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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Beer Baron: Bell's Expedition Stout (The Beer Baron's first post!)

Rex Banner - The Beer Baron
My husband is a craft beer fanatic.  Although I don't drink much beer I feel like I know a lot about craft beer through osmosis and our frequent visits to craft breweries and beer bars. 

Matt has written several guest posts for me about beer. I've been thinking of ways to become more motivated to blog and one of those ideas is regular monthly features. Tart of the Month is one thing I'd like to make a regular feature, and I'd like the Beer Baron to become a regular feature too. Matt tries new beers all the time so he's a good resource for craft beer info. He also tries beers from all over North America, so there should be lots of diverse content from our travels as well as what's in stock at the LCBO and our local craft beer bar.  So here's the first official guest post from the Beer Baron...  

If you happen to go to a pub or just about any chain restaurant or bar this St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll likely see signs for Guinness, a dry stout from Ireland. In fact, it won’t just be on St. Patrick’s Day, as the makers of Guinness – no doubt perturbed by the fact that St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Monday this year, thus limiting intoxication levels to the merely absurd – have dubbed it St. Patrick’s Weekend.

I have nothing against Guinness and have enjoyed many a pint of its smooth, creamy goodness. However, as a beer, it is really just a gateway drug to bigger and better things and to me, you can’t get much bigger or better than Russian Imperial Stouts. Named in honour of the style of beer preferred by the court of Catherine II of Russia, I personally believe she deserves the moniker of Catherine the Great because of her taste for big, bold, high-alcohol, low-carbonation, intensely malty, roasted stouts.

One of the better examples of a Russian Imperial Stout is Expedition Stout, brewed by Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rated a perfect 100 on Ratebeer for good reason, Expedition Stout is to Guinness as Batman is to Scooby Doo. Sure, they are both solve crimes, but the latter wants to lick your face while the former wants to punch your face (in the best possible way).

While Guinness is on the lighter side of things with a white head and low alcohol content (4.2 – 5.0% alcohol by volume, depending on where you get it), Expedition Stout has a rich, brown head and a decidedly high alcohol content (10.5%). The colour of the head is usually a pretty good indicator of whether you are about to drink stout or STOUT... If it’s white, it’s not right; If it is brown, drink it down.

Beyond the looks, Expedition Stout just smells and tastes downright decadent. There is a heavenly aroma of chocolate mixed with dark fruits and molasses and the taste... well, that you should experience for yourself. Everyone’s palette is different and with something as complex as Expedition Stout or any other truly great Russian Imperial Stout, you might get notes that are special and just for you. To me, it is a mix of dark things that I love (dark-roast coffee, dark chocolate, dark fruits) with little hints of caramelized sweetness and warm booziness and a texture could be described as oily or sticky, if those things were positives.

The other amazing thing about Expedition Stout and Russian Imperial Stouts like it is that it is magic! Different aromas and flavours present themselves at different times and it could be argued that the best Expedition Stout is the one that has warmed up and is in your half-empty glass. Better still, it was designed to be aged, so a new bottle can be a completely different experience than a bottle cellared for a year or two... time can take booze and bitterness and give you mellowness and depth, just like people!

So, if you’ve never tried Guinness before, don’t be afraid, you’ve got an entire St. Patrick’s Day weekend in which a million different pubs and restaurants will pour you a pint. However, once you’ve taken those baby steps, do yourself a favour and work your way up through great, readily available stouts like Wellington’s Russian Imperial Stout or St. Ambroise’s Oatmeal Stout and then track down a Bell’s Expedition Stout or anything from this list. They didn’t call her Catherine the Great for nothing.  


  1. Matt, could you indicate in your posts where you buy these beers? I don't want to bother looking at the LCBO if you got it cross-border.

  2. Good tip! I will be sure to the next time. In the meantime, Bell's can't be purchased in Ontario, sadly. However, that is why I mentioned the two stouts at the end that are relatively easy to find. Wellington Russian Imperial Stout comes in a bright red can and is available at most good LCBOs and St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout can be found at most decent The Beer Stores and some LCBOs.