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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Imperial Stout Taste Off - Guest Writer

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog was/is to allow readers to be able to have their thoughts, opinions and feelings heard; whether it be through the comments section, or an actual written submission for posting.

There have been a couple of stories written by some readers and I encourage those interested in participating to contact me at the email address listed above. Of course there is no money involved, I can just provide the field to showcase your views.

That being said, I met up with a reader one day to exchange some beer and he told me he was interested in doing a Imperial Stout taste off with some Canadian beauties. I thought it would be interesting to see what his conclusions were, so I asked if he'd be interested in submitting something. So, here they are, reviews of four well known Imperial Stouts, written by English expat and fellow Torontian Rob Symes.

Imperial stouts are the big hitters of the beer world, with intense dark malty flavours and warming alcohol levels. The malts are roasted for a long time, and can produce tastes of coffee, chocolate and dark fruit – all perfect for pairing with a Canadian winter.

On a cold January’s night I sat down, and sampled my way through four top-rate imperial stouts (purely for research sake of course). From Ottawa I had John By, a returning winter seasonal that proved a phenomenal success on its release last year. From Montreal, a beer that needs little introduction, Péché Mortel, one of the world’s most highly regarded brews. From Halifax a bottle of Propeller Revolution, with about a year of age on it. Finally, and the only non-Canadian offering, Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout from Yorkshire.

Péché Mortel: As it pours a slightly satanic aura emerges with a cloud of mocha bubbles transitioning to depths of midnight black. A super thick cake of a head leaves heavy sheets of lace all the way to the bottom of the glass. Aromas of coffee, cream, chocolate and caramel waft enticingly upwards and the first sip cannot come soon enough, but it is worth taking the time to appreciate the intense bouquet the brewer has crafted here. The taste is of an extremely smooth, and perhaps as divine as the aroma suggests - creamy coffee, with some cocoa and alcohol in the aftertaste. Dark fruits and Christmas memories linger in the background. The mouthfeel is just amazing - heavy and viscous, yet delightfully smooth.

John By: A truly excellent beer, and just as good as I remember. Pours pitch black with a generous milk chocolate head, leaving large amounts of lacing as the drink is consumed. Strong cocoa smell, accented with coffee. The taste reveals bittersweet chocolate and espresso, and as the drink warms, some of the fruitier more vinous qualities become evident. The body does not seem as heavy, but seems to increase from light to medium as the palate acclimatises. This beer really improves the more you drink - my first sip was worryingly underwhelming, but by the end of the second bottle I was craving another. While the bottle says imperial stout I feel that its a little unfair to compare it within the style. There are obviously a lot of similarities in the flavour, but the alcohol content and viscosity are simply not high enough. Regardless, in my opinion this is the best stout of any type currently made in Ontario.

Propeller Revolution: Black body with a small mocha mocha head that provides a decent lace. Delicious aroma of chocolate, dark pitted fruit and tobacco. Raisin, toffee, and chocolate flavours dominate a rich palate, before moving to a rich tobacco smokiness. The alcohol is very well hidden. Medium-heavy mouthfeel with restrained carbonation. Very nicely done imperial stout from this Halifax brewery. Based on experience, I would have to say this is one of the better imperial stouts in the country. In fact, the alcohol is so well-hidden that this stout could almost be sessioned, which is pretty dangerous!

Sam Smith’s: Practically midnight black pour with a beast of a tan head that settled to a finger of cap, and forgot to lace. Chocolate and coffee aromas are divine, and carefully balanced, pulling back from the all out aroma assault of some imperial stouts. Full on milk chocolate in the flavour swiftly followed up by a coffee with extra cream, along with some vanilla and dark fruit. This is really helped by the full creamy body, which accentuates the smoothness of the chocolate and coffee flavours. Like the John By, this seems a slightly different beast to most of the imperial stouts I’ve come across. The ABV is far more restrained and makes it easy to drink at the pace of a regular beer, and the flavours are also in a delightfully harmony, and its far less aggressive and boozy than other examples.

What did I learn from this tasting? Well, its advisable to drink lots of water and not repeat it on a work night. Also, that the Péché Mortel stood apart from the rest, and deserves all the acclaim it receives, and the John By and Revolution successfully held their own against one of the classic examples of the style. Canadian beers deserve a better reputation and better distribution. In a few months when the last John By disappears from the shelves of the LCBO, Ontario will once again be imperial stout free, not only that but it will be bereft of microbrews from other provinces.

In times like this we should be supporting our homegrown products, both of our own province and of our neighbours, yet my local store is awash in a sea of East European lager. Drive across the border and it’s a different story, but that’s for a different day.
**John By photo courtesy of Alan over at A Good Beer Blog (used with his permission).


malcolm said...

If only Wellington would bottle their Imperial Russian again...sigh.

Troy Burtch said...

One day......? It would be nice.

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