There’s snow on the ground down here…not too surprising for a February evening in New England or Colorado, or for folks in my former home of DC (which apparently has 72 feet of snow right now). But it’s fairly rare for my sleepy corner of the Deep South. People have forgotten how to drive, schools have closed, and old people are stocking up on canned goods (they don’t seem to realize that the snow will have melted by tomorrow afternoon). It’s the kind of weather that makes you stay inside with a blanket wrapped around you, your favorite dog or wife in one arm, and your other hand holding snugly to a glass of dark beer. In short, it’s Russian Imperial Stout weather.

Stouts are the heavy hitters of the beer world. Rich, dark, creamy…they’re celebrated beers, but they can be imposing to novice Aleheads. Guinness is the most well-known of the species, but it’s just a gateway drug. There are far more complex, beautiful offerings out there. And at the top of the Stout food chain is the Russian Imperial.

Russian Imperials were brewed in England for the court of Catherine the Great, the famed empress of Russia. The beers had to travel across frigid waters so the British brewmasters upped the alcohol content of their stouts to ensure that the beers didn’t freeze en route. To counter the higher alcohol content, the beers became bolder and more complex. Today, some of the highest rated brews in the world are Russian Imperials and brewing a perfect version of the style is the holy grail for many brewers.

Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout is a 10.10% ABV brew with a misleading name. There is no chocolate in the beer…just a very skilled blending of six varieties of black, chocolate, and roasted malts. Brooklyn’s offerings are consistently excellent so it’s not surprising that their Russian Imperial is lauded by pretty much everyone. But you don’t care about everyone else’s opinion…you only care about mine. Right?

I poured the Black Chocolate into a goblet with a heavy pour to let the dense head form. The beer is beautifully opaque…not a sliver of light making it’s way through. The head is tight, lingers for a bit, and has a nice caramel coloring which hints at the flavors that await you.

A great, subtle aroma greets you at first sniff. The predominant odor is sweet…burnt sugar, molasses, with a slightly fruity undercurrent (ripened grapes and plums). There’s just a touch of hops to balance the aroma, but not enough to truly cut that sweet top-note.

The taste is remarkable…minimal, but noticeable hops and the bitterness of the high alcohol content are matched perfectly by the sweet, roasted flavor of the brew. The aftertaste is incredibly mild for such a bold brew and leaves you wanting more. The flavor is well-rounded, and has moments of intensity, but overall this is a carefully balanced, exceptionally well-conceived Russian Imperial. If you don’t love the style, this is a beer that will convert you.

The Black Chocolate has a wonderful mouthfeel…thick and creamy, my tasting partner (aka Wifey McHops) said the mouthfeel made her want to “swish, not swallow”. 20 solid minutes of inappropriate jokes followed.

Drinkability? Yes, please. Russian Imperials, because of their big flavors and high alcohol contents aren’t generally the most drinkable of brews. But the Black Chocolate is eminently drinkable…I could have polished off the whole 4-pack, but it’s a Monday night and I don’t think the quarter-inch of snow on the ground will shut down my office tomorrow. Alas.

Overall, the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is an excellent representative of one of my favorite styles of beer. It hits the mark in every way and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this brew to anyone. Sounds like a 4 Hops brew to me.


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