From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.
As we know from a few weeks back, beers especially designed for the winter season are often warming with the occasional inclusion of spices. However, those kinds of beers are not the only ones meant for fireside consumption.
During its formative years, the American craft beer scene often looked elsewhere for inspiration for creating new styles, and the now ubiquitous Imperial Stout is no different. Mythologies suggest that Russian Empress Catherine II (otherwise known as “Catherine the Great”) cultivated a strong affinity for Stout during trips to London, so much so that she demanded it be made available for herself and her imperial court, hence the “imperial” moniker. Largely a historical artifact in its mother country of England, Imperial Stout is now made in America more than any other country in the world.
Imperial Stouts exhibit an incomparably dense, full body which will frequently showcase a plethora of roasted coffee, chocolate and dark fruit, often in excess of 10 percent ABV. The presence of warming alcohol makes them prime candidates for sipping in front of the fire, which may or may not make you feel less guilty for wearing that ugly sweater this year. Below are three of my favorites:
- Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout – 15 percent ABV (2012 vintage). Goose Island releases this blistering behemoth on an annual basis, and it is to not be missed. One hundred days inside in a bourbon barrel coaxes intoxicating aromas and flavors of sweet vanilla, coconut, deep caramel and charred oak out of the wood and into the beer. Born to accompany or just be dessert, this beer is exquisite every time I visit it.
- Bells Expedition Stout – 10.5 percent ABV. Ah, yes, this is the beer that made me fall in love with Imperial Stouts. An underpinning of velvety smoothness gives rise to intense notes of dark chocolate and rum-soaked raisins with a hefty hop bitterness to help off-set its residual sweetness. I once had this beer with an orange-infused chocolate truffle, and even now I’m hard-pressed to imagine or remember a better pairing.
- Firestone Walker Parabola – 13 percent ABV. Although not the progenitor of barrel-aged stouts, (that honor goes to Goose Island Bourbon County), Parabola is arguably my favorite of the bunch. Impressions from the barrel exhibit a lush softness, rounding the sharp edges of the underlying beer. Sweet oaky vanilla and caramel latch effortlessly upon expressions of coffee and roasted chocolate; a demanding beer for tempered, contemplative moments.
All three come and go from Borderstan beer centers such as the P St NW Whole Foods, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor or borderline Borderstan establishment De Vinos Wine Shop at 18th and Florida NW, so be on the look-out for these beauties. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll cozy up next to the fire with.