Russian Imperial Stout Blind Tasting
So, after picking up a 4-pack of Founders Imperial Stout, I decided I’d make use of one of my Christmas gifts from my sister – a beer flight tasting set. I also hadn’t done a blind tasting in a while and I figured I would see if the hype behind the Founders (Russian) Imperial Stout was justified. For the record, I’ve had and thoroughly enjoy the other three beers in the line up but I also haven’t had Old Rasputin in close to a year. Another disclaimer, Plead the 5th in this tasting came from the 2012 release and not this year’s, so factor in the “freshness” element as you wish.
How did I arrive at this lineup? First off, all beers had to fall under the Russian Imperial Stout category on http://www.beeradvocate.com (BA), which they did. Furthermore, the beers had to rate 4 or higher on BA and not be a barrel-aged release. I had other beers I could have included in the tasting such as Great Lakes Blackout Stout and Stone IRS, but there are limits to what I can taste (and consume) alone in one night.
So the lineup ended up looking like this:
Founders – Imperial Stout (Winter 2014 release)
North Coast – Old Rasputin (purchased the day prior to this tasting)
Dark Horse – Plead the 5th (Fall 2012 release)
Oskar Blues – Ten Fidy (Fall 2013 release)
Blind tasting methodology was pretty straightforward. I numbered the beers 1 to 4 and gave my wife the corresponding numbers on small slips of paper that she placed upside down underneath the tasting glasses.
She randomized the order on the flight tray, poured the beers for me, and off I was after letting the stouts come up in temperature some 30 minutes after being poured.
I tasted from left to right and produced the following tasting notes. Just as an FYI, the format of my tasting notes do not follow BA standards and is just what I came up with from my wine tasting days.
Nose: Soy sauce, hoisin, raisins, char siu pork, bbq sauce, hint of vanilla and a hint of 5 spice. Evokes meat marinating in Chinese bbq sauce. Subsequent whiffs show consistent base of 5 spice/Asian bbq elements and now bourbon barrel “essence”.
Palate: Chocolate, stout “ash”, rum raisin, and solid sweetness make up the palate. Bitter dark chocolate on the finish.
Impression: This is good stuff. Really good stuff. Solid weight and mouth feel, good stout darkness with excellent supporting sweetness and variation on the palate as evidenced by the variety of elements I picked up. My favorite of the four.
2nd to left
Nose: Copper, hint of soy sauce, rum, touch of marshmallow, classic stout under it all.
Palate: Bitter chocolate, classic roasted stout malts on the attack. Less sweetness than previous beer. Bitter, roasty notes linger on the finish.
Impression: Very solid with everything in balance – mouth feel, stout characteristics, just enough sweetness to not tilt things towards bitterness. Profiles as a “baseline” RIS in this tasting.
2nd to right
Nose: Immediately hit with a whiff of Coca-Cola, hint of rum & coke, bit of that stout “ash tray” action. Much thinner bouquet compared to the previous two.
Palate: Definite cola soda action on the attack along with bitter, roasted malts. Better definition on the palate through higher carbonation but overall mouth feel is thinner than the previous two.
Impression: Among this crowd of stouts, this one came up feeling too thin and lacking in body. Probably the most refreshing of the four but the least enjoyable for me.
Nose: Fresh pressed coffee, ash tray, very real but subtle note of sweaty gym clothes, faint streak of sesame oil.
Palate: Dark chocolate, coffee, big time roasted malts and charred nuts on the palate. Tar and bitter cocoa notes round out the finish. Of the four, this is the darkest and most bitter.
Impression: Dark and bitter. With the right pairing, this would be a great food beer but by itself, it is the Islay malt to the others’ Speyside/Highland malts. Third favorite of the bunch for me.
So in order of preference was leftmost, second to left, rightmost, then second to right. I pondered for a brief moment if I should guess each one but given that I don’t drink them on the daily (or weekly or even monthly), it would have been a complete crapshoot. What I did guess correctly was that my favorite in the blind flight was Plead the 5th. After that I had no idea but my expectations had been set for the Founders and I thought that it might have been my second favorite. After a second taste through I reviewed my notes for consistency and had no real revisions to make. On to the reveal I went and here is how things shook out.
Beer #1 was Founders Imperial Stout which was the rightmost, so my third favorite.
Beer #2 was Ten Fidy and my second favorite.
Beer #3 was Old Rasputin and I guess he decided to take the night off because I just wasn’t feeling #3.
Beer #4 was Plead the 5th and as my favorite, it reaffirmed my belief that this is the best Russian Imperial Stout that I have had. Period. I recently turned down the 2013 release of Pt5 from the store manager of my local Total Wine and I have to say that I now regret it. It also means that I will most definitely move barrel-aged Pt5 way up my list of “wants” on BA.
So what were the takeaways from this blind tasting? First off, Plead the 5th is a special brew. Secondly, all of the beers in the lineup were very good but Old Rasputin’s showing last night puts it on my “don’t buy for a while so you can re-discover it later” list. Finally, Ten Fidy and Founders Imperial Stout are very solid beers but are (in my opinion) over-rated relative to their BA scores. Given their seasonal status, it means I won’t go out of my way to seek them out when they release but I’d definitely pick up a 4-pack if I came face-to-face with them. Oh, and I did find a use for unconsumed, leftover RIS – baking cakes with them, which the wife and kids ended up loving. For the record, I did finish Pt5 last night.