One of the beer I picked up for sampling over the holiday season was the St. Ambroise Stout Imperiale Russe (Russian Imperial Stout). Stouts are something St. Ambroise does well. I am not as big a fan as many are of their pale ale, but can never get enough of their stout. Once a year they produce an imperial stout. This year’s version is aged in bourbon barrels. I was looking forward to it.
As expected, it pours deep, thick and black with the darkest tan head I have ever seen. I might even call it medium-brown which is saying something for foam. Not only is the head dark, it is thick and creamy and lasts forever like a thick blanket of (brown) prairie snow. The aroma gives off vanilla, wood, bourbon, some moderate roast, touches of alcohol heat, sweet chocolate and caramel. It reminds me of the aroma from Ola Dubh (one of my favourite oak-aged beer).
The flavour has a few layers to it. Upfront is dark molasses and burnt sugar, thick sweetness. The middle offers some oak, vanilla, and alcohol mustiness. Earthy wood and sweet bourbon are also found here. The finish is burnt bourbon, straight up. The mouthfeel has an alcohol warming. The Linger grows toward both alcohol warmth and stout roastiness. This is a thick and rich beer with just the right amount of wood character to add complexity without overpowering the stout qualities.
I like this beer a lot. It is complex but not overwhelming. I like the combo of wood and stout character.It gives Ola Dubh a run for its money. St. Ambroise is fuller and more roasty, but the Ola Dubh has a silkiness that this beer lacks. If forced to choose, I would still give the nod to Ola Dubh, but this remains one bloody nice beer.
It is a good thing I don’t really have to choose and can happily drink both of them.