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Eight great imperial stouts

Dark beers for the dark, cold days of winter

(Steve Greenlee/Globe Staff)
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / February 5, 2011

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The imperial stout is the quintessential winter beer. You settle in the house on a cold, snowy night with one of these blacker-than-night monsters and forget about the weeks of frigid temperatures that still loom before you. Full-bodied, deep, rich, and thick, the imperial stout is more like a meal than a beer.

Brewers go overboard with their claims about their imperial stouts — you can eat them with a fork, they will destroy your mouth, and so on. Exaggeration, yes, but there’s no comparing Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout to the likes of Guinness. Your typical Guinness Draught has an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content of 4.2 percent, whereas some of these imperial stouts run upwards of 10 and 13 percent. The flavor, likewise, is two or three times more robust, and the profile can vary wildly from one to the next.

Don’t worry about whether it’s called a Russian imperial stout, an American imperial stout, a double imperial stout, or anything else. Those labels don’t really matter. Just get them while you can. While many brewers churn out their imperial stouts year round, many of the best ones are available only in winter. Who wants to drink a stout on a 90-degree day anyway?

Breakfast Stout

Made by: Founders Brewing Co.

ABV: 8.3 percent

Price: $12 for a four-pack

The beer: Founders doesn’t call this beer an imperial stout, instead labeling it a “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout.’’ Given its blackness, power, and alcohol content, it qualifies as an imperial. Viscous and smooth, this beer smells like a freshly opened bag of French roast coffee beans. Moderately carbonated, it has a full mouthfeel. Well named.

Old Rasputin

Made by: North Coast Brewing Co.

ABV: 9 percent

Price: $9 for a four-pack

The beer: Dark and intense with a nice tan head, Old Rasputin has an oddly floral nose, suggesting it contains more hops than the usual stout. Bitter and highly carbonated, this one is extraordinarily balanced. And because of its reasonable price, it’s a favorite among beer fanatics.

Storm King

Made by: Victory Brewing Co.

ABV: 9.1 percent

Price: $12 for a six-pack

The beer: Another highly hopped imperial stout, Storm King emits notes of flowers and wood. Yet despite its hoppy character, it’s only marginally bitter, with both chocolate and coffee on the taste. The alcohol is well-hidden, making this one highly drinkable strong beer.

Black Chocolate Stout

Made by: Brooklyn Brewery

ABV: 10 percent

Price: $8 for a four-pack

The beer: Dark, dark brown, this one smells of chocolate and alcohol. And alcohol dominates the first sip — and the second, and the third. Molasses and candy sugars are present, but the alcohol overpowers. One heavy, satisfying beer.

Oak Aged Yeti

Made by: Great Divide Brewing Co.

ABV: 9.5 percent

Price: $10 for a 22-ounce bottle

The beer: Aged in oak barrels for 20 months, the beer pours pitch black with a frothy brown head and gives off an aroma of caramel, coffee, vanilla, and surprisingly robust hops. The high alcohol content is masked by a smooth woodiness that hints of burnt wood and roasted coffee beans. More hops arrive toward the finish.

Bourbon County Brand Stout

Made by: Goose Island

ABV: 13 percent

Price: $22 for a four-pack

The beer: Aged in bourbon barrels, Bourbon County Brand Stout develops in the bottle for up to five years. The beer smells like a port, with oak upfront on the nose. Pouring absolutely black with virtually no head, this stout suggests chocolate truffles. Warming and woody, it’s an after-dinner drink, a sipper. One of these, and you’re done.

D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer

Made by: Hoppin’ Frog Brewery

ABV: 10.5 percent

Price: $13 for a 22-ounce bottle

The beer: Its name stands for “double oatmeal Russian imperial stout,’’ and if it sounds aggressive and intimidating, it is. As black and silky as used motor oil, it smells of alcohol and roasted malts. It pours with no head, and you can’t even create a head by swirling it in the glass. Hoppy and bitter — and no surprise, because this one is dry hopped.

Black Albert

Made by: De Struise Brouwers

ABV: 13 percent

Price: $10 for a 11.2-ounce bottle

The beer: The most expensive of these eight beers, Black Albert was created by its Belgian brewer specifically for Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, Maine. As black as tar with a finger of soapy tan head, this is one perfect beer. More like a cross between an imperial stout and a Belgian quad, Black Albert produces an array of aromas and flavors: coffee, caramel, dark fruit, and that distinctive Belgian yeast. Expensive? Yes. Worth the splurge now and then? You bet.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee@globe.com.