It’s fall, and the holidays are approaching. That means big, dark beers and winter warmers. Today I bring you reviews of three barrel aged Imperial Stouts. Please read responsibly.
Abyss: Deschutes Brewing, Bend, OR; 12.2% ABV (2015 release).
Abyss is Deschutes’ annual bourbon barrel Imperial Stout offering. This review is for the 2015 version (this beer is typically released in November or December each year). This particular vintage is 50% aged in bourbon, Oregon oak, and pinot noir barrels.
Abyss pours black with a 1/4″ cocoa colored head that rapidly fades to a thin layer and small ring around the edge. The aroma is roasty, coffee, tart (from the wine barrel) and brown sugar. The flavor is thick, bitter chocolate, vanilla and a little licorice, then fades to sweet cherry and dark fruit. The aftertaste is chocolate, migrating from sweet to bittersweet.
As this beer warms, the aroma is all about the brown sugar, with very strong notes of molasses. In addition, the chocolate flavor increases, as does the vanilla, and a little bit of coconut peeks through (from the bourbon barrel). It definitely sweetens up as the temperature increases. In spite of the high alcohol content, it is not hot or boozy; very drinkable. This is VERY good!! I sampled Abyss from a 22 oz. bomber purchased at Total Wine ($15.99).
Tweak: Avery Brewing, Boulder, CO; 17.5% ABV (2015 release).
Tweak is Avery’s annual release bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout (with coffee added). This is a review of the 2015 vintage. It is typically released in November each year. I sampled Tweak from a 12 oz. bottle purchased at BevMo. I don’t remember the price, but it was expensive for a 12 oz. bottle ($12.99 I think). Oh yeah, it was well worth it!!
Tweak pours midnight black with a 1/2″ beige head that fades after one or two minutes to a small ring around the edge. The aroma is coffee (but not overly bitter) and coconut, with slight vanilla notes. The flavor is sweet chocolate, vanilla and dark fruit, then coffee (again, not bitter) and mocha, fading to coconut and vanilla. The coconut aftertaste lingers forever, then the coffee raises its head again, but the coconut remains.
As Tweak warms, the aroma becomes sweeter on the nose, with more vanilla and less coffee (almost caramel-like). In the mouth, the coffee is more pronounced and the bourbon becomes very subdued until the aftertaste, when it takes over. As it gets to room temperature, the alcohol becomes just a little noticeable in the taste.
The bottle label says this beer is 17.5% ABV. That’s hard to believe. There was no booziness noted in the aroma or flavor (except as described above, when it reached room temperature), BUT it went right to my head. I drank it on an empty stomach, and was cruising the rest of the afternoon. This beer is AWESOME!
Darkstar November: Bottle Logic Brewing, Anaheim, CA; 13.7% ABV (2015 release).
Darkstar November is Bottle Logic’s annual bourbon barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout. This is a review of the 2015 release. For this review I sampled a 22 oz. bottle, purchased at Total Wine ($20.99), but previously tasted it at the Bottle Logic tasting room last year. It is typically available in November and December.
Darkstar November pours opaque black with a 1/4″ cocoa head that fades within a minute to a medium thin ring around the edge. The aroma is sweet, vanilla, oak and alcohol. The flavor is also sweet – dark chocolate, vanilla, dark fruit, and raisins. The sweetness yields to a slight bitterness (hops?) and bitter cocoa, which in turn fades to vanilla, sweet chocolate, then to coconut, which lingers in the aftertaste.
Darkstar November is thick, velvety smooth, and viscous. No alcohol is noted in the mouth, until it warms up. As it warms, the sweet chocolate starts to dominate the flavor and the alcohol becomes a little noticeable on the tongue, although it is not hot or unpleasant. This is a DELICIOUS and easily drinkable dessert beer!
I highly recommend all three of these beers, Abyss, Tweak, and Darkstar November. They are wonderful examples of the barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout style. It’s too bad they have such limited availability. The good news, however: I have posted this review early enough that you can prepare yourself – be sure to start looking for these beers in November when they become available. All of them are fairly expensive beers, but they are worth the price. After all, life is too short to drink crappy beer!