Skip to content

The Good Kind of Imperial

December 9, 2010

When it gets dark early, and you can’t stand outside for more than five minutes without your face going numb, you know that you’re staring down the barrel of another harsh New England winter. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to delve into imperial-style beers, those rich, warming brews that are the perfect antidote for cold weather.

The “imperial” style has it origins in the 18th century, when English breweries created stouts with a higher alcohol content (usually around 9-10%) so that they could be shipped to the court of Catherine II in Russia. These “Russian Imperial Stouts” had a  higher alcohol content to prevent them from freezing during transport in the often harsh Russian climate. Today, the designation of an “imperial” style simply refers to a beer that has a higher than normal alcohol content. Imperial styles tend to be richer and oftentimes more flavorful than other styles, and today they include more than just stouts. Here are some of my recent favorites that I think are worthy of your consideration this winter.

Dogfish Head’s  My Antonia is an imperial pilsner at 7.5%. It has the pale golden color and clean taste of a pilsner, but with lots of Noble and West Coast hops that give it a good complexity. It starts sweet, with some fruit in the middle, and floral flavors from the hops with a mild bitterness at the end. It’s very mild and easy to drink for a beer of this strength, and it actually has an interesting grassy, herbal character.

Eagle Claw Fist, an imperial amber ale from Clown Shoes, is an unusual mixture of sweet malts, spicy hops, caramel, pine, and grapefruit flavors. At 8% abv, it’s a well-balanced brew that hides its alcohol content well under layers of flavor.

Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper is an imperial stout at 10% abv, a more direct descendant of the imperial stouts that they used to ship to Russia back in the day. With an opaque black color, it has flavors of espresso, chocolate, and some fruit, with a slight smokiness from the roasted malts and a mild bitterness. Overall very well-balanced and warming, but not overpowering in any way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: