Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Great KC Imperial Stout-Off

Damn that's a beautiful beer!
I had set out on this post to sample a bunch of imperial stouts that are easy to find in KC and show you that the super rare Bourbon County Brand Stouts, Kentucky Breakfast Stouts, and Abraxases of the world are more about rarity and hype than actual excellence of flavor. That's not to say they're not great beers--just that they're not that much better than other imperial stouts out there.

So I assembled my crack team of tasting experts to drink imperial stout, watch the Chiefs, and eat taquitos. After much money spent, many samples poured, a good bit of half remembered reminiscing, and one hugely disappointing Chiefs game, we found out that I was wrong, as usual. Those rare hyped-up beers really are that much better.

To be fair to the competition, most of the other imperial stouts we sampled were not barrel aged, were half the price of BCBS and KBS, and a few of them are even available year-round. Many of the stouts we tried also have barrel aged variants, but they're similarly rare and expensive like BCBS and KBS. So it's not really fair to compare the way we did, but we did it anyways because sometimes we just get a little out of control drinking 10% abv beer all afternoon.

In any case, we did manage to come up a solid list of (relatively) cheap and easy to find alternates. Keep in mind that all of these beers are pretty excellent, so don't get your undies in a bunch if your favorite imperial stout got a low score by us. They're getting compared to two of the best beers in the world after all!

The All-Star Team.

The MVPs

1. Goose Island - Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - 9.9/10

Alcohol: 15% ABV
Release: November
How hard it is to find: Nearly Impossible
Approx. Price: $8/12 oz.

2. Founders - Kentucky Breakfast Stout (2013) - 9.5/10

Alcohol: 12% ABV
Release: April
How hard it is to find: Nearly Impossible
Approx. Price: $7/12 oz.

We just did a review for BCBS the other day, so I won't go much into it for BCBS or for KBS which has much the same character. Suffice to say, the balance, depth of flavor, thick body, and long lasting clean finish on these two beers are about as good as it gets. We felt the flavor profile of BCBS was slightly better, but the barrel aged character was somewhat better on the KBS. Either way, both of these beers are fantastic and you should do everything you can to get some of them.

The Starting Line

Yeti was our favorite easy
to find Impy Stout.

3. Great Divide - Yeti - 8.4/10

Alcohol: 9.5% ABV
Release: Year-Round
How hard it is to find: Very Easy
Approx. Price: $2.50/12 oz.

Yeti was the crowd favorite by far for a year-round, cheap, and easy to find beer. This beer is everywhere all the time! It's really well balanced, especially considering it didn't spend any time in a barrel. The hop bitterness was right on where it should be to keep the beer dry, but still let all the other delicious flavors shine through. Great Divide also makes Oak Aged variants of this beer, which are well worth the effort to find.

4. Boulevard - Imperial Stout (2013) - 8.3/10

Alcohol: 11% ABV
Release: December
How hard it is to find: Somewhat Difficult
Approx. Price: $13/750 ml ($6.00/12 oz.)

With the release of the 2014 vintage today, we had to throw this beer in the mix even though it's probably classed closer to KBS and BCBS in terms of price and availability (although it should be easier to get this year as Boulevard is increasing production). This was the easiest drinking of all the beers we tried but still has a great thick body. I could have drank it all afternoon, which is a huge compliment when you're talking about imperial stouts. As Mike put it, "If Count Chocula cereal were covered in booze, it would taste like this."

5. North Coast - Old Rasputin - 8.1/10

Alcohol: 9% ABV
Release: Year-Round
How hard it is to find: Very Easy
Price: $2.50/12 oz.

This one was a total surprise to me. Old Rasputin has been on the shelves for decades and you can find it at practically any liquor store. It's easy to forget about classics like this and pass them over for the new stuff. But this beer is still great after all these years. Like the others in the starting lineup, it has an excellent balance and great flavors.

6. Oskar Blues - Ten Fidy - 7.7/10

Alcohol: 10.5% ABV
Release: Fall-Winter
How hard it is to find: Easy
Approx. Price: $3.50/12 oz.

Oskar Blues is a relatively new entrant to the KC market, even though they've been around since the late '90's. All of their beers are solid, and Ten Fidy is no exception. It is the most robust stout of our starting lineup, with big flavors, a thick and viscous body, and big warming alcohol. If you haven't ever tried Oskar Blues out, go get a pack of these beasts!

The Second String

These beers were all still good enough to make it to the all-star game, just not good enough to make it off the bench. The biggest issue we had with these was them being slightly off-balance. They either had too much hops that would crowd out the other flavors and diminish the complexity, or too little bitterness which would leave you with a sweet cloying aftertaste. All in all though, they're all worth giving a try if you haven't before.  

7. Bells - Expedition Stout - 6.9/10

Alcohol: 10.5% ABV
Release: Fall-Winter
How hard it is to find: Easy
Approx. Price: $2.75/12 oz.

8. Boulevard - Dark Truth Stout - 6.8/10

Alcohol: 10% ABV
Release: Year-Round
How hard it is to find: Very Easy
Approx. Price: $3.00/12 oz.

9. Free State - Ironman Imperial Stout - 6.7/10

Alcohol: 8.5% ABV
Release: Fall-Winter
How hard it is to find: Somewhat Easy
Approx. Price: $2.50/12 oz.

10. Lagunitas - Imperial Stout - 6.6/10

Alcohol: 10% ABV
Release: Year-Round
How hard it is to find: Very Easy
Approx. Price: $3.50/22 oz. ($1.90/12 oz.)

1 comment:

  1. Great comparison. I would have liked to see where Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout ranked in this comparison, but still a good list.