Style Focus: American Double/Imperial Stout

In my first style focus, I looked at an amazing warm weather-beer, the Berliner Weisse. Quite honestly, Imperial Stouts suck for Miami drinking, but I love them anyway. Typically regarded as beers for cold weather in part due to their high alcohol content, we probably enjoy about 10 imperial stout-worthy nights per year on average.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from drinking them in the dead of summer. Beer geeks everywhere adore big American-style stouts. These are some of the most highly sought-after beers out there – some aged in used bourbon or brandy barrels, adding both price and rarity. Basically, they are irresistible massive dark beers, intense in every way. The beery equivalent of black holes, they swallow up light when in the glass and crown themselves with sinister-looking foam that looks like an espresso crema.

Here's one you'll never find in Miami. Wish I had another.

When you dip your nose into the glass, these beers often smell like conflagrations of chocolate, coffee and vanilla – the first two evidence of the use of a boatload of roasted malt, and the vanilla often comes as a result of aging with wood chips, or in barrels. Citric hop aroma may also be present, especially in fresh examples, as many of these beers are heavily hopped as well.

Taste is frequently not as sweet as the aroma would indicate – it’s more of an intense, roasty, bitter chocolate. Young examples may show off their considerable alcohol a bit, though I prefer it when they don’t. Adjuncts may also be used in the brewing of these crazy stouts, adding an additional dimension to the flavor profile – coffee beans, vanilla beans, chipotle peppers, molasses, oats, maple syrup, etc, etc.

As complicated and hefty as these beers are, in the realm of food pairings, they are often served with dessert, or *as* dessert. It’s a slam dunk no-brainer to marry them with intense chocolate desserts – I like a sweeter stout with a more bitter chocolate dessert, and vice versa. Still, to me this is a pairing that lacks imagination; it’s one you’ll see out at most local “beer dinners.” I would rather pair the big roasty bitter chocolate beer with a very sweet vanilla dessert, like a creme brulee or panna cotta with raspberries. It’s not so much chocolate overload. The bitter beer cancels out the sweetness of the dessert, and the chocolate aspect provides a flavor hook for the raspberries to hang on. I like going chocolate beer/fruity-vanilla dessert, and fruity beer/chocolate dessert, but that’s another blog.

Some locally available American Double/Imperial Stouts:

Dogfish Head – World Wide Stout
Southern Tier – Choklat
Lagunitas – Cappuccino Stout
Avery – Mephistopheles’ Stout
Terrapin – Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (a.k.a “Wake ‘N Bake”)
Mikkeller – Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

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2 Responses to Style Focus: American Double/Imperial Stout

  1. WineGoddess1 says:

    Wow, now that sounds and looks like a very big beer. Enjoyed reading as I had no idea about the brandy or bourbon barrels, cool 🙂

  2. Oh yes. And those frequently fetch high prices. The beer in that picture is Goose Island’s “Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.” It’s their regular bourbon-barrel-aged stout (which is great, I feel weird minimizing it like that), brewed with Intelligentsia coffee beans. It caused a stir when it came out; at one point it had overtaken even Trappist Westvleteren 12 as highest-rated beer in the world on one particular rating site.

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