This beer is listed at 10.8% alcohol. That's high. Very high. That's "grab his keys, he just drank another one" high. Leave it to Stone to craft such a monster of an alcohol container as its Imperial Russian Stout. How could they not offer something so bold, that's what they do. This is the brewery that offers beers with names such as "Ruination" and "Arrogant Bastard'. Even the "Smoked" Porter is probably a reference to getting whacked like a mobster, offed, taken out.
As for the Imperial Russian Stout, this beer is no secret. It has been rated as No. 2 on the "Best Beers on Earth" list by BeerAdvocate. It delivers the goods. I got to try one on day one of Stone's ballyhooed arrival here in the Windy City. The Twisted Spoke bar was one of the first event locations during Stone Week. By the time I got there, I had missed Stone owner Greg Koch by an hour or so. He had moved on to get a burger at Kuma's. He left behind twenty taps of his bold, unique, interesting, confrontational, take-notice beers for public consumption at $6 a glass.
It was a rowdy evening at the Spoke. Stone's arrival prompted a heightened sense of excitement. Asian porn "adorned" the big screen tvs. Some guy was helping a girl whose boyfriend, a non-customer, went ballistic. Another girl was telling a bartender of the nasty kiss off she gave her ex. People were smiling, drinking, laughing loudly. These types of excitement are metaphors for what awaits you when you open a Stone: you get in-your-face, notice me, but exceedingly enjoyable beers.
As for the Russian Stout, I was worried that I had missed out because they ran out of its barrel aged incarnation. There was nothing to fear. The bartender poured me a sizeable portion in a snifter that fanned out at the top. She poured it in stages to get rid of the foam but leave a head. The beer poured a dark tan, bulbous head. It smelled of coffee, chocolate, molasses, maybe liqueur. The initial taste of the thick, black viscous substance is mellow with a bit of coffee or licorice. Thereafter, it really kicks in and stalls on the back of your palate. A huge, heavy molasses and bitter dark chocolate flavor pervades. The beer has a heavy but silky mouthfeel, perhaps a slightly creamy hot chocolate texture. The finish takes eons to disintegrate and moves at the speed of plate tectonics. Certainly, a San Diego denizen such as anyone at Stone's headquarters near the San Andreas Fault can appreciate that.
As a whole, it's a large beer but well balanced. Enough hops hold it together but they never get in the way, and everything is well integrated, the roasted malts, the hint of sweetness, the coffee and chocolate flavors.
PROS: This would be a great way to settle down after an earthquake. You'll feel relaxed and lose your jitters after drinking this one.
CONS: If you drank too many of these pre-quake, you'll feel very little motivation to evacuate the building.
VERDICT: An exceptional beer. Just not one conducive to consumption proximate to seismic activity.
RATING: * * * * 1/2 stars. Elegant , superlative, refined, but still carries Stone's trademark boldness.