Category Archives: Imperial Stout

Founders Imperial Stout

rating_excellent83 points

What’s thick, dark, pours slow, and tastes sweet?  If you guessed molasses, technically you’re correct.

But since we’re all about beer here at The Basement Beer Tastings, the answer we were looking for was: Founders Imperial Stout.  That’s because there’s a distinct and unique molasses flavor in this beer.

foundersimperialstoutImperial Stout is yet another solid offering from Founders Brewing, which to-date is one of our most consistently high-rated breweries.   There was only one panelist that rated Imperial Stout as just “Fair.”  Even with that Fair rating, the other panelists’ scores were high enough to average out this beer’s rating at “Excellent.”

A thick, almost syrupy black appearance was noted immediately upon the pour of Imperial Stout, along with a late-arriving head.  Coffee and smoke were noted on the aroma, and one panelist found the smell to be astringent, akin to witchhazel.  Overall the aroma was found to be very pleasant and enticed our panel to taste the beer. As if we needed coaxing.

The smoky-sweet flavor of molasses was the panelists’ most common descriptor for the taste of Imperial Stout.  Following closely behind was an essence of cherry.  That cherry flavor became more pronounced on the aftertaste, which was also found to be slightly bitter. But the panel welcomed this after the initial sweetness.

Drinkability ratings scored high, as most panelists wished to continue enjoying Imperial Stout even after their glass was finished.

Most surprising to the panel — the fact that a beer which appeared so thick and syrupy and had overtones of molasses was, in all actuality, extremely easy to drink.

So how will you choose to enjoy Founders Imperial Stout?  With its thick appearance yet lighter body, will you choose to consume it quickly?

Or with its complex flavor will you choose to enjoy it as slow as…well…you know.

(Appearance 8.5, Smell 9, Taste 25, Aftertaste 17.83, Drinkability 23)

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North Coast Old Rasputin

rating_excellent83 points

North Coast’s Old Rasputin was a new beer to all the members of the panel.  One member, upon hearing the name of this brew, asked, “Isn’t he the Russian guy with the long…”  And according to legend, that would be correct.  But while there remains many mysteries surrounding the man, the same does not hold true for the beer of his namesake.

rasputinThis Russian Imperial Stout is an award winning offering from North Coast.  On its website, the company boasts of the beer’s “cult following.” While The Basement Beer Tastings doesn’t hand out any awards, after tasting we could understand the passionate following the beer claims to have.

Rasputin himself appears on the labeling of the bottle.  While he’s not much in the looks department, there is something entrancing about the long gaze he casts.  “Entrancing” seems to be a fitting word to describe the panel’s reaction to the beer’s appearance.

All panelists found this beer to be visually appealing with one member commenting on the beer’s generous head.  Smell was also pleasant with the panelists noting a smoky, sweet aroma.

That aroma proved not to be misleading. Smoky, sweet flavors followed on tasting, and were found to be well balanced, with panelists noting hints of vanilla.

The panel found the aftertaste to be generally pleasing with a coffee finish and smokiness that lingered.  Old Rasputin does not present itself as a quick drink, but instead should be a beer that’s savored (as evidenced by its 9% ABV).  One panelist envisioned sitting around a campfire enjoying this imperial stout throughout the night.

Wherever you choose to enjoy Old Rasputin, we at The Basement Beer Tastings feel you won’t be disappointed.  And judging by what we’ve read about the man, this probably held true for him as well.

(Appearance 9.75, Smell 8, Taste 24.75, Aftertaste 16.5, Drinkability 24) 

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Tasting Notes – Chocolate Beers


In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the panel focused its attention, Feb. 13, on chocolate beers — offerings brewed with chocolate or with added chocolate. In trying nine different selections, the panel learned that brewers have a broad interpretation of what constitutes a “chocolate beer,” and that finding a notable chocolate brew isn’t as easy at it may seem.
(Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Bob Bowden, Amy Graney, Eric Johnson, Sara Esthus)

Tasting Notes

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout . . . 75 points
Of the nine brews the panel sampled, this stout from Charles Wells Ltd. was the only one from a can. However, the can held a little surprise…a draught-style widget, which on pour produced the nitrogen-rich, cascading head usually attributed to Guinness, who invented the process in 1969. The panel was impressed with the draught style head, black color and delicate nose of cocoa, vanilla and cream, with light hints of smoke. Upon tasting, the panel enjoyed the creaminess and light body, but missed a notable chocolate flavor. Faint chocolate taste was, however, noted on the aftertaste. Ultimately, the panel gave its smoothness high marks for drinkability.
(Appearance 10, Smell 7.33, Taste 19.67, Aftertaste 15.67, Drinkability 22)

Hooker Chocolate Truffle Stout . . . 71 points
Thomas Hooker Brewery produces this stout using chocolate from noted Connecticut chocolatier, Munson’s Chocolates. The panel found this beer narrowly edged out a New England favorite: Harpoon Chocolate Stout. Hooker’s take has a dark appearance with a good head, and a gentle nose of cocoa and smoke. The panel found the taste smooth, with a bit of smoke and bitterness. Overtones of chocolate were noted, but the panel felt it could have been more chocolatey. The beer had a light finish that fell a bit flat, but ultimately balanced and drinkable. One panelist noted, “I could go all night with this Hooker!”
(Appearance 8.5, Smell 6.5, Taste 21.17, Aftertaste 14.17, Drinkability 20.5)

Harpoon Chocolate Stout . . . 70 points
When the panel decided on a theme of chocolate beers, this perennial favorite from Harpoon Brewing was first on the list. Appearance was dark and pleasing, but smell is what dominates this stout — with big aromas of Tootsie Rolls, fudge, coffee and ice cream. The panel enjoyed the taste a bit more than the similar Hooker brew, with its hints of baker’s chocolate and coffee. However this stout’s taste lacked the big chocolate noted in the smell. Still, the panel found the slightly bitter, slightly smoky, coffee-like flavor well-rounded and smooth. Drinkability was overall good, though most panelists noted that the beer’s bitter, dry aftertaste affected how long you could drink it.
(Appearance 7.5, Smell 8, Taste 22.33, Aftertaste 13.33, Drinkability 18.83)

Founders Big Lushious . . . 69 points
Founders Brewing’s Big Lushious stout makes a big statement: raspberries belong in your beer. The panelists were pleased with the rich reddish-black color, and the huge smell of raspberry jam and light cocoa. The fruity, raspberry taste overpowered what little chocolate taste was evident. But when paired with a chocolate bar, this dessert beer made one panelist exclaim, “Take your pants off before you drink this!” Everything about this beer is big and bold. Big bottle, big aroma, bold flavor and a bold label. The drawback to a beer this big is that it’s a one-and-done beer, which hurt its drinkability rating. But if you’re planning to only have one, it’s going to be a memorable one.
(Appearance 8.83, Smell 8.17, Taste 24.33, Aftertaste 13.5, Drinkability 13.67)

Breckenridge 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout . . . 68 points
Breckenridge’s interpretation of chocolate stout couldn’t be more different than Founders’. On pour, the black syrupy brew is topped with a minimal head…but one that laces the glass as you drink it. Scents of oak, honey, milkshake and a touch of cherry were notable. The panel found the taste bold and different, with a sweet tongue highlighted with flavors of cherry and whiskey. Chocolate was present, but again lighter than the panel was hoping. The aftertaste was smooth, but a bit medicinal — likely the effect of time spent aging in whiskey barrels. Drinkability was middle-of-the-road. While it was enjoyable, the panel agreed that you probably wouldn’t be able to drink a lot of it.
(Appearance 9, Smell 8.17, Taste 19.17, Aftertaste 15.33, Drinkability 16.33)

Harpoon Black Forest . . . 66 points
Like its name suggests, Black Forest is an imperial porter brewed with chocolate and cherry, and upon pouring, it looks like a cherry cola. It was the lightest color of all the beers sampled. The panel found its soft cherry flavor pleasing, though overpowering to a point where chocolate flavor was lacking. Though drinkable, the panel expected more from a limited edition brew.
(Appearance 7.83, Smell 7.83, Taste 20.33, Aftertaste 13.5, Drinkability 16.5)

Southern Tier Choklat . . . 65 points
Of all the beers sampled, Southern Tier’s imperial stout with chocolate was deemed the most complex. It had a dark brown appearance accompanied by a light nose of dark chocolate and cream cola. The panel noted a taste of bitter, unsweetened chocolate and coffee that developed into a smokier taste as it went. The panel found the aftertaste a bit too bitter. Drinkability was rated average.
(Appearance 8.83, Smell 8.17, Taste 18, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 16.67)

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout . . . 63 points
Brooklyn’s stout received points for its appearance and smell, with a colorful head and a nose of milk chocolate. The panel found the taste sweet on first take, with a blend of chocolate and coffee. But the taste and especially aftertaste developed into an overwhelmingly bitter experience, which cut drinkability.
(Appearance 9, Smell 8, Taste 18.83, Aftertaste 12.67, Drinkability 14.67)

Rogue Chocolate Stout . . . 62 points
Some of the panelists favor Rogue’s other beers, so when it was time to evaluate chocolate beers, Rogue’s take had to be on the list. But the panel quickly found out that Rogue’s hoppy take on stout is a far cry from the standard definition. The panelists admired the appearance, and noted scents of wood, vanilla and smoke, but not much chocolate. On taste, the hops overpowered any other overtones, leaving behind a bitter and dry aftertaste with some coffee and smoke. But tastes of chocolate were nowhere to be found, leaving on panelist to say, “If you’re going to market it as chocolate, put some chocolate in it.”
(Appearance 8.17, Smell 7.17, Taste 17.17, Aftertaste 12, Drinkability 17.83)

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Tasting Notes – Impromptu Tasting

Members of the panel had not met for a couple of weeks, so two days prior to the Feb. 13 tasting, a few panelists convened to sharpen their palettes with a selection of three beers. The results were as varied and ranging as the selections themselves.
(Panelists: Mike Festi, Jon Graney, Amy Graney)

Tasting Notes

Samuel Adams Cherry Chocolate Bock . . . 76 points
With the chocolate beers tasting mere days away, the panel sampled this seasonal bock from Sam Adams. The beer had a pleasing deep red appearance reminiscent of a cherry cola, and had a pleasant scent of cherry, cocoa and vanilla. On taste, the panel found a strong cherry taste and buttery caramel that trailed off a little too early. However, the tasters noted a light chocolate aftertaste and excellent drinkability.
(Appearance 7, Smell 7.67, Taste 22.67, Aftertaste 14.67, Drinkability 23.67)

Back East Ale . . . 59 points
This flagship amber ale from Back East Brewing had notable fruity aroma, with notes of citrus and melon and a hoppy overtone. Despite its hoppiness, the panel found it light and refreshing. But ultimately the panel found the flavor somewhat neutral. The panel was split on drinkability, with some noting a bitter aftertaste while others enjoyed its light body.
(Appearance 6.67, Smell 6.33, Taste 17, Aftertaste 12.33, Drinkability 17)

Long Trail Brush & Barrel Series Imperial Stout . . . 56 points
Crack open this limited imperial stout from Long Trail, and one thing will hit you hard: smoke. The panel admired the extra-dark color and lacy head of this imperial. Aromas of campfire smokiness and earthy vegetation were pronounced, yet dampened by somewhat antiseptic and yeasty notes. On taste, the panel found the smokiness and malt to be a bit overpowering, and not as balanced as expected. The aftertaste was exceptionally dry, and drinkability only average. The panel agreed that while it was a decent offering, it didn’t stand out as an artisan brew.
(Appearance 7, Smell 3.67, Taste 16, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 16.67)

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Tasting Notes – Winter Beers


The panel, for its January theme Basement Beer Tasting, tackled six winter seasonals. Caramel and smoke dominate taste among brews released for winter — with one notable exception.
Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Rick Czapla, Bob Bowden

Tasting Notes

rating_excellentCaptain Lawrence Frost Monster . . . 83 points
This imperial stout from Elmsford, NY, boasts a ton of malt and a whopping 12% ABV. The panel thought it was a spectacular brew, with a gorgeous appearance and a sweet, smooth, smoky taste. But the consensus was also this was a one-and-done “showcase” beer  — a beer you could use to impress friends; not a beer you could drink all night. The label itself is worth a trip to the package store.
Appearance 9.75, Smell 7.75, Taste 26, Aftertaste 18.25, Drinkability 20.75

Brooklyn Winter Ale . . . 79 points
Another New York offering, this time a Scottish ale. This underrated beer impressed the panel with a light, toasty caramel taste and outstanding drinkability. Its aroma was light, being malty and not hoppy. But the panelists agreed this was a winter beer that could be enjoyed, one after another.
Appearance 8.75, Smell 5, Taste 24, Aftertaste 16, Drinkability 25

Traveler Jolly Shandy . . . 76 points
The Traveler Beer Co. is headquartered in Vermont, but contract brews through a famous company in Boston. This identity crisis extends also to its Jolly Shandy. The panel loved this wheat ale, but agreed that this should be offered as a summer beer — not in the dead of winter. The juicy, fizzy ale is a refreshing blend of orange and pomegranate, and with a low 4.4% ABV, it’s a drinker.
Appearance 7, Smell 6.75, Taste 23.25, Aftertaste 15.75, Drinkability 23

Berkshire Brewing Co. Cabin Fever Ale . . . 73 points
This English pale ale was rich with caramel and smoky taste. But the panel was divided on whether they would want to drink it all night long. Some found the aftertaste bitter, while others judged it as light and rich with caramel. But overall, Cabin Fever was judged to be a smooth and enjoyable winter seasonal.
Appearance 8.5, Smell 5.5, Taste 22.25, Aftertaste 15, Drinkability 21

Anchor Winter Wheat . . . 68 points
Wheat beers are traditionally light, so when the panel poured this black brew into a glass, appearance marks shot through the roof. But the overwhelming sweet taste of malt and wheat took over. The panel noted bread-like toasty, chocolaty and slightly smoky taste. Anchor Brewing released this as a new beer in 2014, and while it certainly wasn’t bad, it needs taming.
Appearance 7.75, Smell 6, Taste 19.25, Aftertaste 15, Drinkability 20.25

Harpoon UFO Gingerland . . . 61 points
The panelists approached this unfiltered wheat beer with intrigue, but quickly found that it was a rare swing-and-a-miss from Harpoon Brewery. While it definitely had strong gingerbread overtones, the panel felt that it needed a sweetener to balance the ginger bite. It certainly wasn’t offensive, but it’s a beer you’ll get sick of before you even finish the bottle. This was another new offering for 2014, so perhaps Harpoon can tame it for next year…or shelf it.
Appearance 6.5, Smell 7.25, Taste 15.75, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 18

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