A Big Beer Ladder
Quite often being the publisher of a beer magazine is just too cool. Like yesterday. The public relations people from one of my all time favorite brewers, Boston Beer, sent me a box half the size of my desk. In it were three four-packs of their “Imperial Series,” each bottle individually wrapped.
And I’m thinking; “What an opportunity to sit around the table with the AABM and WBF staff and drink beer!” Like, duh!
Imperial Wit, Double Bock, and Imperial Stout. The beer wags among you might arch an eyebrow at this listing. Let’s see. Taking a delicate beer like a wit and “imperialzing” it? Why a double bock and not doppelbock? Where’s the Russian in that Imperial Stout?
From my understanding of the beer people at Boston Beer, they really like exploring the boundaries. They don’t have a problem jumping in with their specialty beers. Style progenitors are one goal; making a difference in the beer community is another.
I gathered Ola from the World Beer Festival, Greg from All About Beer Magazine, and Steve the company Vice President around the conference table and started pouring. My thinking was to go from small to medium to big, which I guessed based on the style names.
Mistake number one, readers.
First came the Imperial White, which was huge even at a distance. You can see the viscosity and within a few inches of your face, bam, floral/grassy nose with hints of alcohol. Mouthfeel is largely alcohol. Curacao is very noticeable. Nothing delicate with this huge beer and not very wheaty.
Says Steve: “First wheat beer I’ve ever liked.” Can taste the 10.3% right away. Greg pushed a metaphor: “First there was the Great White, then came the Imperial White. A big body beer that chases the little ones away.”
The beer has a very viscous texture, unlike most wheat beers, which are very light and flavorful. This one is about alcohol, lots of alcohol. Sweet and alcoholic while retaining the signature wheat tartness.
The Double Bock was a bigger challenge. While burgundy and copper in appearance, it had the same alcoholic nose, a big alcoholic nose like the White. There’s some caramel, but not very much, simply not cloying at all. There is a hint of raisin, but pretty much the alcohol has taken over. Is there a sequence issue, going from a standstill to Imperial White, then from Imperial White to Double Bock?
On to the Imperial Stout.
A beautiful beer, our first observation had to do with it being less rough than standard Russian Imperial Stouts. A lot more balanced with a toffee, espresso nose. The alcohol is covered up with the malt bill. The taste was redolent with burnt toast and none of the molasses and licorice that seems the signature of the style. (Remember, the label didn’t say Russian Imperial Stout, just Imperial Stout, although it does reference the historical background of the style.) It was the lightest of the bunch. Very dry finish, very long and comfortable finish like a good espresso.
Now, for mistake number two.
Back to the Double Bock after a few minutes and it tastes much richer and fuller, with more candy, less alcohol burn, more texture, more toasted nuts, a greater sense of fireplace and armchair. Did it open up over time or is just another example of beer sequencing problems? Julie, Editor of All About Beer Magazine, and I had tested some sequencing problems one evening at Tyler’s discovering some amazing influences. She had assigned an article on sequencing to Lew Bryson, contributing a sidebar from that evening tasting herself. Again, room temperature or time for our mouths to settle down from the exotic ride of the Stout?
Another beer flavor muddle.