Thick, rich and boozy are the words commonly used to describe imperial stouts, the decidedly mature sibling of the classic dark ale. London brewers developed the style for export in the late 1700s, notably to Russia, where it was served in the imperial court of Catherine the Great.
The style has morphed over the centuries, and in the last several decades, the word “Russian” has been dropped and new variations have emerged. Imperial stouts are now aged in all manners of barrels, dosed with ingredients from fruits and spices to candy. Thanks in part to how well they age, many brewers offer special bottles as an anniversary offering, and fans line up to stock their cellars.
MOA Imperial Stout Barrel Reserve. Coming from Marlborough, New Zealand, this stout is aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It carries raspberry notes, with a slight wood character atop the traditional dark chocolate and coffee flavors. abv: 10.2%
Bell’s Expedition Stout. One of the first examples of Russian imperial stout in the U.S., it was built to age. Released in 12-ounce bottles each September, it’s a dark-malt delight, with aromas and flavors of chocolate and dried stone fruits that mature over time. abv: 10.5%
Hidden Cove Abdominus. Bourbon barrel aging imparts vanilla and oaky characteristics to an espresso-heavy beer base. It’s slightly smoky, with a chocolate bitterness, so it’ll make a heavenly match with tiramisu. abv: 8%
Cigar City Vanilla Hazelnut Marshal Zhukov’s. This is a flavored variation of the brewery’s stout. Here, robust dark Baker’s chocolate leaps from this jet-black elixir. It’s thick and chewy, and it offers a lasting mocha head. Vanilla bean and toasted hazelnut appear on the back end and bring out the slightest candied cherry flavor. abv: 11.2%
New Belgium Clutch. Three popular styles come together in this beer: barrel-aged, sour and stout. Dark malts bring chocolate and coffee to the forefront, while a woody character from the barrels adds depth to the vine-fruit notes, before it finishes with a slight pucker. abv: 8.5%