Stone Brewing Company has some sort of obsession with Satan. After all, their logo is a demon, and their website’s beer descriptions make references to sin and hell. I guess this represents their intensity and passion for their work, and it pays off, because they produce some very nice brews. Based in Escondido, California, Stone was founded in 1996, and the company and its beers continue to receive extremely high ratings by experts. Characteristic of American, California brews, they are heavy on the hops. In addition, their beers tend to have relatively high alcohol content, which is just fine in my book.
Espresso Russian Imperial Stout (10.6% ABV) is a thick, black, flavorful ale that is about as close to a glass of mud as you can get (in a good way). It is not available year-round, but rather in the second quarter of each year. What makes it Russian? Well, in the 1700s, Thrale’s Brewery in London made a particular type of stout (ale brewed from dark-roasted grains) that it exported to Russia’s Catherine II. So, a modern Russian Imperial Stout is brewed in that tradition. Usually, this sort of ale is brewed from dark-roasted, malted grains, and is dark in color, and sweetish in flavor. The roasted grains impart a coffee-like flavor, and actual espresso beans are used in the brewing process.
Bottle: The bottle is indeed imposing and imperial in its appearance. Black glass sports white lettering, with some dark blue highlights. The Stone Brewing Co.’s logo, a demon, adds an ominous element to this already-frightening bottle. And at 22 oz., the size adds a certain fear as well.
Pour: This is like pouring tar into a glass. The color is impenetrable, inky black, like an empty spot in the universe. The head is a full three fingers, with a mocha color, and thick lacing that seems to go on forever, as does the head.
Aroma: The aroma is overwhelming. Charred grapes meet with dark-roasted coffee beans, milk chocolate, bitter malt, and bitter sweetness. There are subtle but present undertones of yeasty bread and floral hops.
Flavor: I am a not a huge fan of dark stouts, so I hope that I am not too biased here. The flavor was typical of a dark-roasted stout: sweet malt, dark chocolate, subtle vanilla, roasted rice, dark fruit, caramel, and molasses. The finish splashes espresso on the tongue, without much bitterness. My main complaint here is that, while the stout really tries its best to be profoundly complex, the roasted grains seem to overwhelm everything else. I also find it too sweet. But I also realize that those are desirable elements in dark stouts. In terms of dark stouts, it really is excellent.
Mouthfeel: Thick like a Persian carpet, this is a rich, creamy ale. Dense and consistent, it is not the thickest stout I have ever tasted, but it is certainly thick. The carbonation is restricted, so that the overall impression is milky. The thick head remains on your upper lip, like a coffee mustache.
Structure: This is a reasonably-structured stout. The balance is acceptable, if not slightly leaning away from the hops and toward the malt.
Food Pairing: I would not enjoy this stout with most foods, although it would excel with raw oysters, tiramisu, and bacon.
Overall Rating Out of 5 Possible Beer Mugs: