BEST IMPERIAL STOUT IN AMERICA

Our Top Ten lists are blowing up the blogosphere, so we’re keeping the momentum going here at Aleheads. While the Pale Ale/IPA/Imperial IPA categories were firmly ensconced in Doc’s hoppy sweet spot, today we’re looking at something in Brother Barley’s wheelhouse: the Best Imperial Stouts in America.

The ground rules for those just tuning in:

  • We’re only looking at American beers. While other countries make some killer Imperials, our focus for these Top Ten lists is strictly Stateside.
  • Only one beer per brewery. Just for the sake of variety.
  • If I haven’t tried it, it can’t go on the list. My apologies Three Floyd’s Dark Lord and Portsmouth’s Kate the Great. Make your beers more available and I have a feeling they’ll rocket to the top of the list. Until then, they’re just footnotes.

I decided to look at Imperial Stouts after Slouch Sixpack and I split a bottle of Smuttynose Imperial Stout courtesy of Doc. While drinking it, I audaciously stated that it was one of the best representations of the style in America. Slouch called me on it and I realized I had to figure out a legit Top Ten list to see where Smutty fell. While it’s certainly one of the best, it actually didn’t make the list. As usual, my bold, unresearched statement had no bearing in reality.

A couple of things to note:

  • There are two generally accepted styles of Imperial Stout: American/Double Imperial Stouts and Russian Imperial Stouts. The differences are fairly subtle and for the purposes of this list, they’ll be considered one and the same. Basically, any high-ABV stout would qualify for my list.
  • North Coast’s Old Rasputin was my cut-off point. Anything I consider “better” than that beer is in my Top Ten. Anything worse failed to make the cut. I should point out that there are dozens of amazingly delicious Imperial Stouts out there. In my opinion, this is the hardest beer style to cull down to a Top Ten list. But that’s why they pay me the big bucks…

10. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: The best offering from the fine brewers at Goose Island. Nothing barrel-ages like an Imperial Stout and this sucker delivers notes of bourbon and charred oak better than any other (except for the awe-inspiring #2 on my list).

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9. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout: One of my first Aleheads Tasting Notes and one of the best dark beers out there. The name is a misnomer…no chocolate in this brew. Just beautifully blended malts that create a smooth, well-roasted, highly drinkable brew. It also cellars extremely well…as do all of the beers on this list.

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8. Southern Tier Choklat: Unlike the Brooklyn offering, the high point of Southern Tier’s Blackwater Series definitely has chocolate in it. As close to dessert as you can get and still call it beer, the Choklat is lush, rich, and frighteningly tasty. Sure, it’s a bit more cloying than the other brews in the Top Ten, but sometimes you want a beer that satisfies your sweet tooth and still gets you drunk.

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7. Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout: I have been accused, with good reason, of pimping Terrapin’s brews a little too enthusiastically. But in the case of the C.O.I.S., my exuberance is fully justified. This is the perfect Coffee Stout. Perfect balance of coffee and malt. Perfect espresso/caramel nose. Perfect mouthfeel. And perfectly drinkable.

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6. Oskar Blues Ten FIDY: Pours like motor oil out of its distinct black and silver can. As viscous as beer gets and so flavorful you can’t believe that Dale Katechis managed to pack this much punch into a plebeian little aluminum vessel. This is the beer that convinced many an Alehead that canned craft beers are the wave of the future.

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5. Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti: All the Yeti varieties are excellent. The basic, Espresso, and Chocolate versions each add an interesting wrinkle to the Imperial Stout style. But Great Divide’s Oak-Aged offering is their gold standard. The barrel aging mellows out all of the sharp points and leaves an incredibly well-balanced, subtle, and inspiring Imperial that plays as smooth as Clapton across your palate.

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4. AleSmith Speedway Stout: Countering the smooth notes of Great Divide’s Oak-Aged Yeti is the brash, bold flavor of the AleSmith Speedway Stout. Perennially one of the top Stouts in America, the Speedway is big in every way. Big hops, big malt, big ABV, and big, rich taste. Only a few other Imperial Stouts smack you in the mouth like AleSmith’s entry…

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3. Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher: …and this is one of them. B.O.R.I.S. takes no prisoners. Doc and I split our first bomber of the Crusher together and we were both blown away. Like drinking a beer roller coaster. Every taste crescendos at different points as it “crushes” your palate in a cavalcade of flavors. It’s dense, chewy, and surprisingly drinkable. A masterpiece from the brilliant brewers in Akron.

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2. Founders KBS: One of the few beers to leave me speechless (if you’ve listened to our Podcasts, you know how amazing that is). I’ve never had a beer this complex. While most beers throw three or four major aromas and flavors at you, the KBS has dozens. Vanilla, coffee, bourbon, caramel, toffee, molasses, toasted oak…you name it, and Founders manages to sneak it into this beer. This is a game-changing brew. The kind that can convince the most obstinate “Stout-Skeptics” that dark beers are the very definition of good drinkin’.

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1. Deschutes The Abyss: Have you ever had a beer that you wish you could taste again for the first time? That’s The Abyss for me. I’ll admit that I’m partial to Imperial Stouts. And faithful readers know that I’m biased in favor of the Deschutes brewery. But the question of my subjectivity really doesn’t matter here. The Abyss is the top-rated stout on BeerAdvocate…the #4 beer overall. It has everything you could ever want in the style, plus so much more. Pungent, dark stone fruits and wonderfully rich spices intermingle with the dominant notes of chocolate and coffee. The alcohol is brilliantly incorporated and it drinks as smooth and easy as an 11% ABV beer has any right to. The best Imperial Stout in America? I certainly think so.

What say you, Alehead Nation? How does my list stack up to yours? Please share your favorites, because when it comes to Imperial Stouts…I’m always game for suggestions.

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16 comments

  1. Magnus Skullsplitter · ·

    Your list is pretty close to spot-on, though I would probably change the order some (I’m a huge fan of the Goose Island). The only addition I might have is the Green Flash Double Stout, which I’ve only had once but thoroughly enjoyed. I have yet to try the Abyss (since Beerford still refuses to send me any beers) so I would go with the KBS at number one. I last had that in May while in Louisville, and though I know the Kentucky Breakfast Stout is actually brewed in Michigan, drinking it in Kentucky with a side of Pappy Van Winkle just seems like the best way to go with it.

  2. Totally agree with Magnus, that’s as close as you’re ever going to get to a perfect Top 10. The only beer I would trade would be the Southern Tier Choklat for their Jahva Coffee Stout (Which used to be my favorite coffee stout until Brother Barely blessed me with a bottle of the Terrapin offering). I’m not a huge fan of dessert beers and the chocolate is rather cloying. Maybe I’d toss in Dogfish Worldwide Stout since it’s my favorite high-octane beer of all time, but that’s almost pushing the boundaries of this list as no one needs an 18% ABV beer in their Top 10 of anything.

    Wish I could add more, but that’s a phenomenal lineup that doesn’t need much tinkering. I expected nothing less from your favorite style, Brother.

  3. Magnus Skullsplitter · ·

    I kinda want to see Doc’s “Top 10 beers of 15%+ ABV” just so I have a bucket list.

  4. That’s a pretty easy list for me. I think I’ve only HAD 10 beers over 15% ABV. Except for the Dave, they all come from just three breweries. In no particular order:

    Hair of the Dog Dave
    Sam Adams Utopia
    Sam Adams Millenium
    Avery Mephistopheles
    Avery The Beast
    Avery Samael’s Ale
    Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
    Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
    Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine
    Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra

  5. Oh wait…I forgot about the Sam Adams Triple Bock. But since it’s essentially just a bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, I’m not including it.

  6. Beerford · ·

    Magnus, do you even have an address to which I could send you beer? I thought you were living in YoRicky Ricardo’s (beautifully appointed) stairwell or something.

  7. Magnus Skullsplitter · ·

    Hah – glad to see someone listens to the podcasts. No, I’ve reestablished the Skullsplitter croft on the island of Manhattan. And yet, I still hate the Manhattan real estate market. Go figure.

    Brother Barley, I remember drinking that Triple Bock with you during Kappygate 2000. It poured like oil sludge, if I remember correctly.

  8. Thanks for the post idea, Magnus. As soon as I finish my “Top 10 American Stouts” for tomorrow I’ll get working on the booze-bag 15%+ list.

  9. [...] new posts up.  The good Brother Barley finally got to post a Top 10 of his favorite beer style, Imperial Stouts, so now is the time to post the follow-up with the rest of the Stouts in America.  You’ll [...]

  10. Beerford · ·

    Magnus, I just ran into the Green Flash Double Stout this weekend, and I concur. It was freaking delicious, and poured like the fluid you’d get if you wrung Slouch Sixpack’s soul into a pint glass (black and thick as purest hatred).

  11. [...] and Quads.   You’ll notice some names from our Best Barleywine, Best Imperial IPA, and Best Imperial Stout lists but there’s a few brews that are first-timers.  The reason that some of these beers [...]

  12. [...] in it. And it’s one of the all time great Imperial Stouts. Also, after I wrote my Top Ten Imperial Stout list (and put the Goose Island at #10), he quickly commented to note that while it was a [...]

  13. Phillyboy · ·

    I realize it has been forever since this thread was created but I am just not coming across it.

    Have you had Weyerbacher Old Heathen or Heresy? I would be curious to know where you rank those compared to your list…

  14. Phillyboy, I’ve had the Heresy a few times. It’s a very enjoyable beer, but a little TOO much oak-flavor seeps through in the finish for my tastes. I prefer barrel-aged Imperial Stouts that pick up some of the wood without smacking you over the head with it. That said, I haven’t had the non-aged version (the Old Heathen) and I suspect I would love it. Weyerbacher always does a nice job with their “big” beers.

    I should also point out that since creating this list, I’ve sampled the Three Floyds Dark Lord, Old Rasputin XII, and Cigar City Hunaphu. In other words, this Top Ten list is now worthless.

  15. [...] stellar brewery could have its everyday offering (i.e. not the spin-offs and one-offs) ranked #3 on Brother Barley’s list of top 10 Russian Imperial Stouts. If you’re lucky enough to get BORIS on draught, you’ll find a pint glass that light cannot [...]

  16. [...] two biggest “prestige” beer styles in the craft world these days are DIPAs and Imperial Stouts. Imperial Red Ales split the difference between those two on the malt-hop spectrum which explains [...]

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