Howe Sound – Megadestroyer

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Megadestroyer is pretty big – not just in physical size thanks to the ample 1L bottle, but also in profile.  It’s got a lot of stuff in it and a lot of alcohol is produced by all that stuff. Granted, 10% ABV is merely moderate when it comes to a big stout, but it’s still easy to classify as a big beer.  Ingredients beyond the norm include licorice root, star anise, and blackstrap molasses.

The licorice root and anise are the stars of the show in regards to the aroma of this beer.  The licorice influence has all but taken over the aroma, leaving only traces of alcohol and earthy hops around the edges.  Picking up some hops scent is not surprising given the 75 IBU bitterness of the beer.

Once you take a sip, the licorice and anise take their place in a more well-rounded profile.  They are still certainly two of the main components of the flavour but they do not dominate to the extent they do on the nose.  There is a great roasted brown sugar (or molasses) components as well, working with the licorice and anise.  Despite the 75 IBU, this is a primarily sweet stout.  The licorice also comes across as a little bit sweet cherry at times I find.

This is probably the thickest 10% ABV stout I’ve had.  Huge stouts like Dark Lord or Bourbon County do come across as both thicker and sweeter but they are also in another class altogether on alcohol content.  I know I’m implying a direct correlation between ABV and body and that’s not really how it works, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

Even as someone who doesn’t really like black licorice, I do enjoy this beer anyway.  It’s sweet and thick but with enough hops to keep the finish more neutral and slightly earthy.  I’d be pretty curious how it does with some bourbon barrel aging, personally!

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(Note:  this pour was on day 2 of the beer being open; the head was about 1cm and caramel coloured when the bottle was freshly opened.)

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Evil Twin – Soft DK

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Evil Twin’s Soft DK (short for Soft Dookie, abbreviated to prevent loss of appetite) is a vanilla imperial stout inspired by brewmaster Jeppe’s diaper-changing experiences.  Though I have no first-hand experience, I hear that baby poop can have interesting and not unpleasant aromas before solid food diets.  Jeppe evidently was picking up vanilla notes and made this beer in the poop’s honour.

I drank this last night (Nov 8th) as it was apparently International Stout Day.  Cheers to that!

A: Soft DK pours a ruby black, not overly thick (like the poop it represents) and without a lot of carbonation.

S: The aroma is chocolate and vanilla, semi-sweet.  A touch of caramel and some prickly alcohol notes as well.

T: Taking a sip, it sits idle for a moment before opening to a burst of vanilla, some woodiness and chocolate, and followed by a spirit-like gentle alcohol presence and some earthiness that indicates a bitter hop existence barely able to poke through.  This was my only bottle, but if I had a second I would probably give it a year and see if the heat goes down and the chocolate comes up.

M: It’s not a thick stout, probably a little thinner feel than the 10% ABV would have indicated, but it does have a creaminess to it.

O: This is a nice Russian imperial stout that’s been given a boost in vanilla – which is a flavour I love in a big stout.  The vanilla wasn’t dominating and the earthiness kept the sweetness in check easily – I would actually not mind if it were a little sweeter.

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Sierra Nevada – Narwhal imperial stout 2013

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Sierra Nevada is based out of Chico, CA and as such is not terribly common here in BC.  The odd release does make it here, including (fortunately) their Russian imperial stout, Narwhal.  This is their 2013 bottling so it is quite fresh.

The beer pours an ink black with oily texture and sparse brown head.  The carbonation is quite light.  The aroma has a roasted quality, and is made up of bitter chocolate and alcohol notes.  There is definitely a spirit quality in the nose that signals that this is a fresh RIS.  There is a touch of black liquorice and molasses coming through as well.

The taste is primarily dark, dark chocolate.  Very little sweetness at all – the chocolate is bitter like very dark or baker’s chocolate.  Vanilla is the secondary flavour, with only the slightest hint of coffee.  The mouthfeel is lighter than I expected though not exactly light, and the carbonation is surprisingly present being that there was so little head – it tastes as though there is a significant hops presence that is coated in bitter chocolate that you can’t taste the hops.  Despite being so young, the finish is only mildly ‘hot’ with alcohol.  The alcohol comes across like… sangria to me.  There is alcohol- and wine-soaked fruits in there somewhere.  The ABV of this brew is 10.2%, putting it smack dab in the most common range of imperial stouts.

Imperial stouts are a beer style that can age well but do not necessarily need or improve with age.  Aging stouts is very much a personal decision, as for every gain in the flavour profile there is a loss somewhere as well.  I bought a four-pack of Narwhal so I will be aging at least two for the sake of science, but at this point I don’t expect that aging will improve this beer.  The alcohol is under control currently and the baker’s chocolate notes are probably as hard-hitting as they’re going to get.  I really enjoy this beer and am glad it is not overly sweet as some RIS’s can be, though I do wish the body was a little thicker.

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Phillips Brewing – Black Jackal coffee stout

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Phillip Brewing of Victoria, BC released this coffee stout sometime near the beginning of this year.  There are five ingredients listed on the bottle instead of the standard four, of which the extra you’ve probably already guessed – coffee.  Imperial stouts are often attributed as having coffee flavours thanks to the roasted malts used, but this takes things a step further – and puts coffee really on the forefront of the palate.

An aside on the jackal – pictured on the bottle is Anubis, a half-jackal half-human god that will keep you safe and sound as you transport from this life to the afterlife.  At least that’s what the Egyptians seemed to believe.  I think in this case, the Black Jackal is here to safely accompany me to a decent buzz.

So this stuff looks like a stout when poured with a nice medium brown head and tar-like blackness to the liquid.  The coffee infusion is noticeable on the nose, a nutty and sweet expression of coffee mixed along with some of the yeasty beer qualities.  The palate is heavily roasted malts with a significant espresso kick, medium bodied and smooth.  A very enjoyable beer, though beyond the coffee flavour there isn’t huge breadth.

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Granville Island Brewing Chocolate Imperial Stout

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What makes a beer ‘imperial’?  It’s a question that comes up, for sure.  And it comes up again and again because as far as I know, there isn’t really a concrete answer (correct me if I’m wrong).  ‘Imperial’ is to signify that the beer is strong – both in alcohol content and in flavour.  In my eyes, ‘imperial’ becomes an available term at 7.5% for IPA’s and 8% for stouts.  These are the two styles that most commonly borrow the word.

GIB’s Chocolate Imperial Stout weighs in at 8.4% so it’s met the above criteria in terms of ABV.  What about flavour though?

The first time I had this beer was shortly before Christmas last year.  Maybe it was just an off day, but I was finding the beer too heavy at the time.  I was at a family dinner.  I ended up passing off the second half of the bottle.  Not a great sign.  So I put the other bottle I had in the fridge for a while to see if a little aging might help.  Aging does a number of things to a beer and the reactions that cause aging are too complex and brew-specific to really predict, but generally, if a beer feels heavy then aging won’t help.  Aging takes the edge off a few things but it doesn’t make a beer taste ‘lighter’.

So I cracked this bottle 5 months later, not very much in the way of aging but I didn’t feel like sitting on it any longer because honestly, I didn’t have high hopes.  The beer pours black but not thick black, and the head is minimal.  The smell is almost completely enveloped by chocolate roasted malts – creamy and sweet.  There is a fruit component that combined with the chocolate reminds me of a sea salt and caramel chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s.  Maybe a slight bit of dark cherry in there too.

Upon tasting, I see why I felt how I did but yet today I’m enjoying it more than I had previously.  Initial flavour hit is full of chocolate – the bottle says it’s dark chocolate but I get a creaminess that reminds me more of chocolate milk.  After that it’s cherries pretty much for the ‘dark fruit’ influence.  The hops remain anonymous throughout this process, aiding to keep the beer from being completely malt-driven but not giving away their identity at all.

This is still a pretty heavy beer due to the huge chocolate flavour, but quite drinkable compared to what I remember.  I still don’t go head over heels for this beer but it’s solidly good, especially if you’re looking for a replacement for a slice of double chocolate cake.  Maybe that’s where I went wrong – I drank it before dinner last time, but this is very much the kind of beer you drink an hour after dinner to appease your sweet tooth.

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Parallel 49 ‘From East Van With Love’ – Imperial Stout

From East Van With Love is a collaborative effort between Parallel 49 and Gigantic Brewing of Portland OR.  ‘With Love’ actually relates to the last names of the two guys brewing the beer, but they are easy names to work into a sentence.  This is an imperial stout with the addition of maple, then aged in bourbon barrels.

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I was very interested in this beer but a little concerned that it was going to be too sweet due to the maple syrup.  I shouldn’t have doubted the folks at Parallel 49 and Gigantic Brewing – the maple is subtle and does really add to its character rather than become its character.

The bourbon influence is huge in this beer, much moreso than the average bourbon barrel aged beer.  This is something that will change over time – as a young imperial, the bourbon is sharper than it will be after some cellaring.  It is a serious beer at 11.5% ABV, but is smooth and easy drinking.  Rich dark fruits and subtle peat is present from the bourbon influence, along with a spirit quality and of course the maple.  The roasted malts and earthy hops work in great unison.

It will be interesting to see how this beer develops over time – it has a “Best After Jan 31st 2015” stamp on the label, but it very good already, especially for those who want the extra bourbon punch.  I spent a small fortune building an inventory of these (they are available from the brewery for $12.60/bottle), but it was money well spent.

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