Breweries brew all kinds of beer, but only a few produce exceptional imperial stouts time and time again. Often, they use one base imperial stout in their aging and barreling programs, but other times they add ingredients to alter the flavor one way or another. These are the five best breweries at producing series of imperial stouts.
(Note – I considered including non-imperial stouts, but the list became too unwieldy and I tend to prefer imperial stouts this time of year. Had I gone with all stouts, Bells would have surely deserved a mention. Their imperial is excellent and their lineup of non-imp stouts is impressive.)
5. Mikkeller – Between the Black Hole series and all those Beer Geek Breakfast/Brunch beers, it’s hard to find a more intriguing set of imperial stouts. Add to that one of the better big beers I’ve had this year in Black, Mikkeller holds the title of best Danish/Gypsy brewer of imperial stouts all by himself.
4. Great Divide – Sometimes, it becomes easy to overlook the great beers that do regularly ship to one’s market. We get Great Divide here in Missouri which is a treat. Their Yeti series of imperial stouts is pretty impressive. They add chocolate, oak, Belgian yeast, etc. for a nice lineup of tasty imp stouts.
3. Three Floyds – I have had one Dark Lord in my lifetime and it was pretty great. If you look at any beer rating site, the top imperial stouts list is littered with variations of this one beer. This fact makes it hard to not rate it in my top-5, but the fact I’ve only personally had one bottle makes it even more difficult to rate it higher than the next two breweries.
2. Goose Island – GI is famous for a couple of things. One is the fact that they were bought out by ABI. The second is that they brew Bourbon County Stout. On it’s own, BCS is an incredible beer. However, GI does several versions that are hard to get, but if you do, it’s totally worth it. On top of that, they sell the base imperial stout used to age in those bourbon barrels known as Big John. Let’s hope the first fact mentioned here doesn’t interfere with the second.
1. Founders – Even beyond all the hype built for the release of Canadian Breakfast Stout in bottles this year, Founders brews a mean lineup of imperial stouts. The breakfast stout is the only beer with coffee (aside from some of the Mikkeller beers) that I will regularly buy. Then, there’s Kentucky Bourbon Stout and their “regular” imperial stout. Plus, there are periodically versions of these beers popping up here and there in kegs all over the Midwest. All of this make Founders the king of the imperial stout, IMO.
Southern Tier – The Darkwater Series is hard to deny. Check out Chokolat, Creme Brullee, Mocha, and Java for four of the tastiest dessert beers you’ll ever find.
Hoppin’ Frog – I haven’t gotten far into the Frog’s BORIS series, but what I’ve had is pretty good. It would help if they had a wider distribution in Missouri, but I can wait for periodic shipments from Ohio now and again. Rumor has it that a DORIS is coming my way.
Alesmith – Alesmith’s Speedway stout is a pretty grand imperial, but I just haven’t had enough of it or any of its variations to be able to report on it. Plus, although well-hyped in its own right, it just doesn’t hold the cachet of a Three Floyds yet.
I am here to help you with your Thanksgiving music and beer pairings to insure a happy and enjoyable turkey dinner. That and I’m filling space until this post-a-day thing is over…
Indie Rock Thanksgiving
Here are five albums you should consider playing during Thanksgiving dinner. To some, this list may look “boring,” but to those I suggest that maybe we don’t want to rock out with our cocks out or balls to the wall, so to speak. Maybe this Thanksgiving, we want to be calm and reflective. That and my wife doesn’t want anything loud playing during dinner.
Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature
Quietly haunting and intense, this record will carry the day with this unnerving feel that have you bobbing your head slightly. However, no one will notice as the quiet, hushed tones of Mr. Gonzalez will feed your soul the way turkey cannot. That and it reminds me of fall.
Nick Drake – Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake
I usually shy away from compilations or best-of albums, but this one is done right as a retrospective of Drake’s career. Throughout, feelings of the oncoming death of winter are prevalent at all periods in Drake’s catalog. His low whisper is pleasant enough not to interrupt dinner conversations, but his masterful guitar playing provides fodder over the table.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
I had Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times in Wisconsin. This is what it sounded like (aside from the joyous times spent eating and getting drunk). The first time I made the trip up there, it was the last time I traveled anywhere with an old girlfriend. So, I can relate to Bon Iver’s dumping, the one that led to this album happening.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
I needed a woman mixed in here somewhere, but so many of the women I listen to are much to strong to play as background music at dinner. It’s hard to find a strong conviction in any music without interrupting the dinner. Nico’s somberness while being backed by the Velvet Underground pairs nicely with the whispery fellows on this list. That and it reminds me of Wes Anderson films that always look good at Thanksgiving.
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
This album may be a little more bombastic than those above, but that tone fits with a raucous dinner that feels festive once familial tensions break over bread. Still, this is Beirut’s best album. It should be listened to during any feast.
Also: Sufjan Steven’s Come on Feel the Illinoise, Pavement’s Terror Twilight, Feist’s The Reminder, Beach House’s Teen Dream, Iron and Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, Cat Power’s What Would the Community Think
Craft Beer Thanksgiving
Here are suggestions for each course of your Thanksgiving meal. There’s a style of beer as well as my favorite for the day. I’ll also tack on a couple of other beers that fit the profile. I’m basing this mostly on how my Thanksgivings usually go. This year will be different, but I think I can still keep up this pace.
Pre-game Warm-up: Lager (really, any kind) – Victory Prima Pils
The idea here is to awaken the senses without getting too drunk before you start. The light, effervescence of a well-carbonated lager can get your taste buds properly primed for the feast to come. I usually crack open the first one while I fire up the smoker.
Alternatives: Coney Island Lager, Great Lakes Brewing Company Dortmunder Gold Lager, Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Cheese/Appetizer Course: India Pale Ale – Firestone Walker Double Jack Double IPA
Cheeses tend to carry with them strong, pungent flavors and aromas that challenge any palate. The best beer to match a strong cheese is an IPA or DIPA. Even with softer, lighter cheeses, I find a west coast IPA brings enough fruity character that neither cheese nor beer is lost in the other. Plus, I just like IPA’s.
Alternatives: New Belgium Ranger IPA, Stone Cali-Belgique Belgian IPA, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
Main Course: Belgian Quadrupel – St. Bernardus Abt 12
We typically serve a smoked turkey which packs the juicy flavors we want in our Thanksgiving turkey as well as substantial smokiness. The malty Quad matches and stands up to the smoke like few other beers can. The dark fruit flavors in the beer pair with almost any food like a red wine does, but better. The Quad is the only way to go when it comes to turkey dinner.
Alternatives: Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend, Boulevard The Sixth Glass, Straffe Hendrick Quadrupel
Dessert: Russian Imperial Stout – Schlafly Reserve Russian Imperial Stout
Dessert is going to be something chocolaty, fruity, or pumpkin/sweet potato. Russian Imperial Stouts bring coffee, bourbon, and chocolate to match and/or pair with any of these desserts. Or you could just sip on one of these beers alone for dessert. It’s the same thing.
Alternatives: Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Mikkeller Black, Hoppin Frog B.O.R.I.S The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Digestif: American Barleywine – Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine
Barleywines feature a sweetness and hop bitterness thats nice to sip, not guzzle. Of course, after all this food, sipping yourself off to sleep might be the way to go.
Alternatives: Avery Hog Heaven, He’Brew Genesis 15:15, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale
What will you be drinking? What will be playing on your record player (or iPod)? Do tell. Also, be sure to point out my faulty reasoning.
Beer is in the blog’s title, so I should give it space. Last week was American Craft Beer Week. I took full advantage in exploring the many ways one enjoys craft beers1. Granted, my celebration was more than a week, but that’s the time I needed in order to fully experience all that one does with craft beer.
It all began where many American craft brewers began. A friend2 and I devised a recipe for a strong dark Belgian ale while drinking a few Belgians along the way. A lot of the best craft brewers started out brewing their own after discovering the many possibilities for beer in Belgium. We threw back three nice beers over cheese and crackers while pouring through books and websites that would help us formulate our brew, which is tentatively called “Belgian Budweiser”. However, if the lawyers at InBev and I have any say, that moniker will change3.
The following day was a rainy afternoon where I found myself in front of a Wallace & Gromit marathon with my daughter. In order to fight off the cold, rainy weather, I sipped on a Great Divide Oak-aged Yeti. We beer geeks love our imperial stouts, but we love them even more when the vanilla-like esters are released from the oak barrels4.
A friend stopped by a little later to share an Avery Maharaja, his favorite beer. His love for batch 9 carried him through a somewhat disappointing batch 10 last year in hopes batch 11 would not let us down. It didn’t. Upon finishing the hoppy, mango-like nectar, I pulled out one of those batch 10’s just for a comparison beer geeks refer to as a “vertical”. Batch 10 was still the lesser beer, but I have to say it’s fared well over the last year.
Officially, American Craft Beer Week started with a happy hour on Monday at one of the preferred watering holes here in Columbia, Sycamore5. Though small, the bottle and tap lists are loaded with the best that Missouri distributors can conjure6 . Of course, the best part of any happy hour is the conversation. Folks I knew from the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts as well as a few people I met on Twitter7.
The week also called for some travel. My daughter and I flew to Ohio for a couple of days in order to celebrate my grandparents’ 90th birthdays. Of course, there were beer stops after landing in Columbus. I dropped some cash at Palmer’s and Weiland’s for some nice out-of-market brews. Another mark of beer geekdom is our commitment to beer tourism. Even when we don’t go on a trip specifically for the beer, we’re always sure to pick up something not available in our home states.
I didn’t just buy; I consumed. A Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale8 paired well with my North Star Thai burrito. Jeni’s Ice Cream supplied me with both a Kona Stout ice cream as well as a Cherry Lambic Sorbet to go along with my scoop of Buckeye State. There was some Great Lakes’ Commodore Perry IPA waiting for me at my parents’ place. We followed that with my own Wowee Zowee.
Maybe the best part of craft beer geekery is finding a hidden treasure. On our way to my folk’s place after the birthday party, we hit a small town drive-through for some beverages, hoping I didn’t have to break into my haul from Columbus just yet. Luckily, this was Ohio and Great Lakes beers are everywhere. Bernie’s Drive-Thru in Bellefontaine had four packs of the Lake Erie Monster. This beer had to be maybe the best of the week and possibly year. It’s one balanced imperial IPA. So hoppy, but with a strong malt backbone. I would have finished the four pack on my own had it not been a 9.1% boozer of a beer.
The return home brought more beer over the weekend. It was also stifling hot9, weather so hot that it motivated my wine-drinking partner to request a beer. Out came the New Glarus Belgian Red, as cherry a beer as I’ve ever had. Despite its girlie fruitiness, this beer hit the spot after a long day of travel through the near-90 degree weather.
A friend showed up10 for dinner and we cracked open a local/STL brew by Schlafly. The Grand Cru was chosen as a beer that would pair well with the shrimp and saffron over homemade pasta we had slated for dinner. It did go nicely and I finished the night off with one of my Ohio imports, a Dogfish Head Immort Ale11.
The following day saw us smoking meats all day long. I opted for a standard go-to beer to split among three of us. Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid is just that kind of beer. And at $4, the price is definitely right.
That evening also happened to be the series finale of Lost12. I volunteered our house guest to join me in my second vertical tasting of the week. We sipped on Dogfish Head World Wide Stouts from 2007 and 2008. The ’07 was quite phenomenal: complex, smooth, boozy. The ’08 was pretty great as well, but it had a strong coffee thing going and some of its fizz gave it more mouth feel. Of course, after drinking 12 oz. worth of an 18% ABV beer, who knows if I remember the details accurately.
The long “week” that was dedicated to American craft beer ended appropriately13 at a local brewery where the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts gathered some of our favorite pale ales and IPA’s for a tasting14. The bottles were passed quickly around the table, nearly knocking me on my ass. A Gordon here, Hop Henge there. The hops were flowing, finally wearing me down after a great week of drinking.
Appropriately, I finished the last of the Wowee Zowee. My beer stood up well to a powerful list of IPA’s Monday night. And as my beer ended its run, so did the longest American Craft Beer Week ever15.
I don’t know exactly what the point of this post was supposed to be. I guess I just wanted to share all the ways in which craft beer can be enjoyed16. There’s the getting back to the roots of the movement through Belgian beers and homebrewing. I drank beers that suited the weather or the cuisine. Vertical tastings were experienced as well as old stand-bys. Beers were shared and beers were smuggled in my suitcase. It’s a big deal and certainly worth more than a week of my year. I guess that’s why I celebrated eleven days.
1It’s not like I don’t do this all the time. I just did more than usual over the last week+.
2Who happens to be a chocolate maker, the same chocolate maker who sold me some cocoa nibs for a beer I brewed a couple of weeks ago.
3I’m thinking that the name of our “brewery” might be Belgium Budweiser or some mashup of the two terms. The beer itself should be based on some scary Belgian folktale. Anyone know of any evil characters from Belgian folklore?
4Seriously, if you drink an oak-aged beer, pay close attention to that vanilla character. Some brewers use actual barrels while others just toss in a load of oak chips.
5Well, the official part is Monday, not necessarily our happy hour/Tweetup.
6 Which is better than we sometimes give credit. They do a nice job of bringing in beers from Michigan and Colorado. If we could just get more beer from the coasts…
7We had a “Tweetup”. They call it a “Tweetup”.
8This may be the best beer to pair with any food. The dark malt gives it a sweetness and roastiness that pairs with fatty meats that are either grilled or smoked. The hops hold up to anything with spice. The balance of the beer means that none of these characteristics overtake the others. Really. It’s the perfect beer for food.
9Summer has arrived in Missouri, a time when we officially change the name to “Misery”. (This is not a reference to my old blog.)
10Oddly enough, from Ohio where I had just left via plane. We passed over him on our way home.
11A bit of a letdown, but at 11% ABV, I could cellar it and see what happens.
12This has got to be the best show in TV history. However, why can’t good TV shows make good finales. It was good to a point, but a letdown in the end.
13Actually, I felt as though I ended the craft beer debauchery this evening with another smuggled beer, Green Flash Imperial IPA. What a great beer. I may have to take a few days off from the hops.
14My friend and I brought Three Floyds Apha King, Alesmith IPA, and the very last Wowee Zowee.
15Not counting the dudes who have 2-3 really good craft beers every night of the year. Their weeks never end.
16Of course, I don’t know whether I’ve accomplished this, but I don’t have time for revisions. I can hear my readers ending their real simple subscriptions to my blog as I type this.