Overview for the American Imperial Stout

Rich, dark, and complex, the American Imperial Stout has a strength similar to that of an American Barleywine. Its bitterness typically runs high from hops, roast, or booze, and it should have a silky, luscious feel. The style originated in the Russian Imperial Court, became popular in England, and then all but disappeared. The modern craft brewing renaissance resurrected the style in America and in England.

Style Expectations

An intensely-flavored, big, dark ale with a wide range of flavor balances and regional interpretations. Roasty-burnt malt with deep dark or dried fruit flavors, and a warming, bittersweet finish. Despite the intense flavors, the components need to meld together to create a complex, harmonious beer, not a hot mess.

Appearance

Color may range from very dark reddish-brown to jet black. Opaque. Deep tan to dark brown head. Generally has a well-formed head, although head retention may be low to moderate. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in “legs” when beer is swirled in a glass.

Aroma

Rich and complex, with variable amounts of roasted grains, maltiness, fruity esters, hops, and alcohol. The roasted malt character can take on coffee, dark chocolate, or slightly burnt tones and can be light to moderately strong. The malt aroma can be subtle to rich and barleywine-like. May optionally show a slight specialty malt character (e.g., caramel), but this should only add complexity and not dominate. Fruity esters may be low to moderately strong, and may take on a complex, dark fruit (e.g., plums, prunes, raisins) character. Hop aroma can be very low to quite aggressive, and may contain any hop variety. An alcohol character may be present, but shouldn’t be sharp, hot, or solventy. Aged versions may have a slight vinous or port-like quality, but shouldn’t be sour. The balance can vary with any of the aroma elements taking center stage. Not all possible aromas described need be present; many interpretations are possible. Aging affects the intensity, balance and smoothness of aromatics.

Flavor

Rich, deep, complex and frequently quite intense, with variable amounts of roasted malt/grains, maltiness, fruity esters, hop bitterness and flavor, and alcohol. Medium to aggressively high bitterness. Medium-low to high hop flavor (any variety). Moderate to aggressively high roasted malt/grain flavors can suggest bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and/or strong coffee. A slightly burnt grain, burnt currant or tarry character may be evident. Fruity esters may be low to intense, and can take on a dark fruit character (raisins, plums, or prunes). Malt backbone can be balanced and supportive to rich and barleywine-like, and may optionally show some supporting caramel, bready or toasty flavors. The palate and finish can vary from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness, hop bitterness and warming character. The balance and intensity of flavors can be affected by aging, with some flavors becoming more subdued over time and some aged, vinous or port-like qualities developing.

Mouthfeel

Full to very full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). Gentle smooth warmth from alcohol should be present and noticeable, but not a primary characteristic; in well-conditioned versions, the alcohol can be deceptive. Should not be syrupy or under-attenuated. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.

Reviews

The Demon Dweller

American Imperial Stout  •  Green Man Brewery

The Demon Dweller is an American Imperial Stout that’s brewed by Green Man Brewery and is a boozy blend of molasses and earthy oak. Read More

CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)

American Imperial Stout  •  Founders Brewing Co.

CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) is an American Imperial Stout by Founders Brewing Co. that masterfully blends coffee, maple, dark chocolate and bourbon. Read More

Kentucky Coffee Barrel Stout

American Imperial Stout  •  Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.

Kentucky Coffee Barrel Stout is an American Imperial Stout by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. that blends bourbon flavor with coffee. Read More

Dragon’s Milk

American Imperial Stout  •  New Holland Brewing

Dragon’s Milk is an American Imperial Stout by New Holland Brewing whose barrel-aged palate is a decadent blend of chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, and oak. Read More

Breakfast Stout

American Imperial Stout  •  Founders Brewing Co.

Breakfast Stout is an American Imperial Stout by Founders Brewing Co. that blends oatmeal, coffee roast, chocolate, and more. Read More

KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)

American Imperial Stout  •  Founders Brewing Co.

KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) is an American Imperial Stout by Founders Brewing Co. whose barrel-aged palate is flavorful, complex, and features coffee, oak, chocolate, and bourbon. Read More

Truck Stop Bandit

American Imperial Stout  •  Devour Brewing Co.

Truck Stop Bandit is an American Imperial Stout by Devour Brewing Co. that blends coffee roast, cinnamon, and dark chocolate with bready malt. Read More

Bomb!

American Imperial Stout  •  Prairie Artisan Ales

Bomb! is an American Imperial Stout brewed by Prairie Artisan Ales that unleashes an explosion of flavors ranging from smoky to sweet to spicy. Read More

Java Mariana Trench

American Imperial Stout  •  Due South Brewing Co.

Java Mariana Trench is an American Imperial Stout by Due South Brewing Co. that blends mild coffee roast with sweet chocolate and bready malt. Read More

Stone Xocoveza

American Imperial Stout  •  Stone Brewing

Stone Xocoveza is an American Imperial Stout by Stone Brewing that sweetens a coffee base with cocoa and vanilla; spices it up with cinnamon, nutmeg, and peppers. Read More

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