Also check out our Let’s Talk Beer Styles: Imperial Stout companion piece, where we dive into the history of Russian imperial stout, and whether there’s actually anything “Russian” about what you’re drinking today.
The last time we tasted (non-barrel aged) imperial stouts it was January of 2015, a full two years ago, only a few months after I’d arrived at Paste. At the time, the fact that we’d assembled 37 imperial stouts to drink seemed like an absurd feat—what, we have to do three whole days of tasting? Who’s got the time???
Well, fast forward two years of Paste beer coverage, and it’s now a whopping 102 imperial freakin’ stouts, and once again, that’s including zero barrel aged or wood aged beers of any kind … because we’re doing those in February. Which is insane, because we were definitely feeling the effects of THIS group, let alone the barrel aged behemoths that are coming. So what I’m saying is: Pray for the Paste staff in February, won’t you? We appreciate it.
This year’s batch of stouts brought us flavors of every possible description and origin. We had coffee stouts, oatmeal stouts, vanilla stouts, maple stouts, sour stouts, mole stouts, peppermint stouts, coconut stouts, fruited stouts, peanut butter stouts, hoppy stouts, peppermint stouts and more. To say that it was a challenge to taste so many different things in a blind setting is an understatement. We had some world-renowned stouts, award-winning beers, and totally unheralded brews that ended up dominating the competition. We pretty much saw it all.
So let’s waste no more time, and get right into it.
A Note on Beer Acquisition
Like every other blind-tasting at Paste, we acquire these beers in a variety of ways. Most are sent in directly by the breweries when we send out a call for that style. Others we’re able to purchase directly because they’re available in Georgia. In the end, we’re at the mercy of press contacts and seasonal availability. Sometimes, we simply can’t get a beer that we know we should have, either because it’s out of season or because the brewery chooses not to participate. As such, despite the fact that the title says “best,” the most accurate title is simply “We blind-tasted 102 imperial stouts, and here’s what happened.”
Ultimately, there’s no way I can adequately communicate the amount of hours that goes into each of these tastings. For this particular one, I visited six different liquor stores while searching for a particular stout that was important for us to have, only for it to not even make the ranked section of the list in the blind tasting. Other times, important beers don’t arrive for reasons completely out of our control. For this one, our friends at Grimm Artisanal Ales in NYC shipped us two stouts—including the 2015 GABF gold medal winner, Double Negative—only for UPS to lose track of the package en route. As of this article’s publish date, it STILL hasn’t been located. So we missed out on a GABF gold medal winner in this tasting just because of the incompetence of a parcel delivery service. This is the kind of stuff that affects each and every tasting.
Rules and Procedure
— There was no ABV limit for this tasting, for obvious reasons. All beers had to be labeled as “stout”—no imperial porters, which I disallowed because I figured if we accepted “imperial porter,” then we would probably have to accept “Baltic porter,” and then we’re only a step away from accepting imperial schwarzbiers, etc.
— There was no limit of entries per brewery, but I did disallow the occasional beer for being too similar to another entry. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.
— Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, professional brewers and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.
— Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP tasting.
The Field: Imperial Stouts #s 102-41
At this point, it feels like I always seem to write a disclaimer here, explaining that we quite enjoyed most of the beers in The Field, but this is especially true for imperial stout. Because really: The typical brewery’s imperial stout is a pretty tasty thing, and something we’d be happy to drink any Friday night (or Monday morning).
What I did note was that, as expected, the cream of the “best-made” stouts rose to the top, regardless of whether they had various adjuncts. There were coffee stouts, vanilla stouts, coconut stouts, fruited stouts, etc., that all ended up in the field, and plenty of regular old “Russian imperial stouts” that made the ranked portion. I’m a big believer that the best pure beers rise to the top.
The beers below in The Field are listed in alphabetical order, and are thus not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
4 Hands Brewing Co. Bonafide Secret Stash
4 Noses Brewing Laika Boss
18th Street Brewery Hunter
18th Street Brewery Vanilla Hunter
Bent Hill Brewery Imperial Maple Stout
Boneyard Beer Co. Suge Knight
Brewery Vivant Tart Side of the Moon
Bridgeport Brewing Siren’s Sound
Cigar City Vanilla Hazelnut Marshal Zhukov
Clown Shoes Blaecorn Unidragon
Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast
Duck Rabbit Rabid Duck
Evil Twin Brewing Even More Jesus
Founders Breakfast Stout
Fremont Brewing Dark Star
Frost Beer Works Heavy
Fulton Beer Worthy Adversary
Funky Buddha Brewery, I’m So Excited, I’m So Scared
Funky Buddha Brewery Nikolai Vorlauf
Great Divide Brewing Co. Yeti
Great Lakes Brewing Co. Blackout Stout
Great Notion Brewing Stacks of Coconut
Hoppin’ Frog D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer
Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) Motherland
Intuition Ale Works King St. Stout
Iron Hill Russian Imperial Stout
Iron John’s Brewing Co. Black Hearted Mary
Left Hand Brewing Wake Up Dead
North Coast Old Rasputin
Ratio Beerworks Genius Wizard
Real Ale Commissar
Reformation Brewery Declaration
Rhinegeist Brewery Ink
River North Brewery Avarice
River North Brewery Nightmare Fuel
River North Brewery Shadowman
Second Self Beer Co. Old Oyle
Sierra Nevada Narwhal
Silver City Brewery Time Traveler
Sixpoint Bolshoi Imperial Stout
Smog City Brewing Co. The Nothing
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers Scarface Imperial Stout
Spider Bite Beer Co. Boris the Spider
Spiteful Brewing Corporate Party
Starr Hill Brewery Double Bass
Stevens Point Whole Hog Russian Imperial Stout
Stone Give Me Stout Or Give Me Death
Stone Russian Imperial Stout
Swamp Head Brewery Catherine’s Passion Russian Imperial Stout
Tallgrass Brewing Co. King Buffalo
Tallgrass Brewing Co. One Eyed Jacques
Two Brothers Brewing Northwind Imperial Stout
Two Roads Brewing Co. Unorthodox Russian Imperial Stout
Upland Brewing Co. Teddy Bear Kisses
Valiant Brewing Co. Chernyy Medved
Victory Brewing Co. Storm King Stout
WeldWerks Brewing Co. Coffee Coconut Stout
WeldWerks Brewing Co. Mexican Achromatic
WeldWerks Brewing Co. Peanut Butter Cup Achromatic
Weyerbacher Brewing Co. Sunday Mole Stout
Wormtown Brewery Sweet Tats
Wren House Brewing Co. Deuce of Clubs
Next: The ranked beers! Stouts #s 40-21