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Russian Imperial Stouts - a cold-weather beverage

November 22, 2018

When it comes to Russian Imperial Stout (RIS), you can expect two things: big flavor and a high ABV. These monstrous beers are typically released around wintertime. It is easy to see why. What better way to warm up during the winter than a big, cocoa-forward beer on a chilly Minnesota night? Rochester is lucky to get a huge amount of RIS beers on store shelves.

Here are a few favorites:

Surly Darkness

Darkness comes out once a year (recently, in a barrel-aged version and even three variants of the barrel-aged version). It’s a big beer that seems to change just a little from year to year. Sometimes the hops are more prominent, and sometimes the dark fruit and coffee shine. This year’s version is one of my favorites. A cocoa and leather aroma prepare you for what’s to come. Sip through the tan head and cocoa, leather, dark cherry, and a bitter coffee and subtle hop bitterness all take turns colliding into your flavor buds. The creamy mouthfeel is robust and pleasing. Plus, that minotaur label art is pretty killer.

Fulton Worthy Adversary

Fulton has been making good, consistent beer for a long time. It makes sense that they also happen to have a wonderful RIS. What shines in this big beer is the dark chocolate that invades your mouth. It’s a super malty beer, and has a roasted, nearly coffee vibe to it. I don’t often have Worthy Adversary, but it’s one of those beers that you have and go, “Wow, I forgot how good this is.”

North Coast Old Rasputin

This is a standby that’s been around for a while. It has a nice, dark, roasted coffee flavor, laced with chocolate. What makes it even better is just a hint of dark fruit, leaning toward raisin. Just a little bit of alcohol heat lingers, and the body is robust enough to keep those looking for something thicker satiated. Sometimes, if you let it warm just a pinch, you might even taste some smoke.

Sierra Nevada Narwhal

This beer depicting the aquatic creature doesn’t sell itself as a Russian Imperial Stout. However, it has many of the characteristics: a malty flavor, featuring sweet coffee and Dutch cocoa. But what really sets it apart is a strong hoppy flavor in the finish. If you haven’t had anything like it, it will surprise you. It’s almost akin to a black IPA, but with a much more intense stout backbone to keep it in check. This is another classic of the style and one that is not hard to find on shelves.

Oskar Blues Ten FIDY

As someone who loves big flavor, it isn’t often I like a base stout better than a barrel-aged version. But good ol’ Ten FIDY is that beer. Barrel aging can result in the loss of a delicate menagerie of flavors working together. This has an insane amount of chocolate, a hint of coffee, espresso, roasted malt, and a thicker body and mouthfeel.

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