by Paul Deines
It’s been high-season for imperial stout lovers (longer piece on imperial stouts to follow soon), with more than a few huge releases in the last couple months. I’m talking headliners like Dark Lord, KBS, Parabola, and Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. In the midst of all this craft beer whale-hunting, I’d hate for a more readily available (but still quickly disappearing) option to be overlooked: Stone’s Espresso Imperial Russian Stout.
I’ve enjoyed Stone’s standard Imperial Russian Stout without being gaga for it. There’s been a licorice undercurrent to it that’s curled my toes in a not-necessarily-good way. Like really all Stone offerings, the IRS can excite with the first taste and become a palate-ravaging slog by the end. My hope was that the concentrated coffee component in the Espresso IRS would temper the candied tanginess of the original. And as it turns out, it did.
Stone’s Espresso IRS pours the same impenetrable black with the same luscious tan head as its predecessor. The head gives way to a nice lacy halo, and those coffee notes dominate the bouquet. First sip yields a brilliant balance of coffee, dark chocolate and vanilla extract, with just a smattering of dried fruits and toffee. In short, arrestingly sweet and full-bodied. Original recipe IRS has always had an acidic bitterness; Espresso IRS tempers that to create a fine dessert stout. Then the alcohol catches up with you and puts you decidedly on your ass.
It has the thick mouthfeel of – well – an espresso, but it’s still totally drinkable. I had to halt myself from gulping down all 22 oz. in the space of 90 minutes.
Stone Brewing is one of those nationally-distributed craft breweries – like Dogfish Head or Rogue – that beer snobs love to hate. Perhaps it’s the market saturation, the muscular branding, or simply the size of its operations. Yet it is definitely a brewer that serves as an entry-point for curious imbibers looking for something beyond the adjunct lager set. I definitely had a Double Bastard and Smoked Porter fixation for a good long time, but as I began expanding my scope of consumption to other brewers and styles, I began passing Stone’s perfectly fine offerings without much notice.
And that’s all well and good, except every now and then it puts out a brew like the Espresso Imperial Russian Stout, which can stand with the whales mentioned above. I have a second bottle in my closet waiting for a cool night on the other side of 2013. It’s probably time you to grab a couple as well.