Appearance: Pitch black with a tight cap of mocha-colored foam
Aroma: Roasted coffee beans with a waft of smoke laid on top. Breathe deep and you'll get some spicy hops along with touch of anise.
Taste: One sip and I found myself reduced to mono-syllables: smoky, silky, coffee, sweet, and just plain ol' good. So good that I just kept taking sip after sip, emptying my glass before I realized it was gone. (My advice: buy two bottles.)
The malts are as rich and roasted as freshly-ground coffee, and the woodsy hop flavors add just the right balance of bitterness without actually...well, making it bitter. As it warms, more burnt sugar and herbal notes emerge, especially that sweet licorice flavor. The beer is silky and smooth, but with just enough carbonation to tickle the tongue.
By the by, Stone Brewing Co has also released a version of this beer that they steeped in oak chips and whole star anise pods, and then finished with a bit of Belgian yeast. Look for it labeled Stone BELGO Anise Imperial Russian Stout. I have a bottle on my shelf, and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to share it.
Food Pairings: I'd recommend trying this one on its own first, but the smoky notes in this beer make it a perfect choice for barbecue.
Have you tried this Imperial Russian Stout yet?
(Image: Emma Christensen)