The Russian Imperial Stout, frequently shortened to ‘RIS’, was inspired by brewers in Europe back in the 1800’s. They were made for the consumption and enjoyment of the Russian Czar, hence it’s name. It is from this style that the American Imperial Stout style was inspired from later on. It’s color ranges from dark browns to so black, that light is unable to permeate it, so more often than not, they tend to be opaque. It can be rather thick and viscous as well and boasts a high alcohol content typically between 7 and 12%, but can be even higher than that.
Russian Imperial Stouts are some of the heaviest, sweetest, and strongest beers around; and a great style to turn to during those cold winter months. They have low to moderate carbonation levels with typical large roasted malt profiles. Flavors and aromas can include: chocolate, dark fruits(raisin/plum/prune), coffee, caramel, toffee, and bready to toasty and/or roasted components and combinations. Hop character and IBU (International Bittering Units) levels can vary from zero to aggressively similar to its American Imperial Stout counterpart in a lot of ways. Reading all of this might make one think that Russian Imperial Stouts are to strong and rich for one to actually enjoy, but when they are well-made, everything like sweetness, bitterness, thickness, and detectable alcohol should be balanced and not overpowering to the point where it would actually be cloying or undrinkable.
Again, like the American Imperial Stout, the new trend is to barrel age these beers in barrels that previously housed bourbon, brandy, whiskey, or even red wine; creating a variety of new flavors, aromas, and complexities. The combination of its robust nature and barrel-aging can create some very dynamic and unique offerings for your palate to enjoy and savor, which makes these rarer barrel aged offerings that much more special and in-demand for craft beer fans.
Because of their strength and character, Russian Imperial Stouts are meant to be savored and enjoyed slowly or can also be aged much in the same way wine can be cellared and be enjoyed at a later date. After all, the style was originally made in order to last for years since the beer had to survive the trip it made from Europe and into Russia for the Czar to enjoy! So, try a Russian Imperial Stout, whether it be a traditional example from Europe, or the stronger and barrel aged offerings from American brewers. Either way, you will have a nice rich and complex stout to sip and savor!
Listed below are some of my personal favorites for the style:
It’s a rich, intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish. / Aging in oak whiskey barrels adds a level of complexity that amplifies the espresso/chocolate notes in the flavor profile and takes this unique beer to new heights.
9% ABV - 75 IBUs / 11.2% ABV
Brewed in the authentic historical style of an Imperial Russian Stout, this beer is massive. Intensely aromatic (notes of anise, black currants, coffee, roastiness and alcohol) and heavy on the palate, this brew goes where few can – and fewer dare even try. The style originated from Czarist Russia’s demand for ever thicker English stouts. Expect our version of this mysterious brew to pour like Siberian crude and taste even heavier!
10.8% ABV - 90 IBUs
One of the earliest examples of the Russian Imperial Stout in the United States, Bell’s Expedition Stout offers immensely complex flavors crafted specifically with vintage aging in mind, as its profile will continue to mature and develop over the years. A huge malt body is matched to a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruits, and other aromas. Intensely bitter in its early months, the flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages.
It’s big and full bodied with lots of roasted malts and balanced with heavy hops to put this imperial in a league of its own.
Brewed with ten varieties of malted barley, this stout is smooth as silk, yet complex and rich in body. Serve this guy at cellar temperature. Put another log on the fire, sit back, and enjoy the friendship of this ultimate winter warmer.
10.5% ABV - 90 IBUs
Is an onslaught of the senses. It starts with big, roasty malt flavor that gives way to rich caramel and toffee notes. YETI gets its bold hop character from an enormous quantity of American hops. / Is Yeti Imperial Stout’s sophisticated sibling. They may be from the same clan, but they have entirely different personalities. Oak aging gives a subtle vanilla character, rounding out Yeti’s intense roastiness and huge hoppy nature. Who says you can’t tame a Yeti?
9.5% ABV - 75 IBUs / 9.5% ABV
There are always new beers in the style being made and many I have yet to try, so by all means, this is not an exhaustive list, but if you can get access to some of these listed, I highly recommend giving them a try!