Don’t confuse this with Goldilocks and the Three
Beers Bears. These are three BEER reviews you might find interesting. All are imperial dark beers, and each one is worth buying again (but see qualifying remarks below).
Escondidian Imperial Black IPA: Stone Brewing Co., Escondido CA. 10.8% ABV.
Escondidian is Stone’s 15th Anniversary brew. It was brewed in 2011, and was only available for purchase around summer and fall of 2011. The bottle I tasted for this review had been in my refrigerator since August, 2011. I drank/tasted it for this review on November 12, 2012. At that time (obviously) the beer was well over a year old, and the flavor had changed significantly from the Escondidian I drank contemporary to it’s release (summer 2011). This review is based mainly on my impressions from my recent sampling (November 2011), but I will also add some comments about the taste of fresh Escondidian, which is markedly different.
It pours black, like a stout, with a dark tan head that fades rather quickly. The aroma is chocolate/sweet, without much hoppiness in the nose. The dark grains come through in the flavor, with chocolate front and center. The hops are noticeable only in the aftertaste, but it creates a nice hoppy twist to a stout.
When Escondidian was fresh, it was quite hoppy (remember, this is a black IPA), but there was also a smooth imperial stout sweetness to it. Because of the overwhelming hop aromas and flavors, one would not mistake it for a stout (that’s not the case with this old/aged bottle). This was a really good imperial black IPA when fresh, but the bottle version of this beer did not hold up very well to father time. That is to be expected, as no bottled IPA stands the test of time too well.
This beer has not been available on store shelves since late 2011 (or possibly early 2012), so don’t bother looking for it. I found it in the back of the beer refrigerator in Mac’s Brew Pub, where it had been hiding for over a year. Had I not forgotten about it, I would never have let it age so long in there. Here’s the bottom line, though – it was an excellent black IPA when it was brewed, but was just another stout after extensive storage (my bad; I didn’t realize it was in there). I would be willing to drink it from a keg though, if I could find it on tap somewhere (not likely unless Stone has some at their brewery/bistro in Escondido).
Imperial Russian Stout: (2009 Release) Stone Brewing Company, Escondido CA. 10.5% ABV
This is another huge Stone brew that’s been aging in Mac’s refrigerator for quite a while (3.5 years – drank on November 18, 2012), but this one was aged on purpose. Big stouts, especially those with a high alcohol content, age quite gracefully, leading to subtle flavor and character changes. This one is no exception.
This beer pours jet black (into my Stone tulip glass) with a dark tan head. The aroma is all chocolate. It has a medium body and provides just a little CO2 bite on the tongue. The flavor, like the aroma, is big on chocolate. The chocolate flavor then yields to a subtle fruitiness – prunes, cherries. The chocolate then returns in the aftertaste.
Compare this three and a half year old sample to a freshly brewed Stone IRS, and you will immediately notice the difference. This beer is over 10% ABV, and the alcohol, though not hot or biting, is noticeable in the fresh beer. It’s quite well hidden in the aged version. The flavor of the aged beer is also much more subdued and mellow – I guess I would say it’s not quite so aggressive. Overall, I probably prefer the fresh version, but the aged beer is excellent, and I would prefer it when I’m not looking for a “punch in the mouth” flavor wise.
Wreck Alley Imperial Stout: Karl Strauss Brewing Company, San Diego, CA. 9.5% ABV.
Karl Strauss makes quality craft beer and they have a loyal following. I bought this beer because I love imperial stouts and the name (Wreck Alley) intrigued me. I sure you really don’t care about that, so let’s get on with this review . . . .
This is another black beer. It has a slight head, cocoa brown in color. Coffee and chocolate dominate the aroma. The body is medium (not quite as thick as expected) with low carbonation. The flavor was of coffee with chocolate notes. Although similar to the aroma, there was not as much flavor as I expected – it seemed a bit washed out. As the beer warmed in my glass, the coffee taste faded and the chocolate became more pronounced. The aftertaste is mild coffee, and fruity (prunes and plumbs).
I would rate this as a good beer for sure, but I would pick something else if I wanted to drink an imperial stout (like Stone IRS, reviewed above). This stout does not improve with warming, in fact it’s better when cold (right out of the fridge). In other words, it’s a good imperial stout, but doesn’t have as much flavor as so many others.
So, what’s the verdict on these three beers? Escondidian – No to the bottle version (but that’s a moot point as it’s no longer available), but buy it if you can find it on tap. Stone IRS – Yes to both fresh and aged bottles (this is a seasonal brew; available each spring time). Wreck Alley – Yes and No (if you want an imperial stout and nothing else is available, then buy it; otherwise, stick with Stone or another brand – see several other stouts previously reviewed on this site).
I must add one caveat, however, to the above recommendations. I am spoiled by Mac’s oatmeal stouts and imperial stouts. They are better (in my opinion) than most commercial examples. That’s because I make my own recipes and choose to emphasize those qualities I most like in the commercial brews (like Stone IRS, for example). If a commercial brewery put the time (e.g., bourbon barrel aging), and quantities (grain and hops) in their stouts that I put into mine, however, they would have to charge $15 – $20 per 22 oz bottle. So I have a great advantage in that I am not concerned about the bottom line – I’m only concerned about making great beer. Cheers!