Stout was first brewed during the Industrial Revolution in England and Ireland as a high-alcohol variety of porter. Guinness dominates the scene today, but more and more craft breweries are creating their own take on this black and potent brew.
Imperial stout, so called because it was a favorite of the Russian czars, is an even more alcoholic version and in many ways can be called a barleywine. Notable examples include Gonzo from Flying Dog and Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues.
With an opaque black color and creamy brown foam, Golden City’s Cuvée Imperial Stout looks like a strong shot of espresso, and at 9% alcohol, it is no less potent. An 8-ounce glass will set you back $5, or you can opt for a smaller glass as part of the $7 sampler plate. Cuvée is set apart from other imperial stouts by aging it in old oak whiskey barrels for nine months. This really shines through with a pungent whiskey scent along with traces of oats and raspberry.
The flavor is similarly dominated by whiskey, with hints of vanilla and cherry. Other barrel-aged barleywines such as Palo Santo Marrón from Dogfish Head also exhibit similar fruit and spice notes. Also present are a tannin bitterness from the oak reminiscent of dry red wine and taste of dark baker’s chocolate from the roasted malt. It is not overly sweet, but with all the complex flavors present it cannot be called well-balanced either. Hop bitterness is slight, but noticeable, while oats add smoothness and body.
A unique and special beer, Cuvée is worth a try if you already like stouts, strong beers, barleywines, or barrel-aged beer; or if you’re simply feeling adventurous. It is not something I would drink every day, but rather save for special occasions. I have had better imperial stouts and better wood-aged beer, but never in this unique combination. I give it an A- overall: not the best, but darn good.
Historical information from The Brewmaster’s Bible by Stephen N. Snyder. Published by HarperCollins, 1997, New York.