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


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Beer Baron: One Stout to Rule Them All

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron. You can find him on Twitter @geekcanuck

For St. Patrick’s Day, Ontario Craft Brewers are encouraging beer lovers to support craft brewers by drinking local stouts and seasonals. It is a noble and worthwhile goal but if you really want to raise a special pint, you owe it to yourself to track down not just a stout but one of Ontario’s amazing imperial stouts. Imperial stouts and Russian Imperial Stouts take all the lovely, malted notes of stout and dial it up to 11 with even more depth of flavor, complexity and awesomeness.

Half the fun of craft beer is sharing and the sense of community, so rather than just my own, personal preference for imperial stouts, I rounded up a group of eight stout lovers from my local beer appreciation group and decided that together, as a fellowship, we would find one stout to rule them all.

In the hopes that you have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day full of delicious, Ontario-brewed imperial stouts this year and beyond, we present our top-12* Ontario imperial stouts:  

12. Grand River Brewing’s Russian Gun Imperial Stout 8.0% ABV

There are no losers in this competition and Russian Gun’s No. 12 proves it. While it does mask its 8.0% ABV wonderfully well, it just came across as more stout than imperial stout, especially against the heavy hitters we gathered.

Aroma: 2.4/5
Appearance: 2.1/5
Mouth Feel: 2.7/5
Taste: 4.7/10
Overall: 12/25
Total score: 24/50

Tasting comments:
"Flavour lacks the punch I expect from an imperial stout."
"The Bud Light of stouts."
"Smooth and light."
"Hides its alcohol well."

Availability: $4.95 at the LCBO, lots of inventory

11. Wellington Brewery’s Imperial Russian Stout 8.0% ABV

To Wellington Brewery’s credit, their Imperial Russian Stout has been easy to find at the LCBO for a long time now and they should be proud of all the craft beer drinkers they have exposed to this wonderful style of beer. (They also have further reason to be proud if you read on.)

Aroma: 2.5/5
Appearance: 3.1/5
Mouth Feel: 3.1/5
Taste: 5.6/10
Overall: 14.6/25
Total score: 28.9/50

Tasting comments:
"A great 'summer' stout."
"Not exceptional but very pleasant."
"Smooth & light"
"Emergency stout only."

Availability: $3.25 at the LCBO, lots of inventory

10. Amsterdam Brewery’s Tempest Imperial Stout 9.0% ABV

There is a barrel-aged Double Tempest from Amsterdam that might have fared a little better against the murderer’s row of imperial stouts further down the list but alas, we just couldn’t track any down prior to our testing.

Aroma: 2.6/5
Appearance: 3.4/5
Mouth Feel: 3.3/5
Taste: 6.9/10
Overall: 17.4/25
Total score: 33.6/50

Tasting comments:
"Nice bubbles. Low nose, nice bitterness at the end."
"No nose, but the rest is very good."
"A good 'any time' stout."
"Smooth and creamy but unexceptional."

Availability: $6.25 at the LCBO, lots of inventory

9. Nickel Brook Brewing Co.’s Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout 9.0% ABV

I adore Bolshevik Bastard and couldn’t have been happier the first time I saw those wonderful four packs sitting on the shelf at the LCBO. Prior to that, you could only get one bottle in a mixed six pack of Ontario Craft Beers, so being able to buy four together felt like winning the lottery.

Aroma: 3.1/5
Appearance: 3.7/5
Mouth Feel: 3.5/5
Taste: 7.1/10
Overall: 18.2/25
Total score: 35.7/50

Tasting comments:
"Pleasantly carbonated. Some bitter notes but a good finish."
"Very drinkable."
"Berry and candy nose with a bit of soy."
"Aroma is surprisingly fruity, slightly boozy."

Availability: $9.95 four-pack at the LCBO, decent inventory but hurry

8. Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company’s The Bottle IMP Russian Imperial Coffee Stout 9.0% ABV

This was simple a case of one bad score from someone who really doesn’t like coffee dragging down the overall average but that is the price you pay when you go all in on one specific flavor and aroma.  You can’t please all the people, all the time, but The Bottle IMP came close.

Aroma: 3.9/5
Appearance: 4.2/5
Mouth Feel: 3.4/5
Taste: 6.8/10
Overall: 18.3/25
Total score: 36.7/50

Tasting comments:
"I HATE coffee."
"Aroma like brunch at a greasy spoon. Very strong coffee flavour & very bitter finish."
"So much coffee on the nose. Super bitter finish. Wish it was a little less harsh but it is a good one."
"If you love coffee, you will love this – but not exactly balanced."

Availability: $7.85 at the LCBO, lots of inventory

7. Sawdust City Brewing Co.’s Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus Uranal Imperial Stout 8.5% ABV

This one was a real crowd pleaser, with solid scores from the entire group. Considering its price point, it is also a good value. With any luck, we’ll round up some of the other versions of it (whiskey barrel-aged, and with raspberries) for next year!

Aroma: 3.4/5
Appearance: 4.4/5
Mouth Feel: 3.9/5
Taste: 7.1/10
Overall: 18.6/25
Total score: 37.3/50

Tasting comments:
"Molasses on the nose. Sweet and boozy with only a bit of bitterness in the finish."
"Burnt chocolate bitterness."
"Demands your attention. Delicious but may not play well with others."
"Cherry notes with some sweetness, like cherry cough syrup but in a good way."

Availability: $5.25 at the LCBO, decent inventory but hurry

6. Muskoka Brewery’s Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout 8.0% ABV

Winter Beard won the prize for evoking sense memories thanks to its incredible aroma. Half of us wanted to climb into the glass to luxuriate in it while the other half’s eyes glazed over as they dreamt of fireplaces and Christmas trees.

Aroma: 4.0/5
Appearance: 3.7/5
Mouth Feel: 3.5/5
Taste: 7.4/10
Overall: 19.0/25
Total score: 37.6/50

Tasting comments:
"Aroma is pure cranberry. Flavour is fruity with a mild roast bitterness. Totally associate it with good Christmas feelings."
"Smooth, great aroma – a very delicious beer!"
"Unique and beautifully balanced."
"It didn't exactly stand up to the heavier stouts, but I'd drink it while trimming the tree any time."

Availability: $13.95 at the LCBO, most cities sold until next winter

5. Forked River Brewing Company’s Weendigo Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout 10.2% ABV

Forked River’s first attempt at a barrel-aged imperial stout was roundly appreciated but many of us couldn’t help but wonder what a bit of tinkering and fine tuning with the recipe or barrels would result in. Thankfully, the brewery is young and has all of us eagerly anticipating future delights.

Aroma: 3.1/5
Appearance: 4.0/5
Mouth Feel: 4.1/5
Taste: 7.4/10
Overall: 20.1/25
Total score: 38.8/50

Tasting comments:
"Nice beer but I'm not sure about the barrel aging… perhaps not my favourite bourbon?"
"It tastes way better than it smells."
"Great body but a little bit of a weak nose."
"It's local! Great with a meal or to enjoy on its own."
"Surprisingly easy drinking."
"So close! Maybe needs some fine tuning with the barrels or aging."

Availability: $8.95 at the LCBO, limited inventory so hurry

4. Bellwoods Brewery’s Skeleton Key Rum Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout 13.0% ABV

Skeleton Key was awarded best beer in Ontario by RateBeer for 2014. While it is certainly great and most definitely unique thanks to the rum (as opposed to bourbon) barrel and spices, it didn’t have the broad appeal of the final three beers on our list – including its little brother, up next.

Aroma: 4.8/5
Appearance: 4.5/5
Mouth Feel: 4.3/5
Taste: 6.8/10
Overall: 18.8/25
Total score: 39.2/50

Tasting comments:
"Smells like cherry cola! Sweet and spicy."
"Smells so good. But rum and stout don't mesh. Screw you for teasing me."
"I actually like the rum taste but it does overpower the beer."
"Smooth. Rum is very prominent. Some molasses flavour too."
"Wonderfully inviting."

Availability: Bellwoods Bottle Shop, sold out, but check back

3. Bellwoods Brewery’s Hellwoods Russian Imperial Stout 10.0% ABV

You’ll see the total scores have crept above 40/50 now, which means we are dealing with nothing but premium, grade A stout. As you’ll see in the comments below, Hellwoods was so good, it inspired some downright delightful comments. No barrel aging, no fruit, no coffee… just magical, wondrous stout.

Aroma: 4.1/5
Appearance: 4.1/5
Mouth Feel: 4.2/5
Taste: 7.6/10
Overall: 20.6/25
Total score: 40.6/50

Tasting comments:
"Lovely but boozy."
"Perfect 'round' mouth feel."
"Excellent on its own. A true festivus for the rest of us."
"Strong and unambiguous with a nice hint of caramel."

Availability: Bellwoods Bottle Shop, currently available, regularly restocked

2. Wellington Brewery’s Sputnik Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout 8.0% ABV

Sputnik came across as extremely well rounded and likeable. It wasn’t overpowering in any way and seemed more friendly, enticing and approachable. It was definitely the high school crush of the group and in a nice little bit of joyful synchronicity, Wellington’s e-newsletter from the morning of the stout tasting stated they had 2014 vintage Sputnik on sale again at their retail store.

Aroma: 3.9/5
Appearance: 4.0/5
Mouth Feel: 4.3/5
Taste: 8.3/10
Overall: 21.9/25
Total score: 42.5/50

Tasting comments:
"Not quite enough bourbon for me, but it is glorious as it warms up."
"A gentle and warm embrace."
"I like it. I love it. I want some more of it."
"I adore it. It's not overwhelming, just warm, comforting, inviting."
"Good balance but nothing unique. It tastes engineered… like driving a Toyota."
"Smooth. Nice flavour. Great beer to drink all night."

Availability: Wellington Brewery Retail Store, 2014 vintage available now but it won’t last long

1. Nickel Brook Brewing Co.’s Old Kentucky Bastard 10.0% ABV

I have to assume that when bourbon barrels are born, they dream of someday holding Old Kentucky Bastard; that the entire bourbon distillation and barrel-aging process is just a happy preamble to finishing off the creation of this beer. Old Kentucky Bastard garnered uniformly fantastic scores across the board and was the clear no. 1 except for…

Aroma: 4.4/5
Appearance: 4.6/5
Mouth Feel: 4.5/5
Taste: 9.1/10
Overall: 23.0/25
Total score: 45.5/50

Tasting comments:
"A little boozy but the flavour is so well balanced, it doesn't matter."
"Fabulous. Amazing on its own but too much for most meals."
"I heart you!"
"Flavourful but not overpowering. Great texture."

Availability: $12.95 at the LCBO, almost gone except in Milton, if your city has a bottle, buy it!

This is totally unfair because it isn’t available and has been aging for over two years, but it is impossible not to mention just how good Great Lakes Brewing’s 25th Anniversary Imperial Stout is. Due to their robust body, high alcohol and high sugar content, imperial stouts tend to age really well and this one was no exception. While we couldn’t give it the no. 1 ranking because it is unavailable and had the benefit of cellaring, we couldn’t ignore it and it serves as a good reminder of the magical, mellowing properties of aging.

Aroma: 4.7/5
Appearance: 4.6/5
Mouth Feel: 4.5/5
Taste: 8.9/10
Overall: 23.4/25
Total score: 46.1/50

Tasting comments:
"Wonderful notes of vanilla… and happiness."
"Gorgeously balanced and beautifully aged."
"Now that's a beer (much like Guinness)!"
"Delicious and smooth. Balanced and memorable."
"So smooth and delicious."

Availability: Unless you have a DeLorean with a flux capacitor, good luck. You can always contact Great Lakes Brewing and beg them to make more for their 30th anniversary.

If you ever organize a beer tasting event yourself, these chips were a great palate cleanser and several members of the group said how good they were for a beer event. Not too salty to blow out your taste buds, with just enough oil to do the job.

Cheers to craft beer and Ontario imperial stouts this St. Patrick’s Day!

*Rankings created by averaging the individual scores given to each beer in each category by each individual reviewer.

1 comment:

  1. I love stouts. A perfect post for pre-St. Paddy's Day planning!