Sunday, 19 October 2008

More or less?

Greetings again readers apologies for the late post. Of recent times I have been given the opportunity to do my first official Beer journalism work, and by that I mean writing for an official beer magazine, Beers of the World. As a guest taster I have had to taste and review 9 imperial stouts (although one was a porter). Many of these I had been hunting for a ages now, so it was a great privilege. The list included:

Samuel Smiths Imperial stout: An old favorite of mine and looks like a baby at only 7%abv. Nicely drinkable, roasty and elegant as always.

Great divide Yeti Imperial stout: A bold masterpiece that perfectly integrates huge caramelized malty flavors with brisk hop and roast malt bitterness.

Zywiec porter: A lovely middleweight dissert like beer with soft creamy textures. Scored highly but seemed out of place as the only porter.

Brew dog Rip Tide: A nice assault of hops balances this one leaving slight dryness.

Brooklyn Brewery Black chocolate stout: Bold, elegant and smooth with dominant roasty dark chocolate notes. Not the masterpiece I had hoped for considering Roger Protz gave it full marks

Left Hand Brewing Imperial Stout: Sweet malty flavors signature. Plenty of toffee, candy and caramelized crystal malt influences.

De Struise Brouwers. Black Albert: This one I was particularly fascinated by. All the usual funky yeasty character you find in a Belgian ale well integrated into a 13% abv stout that exceptionally drinkable.

A Le Coq. Imperial extra double stout. 9% abv. 2003 vintage: Drinks more like a port wine with virtually no carbonation, but tends to grow on you with an intriguing lethery/ oily texture and big ‘alcohol soaked fruit’ like flavors.

Dogfish head. World wide stout: Basically an 18% abv monster of a stout that attacks full on with warming alcoholic flavors and tastes half way between a brandy an a stout/barley wine. The thing is, after hearing so much about Dogfish head and hunting them for so long I was intrigued to get hold of one. But the term used by one of my Uni mates from Canada often used, ‘over the top’ seemed somewhat fitting for this example. Another term, ‘insanely over the top’ also fits as the palate blasts one with a whole spectrum of malty and warming alcohol flavors all at once. However although overpowering at first the beer does seem to grow on you and develops into a lovely warming after dinner drink of huge complexity.

Overall the two highest scoring were the Black albert, creative and elegant, against the bold and beautiful Great Divide Yeti Imperial stout from Denver Colorado. In fact most of the American examples seemed to aim for a similar effect of boldness to the palate, Left hand seemed to go alittle on the sweet malty side, whereas Dogfish head seemed go for the stronger the better approach. But do you really need to push things to the extreme to make the best extreme styles? Examples from Zywiec and Samuel Smiths proved this wrong whereas Great Divide Yeti suggests extremism could be the way forward in the style. In my opinion there is always wrong ways and right ways to develop massively flavored beers. For this the brewer needs to keep in control various elements of brewing for example the temperature of fermentation, the quantities of colored and roast malts used and the level of attenuation. But a major factor of imperial stout brewing as with other high gravity beers is time, as such beers can take years to develop in character.


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