Comparing a vintage beer at different stages of its maturity isn’t something I get to do all the time, let alone a beer I have taken notes on. Recently, I’ve been cleaning up my wine and beer storage that I’ve wanted to check in on and, well, drinking them. I happen to pop this 2013 Imperial Russian Stout almost two years to the day that I last reviewed it here, on the New York Cork Report in 2013. Much about the beer has changed, yet much has stayed the same.
The color and appearance of the stout hadn’t changed at all. It poured and thick frothy with an intensely copper-brown colored foam. Holding the glass to the light, the beer wins. The nose has most of the same dark malt characteristics as it once did. Some of the fruitier notes it once showed have since faded, giving way to a brown, brooding nose of cocoa powder, baked bread, and sweet toffee. The alcohol shows just a bit on first sniff and actually made my girlfriend cough when she took a whiff. That was definitely not apparent when it was younger.
The palate evolved well since I last tasted this beer. The milky, frothy texture was still there and the carbonation hadn’t changed much, but the beer tasted seamless. The “Espresso, toffee, and caramel” flavors that were there still existed, but had integrated with the sweetness and somehow gotten more intense. The hops have mellowed mid-palate, but still burst through on the finish with that black-coffee bitterness. Overall the beer still tasted fresh as hell. There is a trend to put stouts of this caliber into oak these days and I love the fact that this one is not. The concentrated malt and hop profile provide more than enough nuance and flavor to carry this winner of a beer.
(4 1/2 out of 5 Highly Recommended-to-Exceptional)