Thursday, June 7, 2012

Founders Imperial Stout (Review)

I've always been more of a defender of book cover-judging than most, but especially when it comes to beer. The first beer I ever liked was North Coast's Russian Imperial Stout Old Rasputin, which I ordered solely because of its name. The double headed eagle on this gorgeous Founders Imperial Stout similarly heralds glad tidings.

Since the exquisite Cask Republic opened in New Haven in early 2011 I've been spending ever more of my bar budget (read: the contents of my wallet not earmarked for other poisons) on imperial IPAs, since they tend to have a lower price-to-ABV ratio than my beloved dark beers. Now that I'm back on Long Island for a bit, I visited the local beer distributor and picked up a pack of these babies, having had only the best experiences with Founders (the Dirty Bastard in particular comes to mind).

Like going back to vodka after a semester of bourbon, my very first sip reminded me why my heart lies far east of the Rhine*.

This stuff pours like motor oil-- some dark elixir of bitterness meted out in small vials during the reign of Richard III, flowing like an endless silk handkerchief from a felled magician's sleeve into the glass. I didn't have the proper glassware for it (something more akin to a brandy snifter is more appropriate), but I didn't mind, since the smaller circumference of the glass kept the head alive for quite a while. This thing is chewy and resilient; the head's got a deep caramel color to it and looks so solid I could float a wafer on it (actually, I probably could have).

With 90 IBUs this stout isn't for the faint of heart-- I've never had a beer so bitter I didn't like it, so I was in heaven. Have you ever had a really strong dark chocolate, like 70 or 80% cocoa? If you didn't like that, I'm not sure you'd like this. It's 10.5% ABV so if you're used to weaker beers, prepare yourself-- it goes down pretty easy, although as it warms up in the glass the ethanol does assert itself a little more. Beers like this should be served at what's called "cellar temperature" (50-55 degrees), so if you're looking for something to cool yourself off in these June days go find a pilsner or something (I've always found a nice maibock works well, personally).

Make sure you give this a proper smell (this is where the brandy snifter is helpful)-- as any wine or beer snob will tell you, scent strongly affects taste, so if you just go at it without acclimating your olfactories you're missing out.

There's not much carbonation here, in keeping with its overall weight, and this isn't a beer to rush through, or to accompany food. If you think Guinness is heavy, well, you're downright mistaken-- I can tackle a Guinness and a burger easily, but this one's gonna demand your full attention, and you won't be sorry to give it. Particularly toward the end it almost recalled some barleywines I've had in terms of mouth feel, so if you like a poppy beer this brew's not for you. If you like Guinness, you might still enjoy this beer, but be warned: dry and/or Irish stouts are lighter in about everything but color (lower ABV, less bitter, less heavy), so while I'll never sway anyone from trying an excellent beer, you might want to work your way up to this one.

In 2010 this beer took home the bronze for American-Style Imperial Stouts in the World Beer Cup, in case it's pedigree you're after. I read it described somewhere as "a contemplative beer", and I can't say I disagree-- it's a lot to take in, and while I've had more than one in a sitting before I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. The flavors and weight can get overpowering after a while, and now that I'm on my second six-pack of the stuff in two weeks I think it's best when balanced out by a nice simple ale, or even cider.

Happy drinking, folks-- maybe next time I won't review something horribly out-of-season.

PS: For those curious, I did graduate. Onward and upward, I suppose.

*"Russian Imperial Stouts" come from England. Also this is technically an American-Style Imperial Stout, but I won't say anything if you won't.

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