This is a tricky one, a limited edition Imperial Stout made exclusively for Total Wine and More in the US.
Limited to just 10,000 bottles, I understand there are 75 branches of Total Wine, and doing the math there should be over 100 bottles per store.
And a few that didn’t quite make it across the Atlantic.
The label is drawn by Johanna Basford who describes herself as an ‘Ink Evangelist’. Her images are intricate and complex, and this features matryoshka dolls, traditional Russian ‘onion’ cupola’d buildings, and an owl, possibly alluding to Imperial Faberge eggs… the label reads “all full bodied taste, this opulent whirl of hops and malt even rivals the most colourful of imperial Faberge eggs, originally created to celebrate the Russian royal family. This beer is a fitting tribute with which to toast your own empire” yeah right!
Perceived wisdom, and indeed this brew’s label, would have it that Imperial Russian Stouts were brewed with extra potency “to avoid freezing during its journey across the Baltic sea to snowy Moscow.” However an article on the scarily well informed Zythophile site (here) pours scorn on that particular legend. But why let the truth ruin an entertaining piece of beer folklore?
It pours pitch black – there’s a glimmer of garnet from a halogen light, but barely a glimmer, topped by a rich coffee coloured head that’s reluctant to disperse, leaving lavish lacing (like the alliteration guys? That’s what comes of watching Charles Dickens on TV while tasting this stuff).
The nose is bitter, slightly sour, with bitter coffee to the fore and an underlying hint of something fruity, maybe dark cherries, maybe liquorice – the hard, dark, ‘Bassetti’, bitter kind (do you guys have that in the States?), not the flaccid, sweet stuff.
The first sip comes through very,very sharp, causing an involuntary shudder, but once through that sharpness, subsequent sips reveal a deep coffee bitterness, with hints of burnt toast. It’s rich and warming, although perhaps less than the 8.2% ABV might suggest. Bring it on!
Similarly, it’s not quite as full bodied as I would expect for a ‘stout’, a bit like a post-mix cola that’s got slightly more soda than it should, if you get my drift.
And for that reason I’m giving this 4½ stars, it’s good, very good, but not quite great.
So, how did I get my hands on a bottle (or two)?
Well if one were to check the label of this particular brew and learn that it was ‘gently crafted by hand in Scotland’ there might be a clue in there. But I couldn’t possibly comment 😉
Mind you a visit to Total Wine, if you’re in the area, might reveal some other interesting Scottish craft brews!
Bob the Brit