she had given me, I had great expectations.
I had a devil of a time with it.
Hellwoods Imperial Stout 2013 (10% ABV)Appearance: black as Hell with toffee-like sediment that sank to the bottom of the glass. A dark-taupe head quickly settled to a thin cap.
Nose: alcohol, chocolate, and a sinfully sweet caramel.
Palate: burnt wood, espresso beans (the beans, not the coffee), alcohol. The initial sipping experience had me feeling like I was being tormented, punished for the life I had lived so far. Perhaps, I had resisted the temptation of drinking it right away, and now I was paying for that sin. It went down as though I had swallowed a pitchfork: over time, however, the ale opened up and was more drinkable.
Overall impression: it's hard to tell if I was drinking this Imperial stout too early, too late, or during some awkward transitional phase. At one point, I was tempted to dump the remaining contents down the drain. But, because I was sipping it over several hours, I became accustomed to it's flavours. They lulled me—one sip called for another. I even swallowed the dregs.
This was the ale that made me think that perhaps an Imperial stout should be taken less regularly. Like, once a month. To be savoured for what it is, and then to move on to a pale ale, or a session ale.
Beer O'Clock rating: 1.5 (at first); 2.5 (overall)
I have two more of these beers to sample, and then I think I'll declare Imperial-stout season over.
For me, at least.