In his book Brewing Porters & Stouts author Terry Foster enumerates several stouts that he had readily available at the time of his writing or that were in his locale. Some of the names are renowned and acclaimed: Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Yeti Imperial Stout, Narwhal. Foster consecrates an entire page to sundry stouts and then declares: “You should have no difficulty finding other versions of this style in your own area.”
That was no fallacious declaration. Verily, in our small town we can find our own imperial stout. Angry Elf is that stout; brewed initially by Kingman home brewer Mike Hinman and now often offered on tap at Black Bridge Brewery. There should be no qualms about putting it amongst the other beers noted above. It was last on tap late last year (2016) and a portion of this inky potation secreted away in forgotten vaults. I am grateful I was allowed a sample of this well aged beer. It was outstanding.
It pours an impenetrable black, a darkness that even the sun cannot pierce, with a dense brownish bay of foam for its head. Only at the edges of the glass can you discern some brown and red accentuations. The bouquet is redolent of dark fruit and high alcohol like a brandy or cognac or some other liquor of which I am ignorant. This smell portends its alcoholic potency. (Yeah, don’t really remember the alcohol content; knowing Tim & Mike it’s probably like ten to twelve percent.)
The first sip: surprisingly, it’s very soft; not as aggressive as one might think after gazing upon it and recalling its name (Angry Elf). It’s more like Will Ferrel’s Elf. There’s a slight nod to vanilla and hops are palpable at the edges of the tongue; a bitterness intended only to offset the hedonic, malty power of the body but not to be harsh or resinous.
Great, now I’m thinking of Will Ferrel … the relish of candied marshmallow is discernible, maybe, in the next draught? Along with a little anise? It is even minutely smoky – as in cigar, not peat. It dries on the tongue expeditiously while not being astringent. The warmth of the alcohol is subtle, an alluring fade out. Roasted malt becomes more apparent as the body warms. The beer’s body, not mine.
Kingman has some sublimely talented brewers both in the home brew community and at the professional level in Black Bridge. Angry Elf is a child of both. It hits all the right markers for the style but is far more than a derivative of those guidelines. It’s a confident, not arrogant, beer. Everyone said that aging this beer made it even better (6-8 months, I think?) and they were not unsound in their views. At all. It’s a complex beer wherein no one factor overpowers or outshines the other. Really a superb accomplishment.
(Joe even let me in on a secret: apparently, this stout has won gold medals at beer competitions! My shock is not apparent.)*
So, two gold medal beers from Black Bridge: Angry Elf and Katastrophic Humiliation. And I’m sure they will be appearing in competition once again. Beware, other beers.
See below for additional info on what to expect out of any imperial stout you like to drink.
BEER JUDGE CERTIFICATION PROGRAM 2015 STYLE GUIDELINES
20C. Imperial Stout
- 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.
- 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.
- Fruity esters may be low to moderately strong, and may take on a complex, dark fruit (e.g., plums, prunes, raisins) character.
- 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.
- Color may range from very dark reddish-brown to jet black. Opaque. Deep tan to dark brown head. Generally has a well-formed head
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Full to very full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture. Gentle smooth warmth from alcohol should be present and noticeable, but not a primary characteristic;
- The wide range of allowable characteristics allow for maximum brewer creativity.
Brewers Association 2017 Beer Style Guidelines
American-Style Imperial Stout
- Color: Black
- Clarity: Opaque
- Perceived Malt Aroma & Flavor: Extremely rich malty aroma is typical. Extremely rich malty flavor with full sweet malt character is typical. Roasted malt astringency and bitterness can be moderate but should not dominate the overall character.
- Perceived Hop Aroma & Flavor: Medium-high to high with floral, citrus and/or herbal character.
- Perceived Bitterness: Medium-high to very high and balanced with rich malt character.
- Fermentation Characteristics: Fruity-estery aromas and flavors are high. Diacetyl should be absent.
- Body: Full
Oh, I guess Joe indulged in what we would call “humor.” Apparently EVERYONE knows it’s a gold medal beer!