Years ago, when I was first delving into craft beer, one of my friends told me about this dark, strong elixir that I just had to try. This was back when Stone Imperial Russian Stout only made peekaboo-like appearances in New England for a week or so after it was released and then it would be gone for another year. If you weren’t quick, you’d lost your shot. Luckily, I walked into the store one day and they had just received their case. I grabbed a bottle and, after I cracked it open, found out that my friend hadn’t lied. Fast forward many years and Stone announces that they’ll be adding espresso to this beer for their 2013 Odd Year series release of Stone IRS. Now, if there’s one thing I like as much as beer it’s coffee...hell, our first collaboration beer was a coffee stout we released with Notch Brewing! So I was over the moon about this and knew I had to get a bottle. Well I did, and here it is.
What’s the darkest place you can think of? Perhaps your childhood basement at night with the lights off (if you’re the sentimental type)? Well this beer is darker than that. It’s black like the absence of light. Black like the Brooklyn Nets’ jerseys. Black like black is black. You get it, right? It’s really dark. As you pour a short, tan head forms on top, completing the illusion of drawing a shot of espresso and getting a good crema.
Not unsurprisingly, the predominant aroma in this is coffee...a roasty, mildly fruity blend of beans that smells like it may have a hit of bitterness up front. There’s a sweetness in the aroma that is similar to the way that coffee with milk and sugar smells. Once you’re past the coffee, and it does mellow as you smell it more and your nose becomes a bit numb to it, the dark fruit and berry aromas of the base Stone Imperial Russian Stout begin to come through and you get the nuances of this beer. If it was just a stout with a ton of coffee in it, I’d drink it and enjoy it. But it’s these additional layers that make this such a great beer.
A thick, viscous brew, the Stone Espresso IRS hits you right upside the head with a serious espresso fist. Honestly, in many ways it reminds me of the Taza Coffee Mexicano Chocolate: dry, slightly bitter and a ton of coffee flavor. The sweetness and fruit flavors that are so expressive in the regular version are nowhere to be found here, even as the beer warms, having been countered by the Ryan Brothers Coffee beans. There’s a bit of a chocolate milk flavor in the finish and the mouthfeel isn’t that far off either. The light, but permeating, carbonation is just enough so that it doesn’t feel flat. If you love coffee and Imperial Russian Stout, then you’ve got to check this one out! But make sure you like that caffeinated black stuff or else this may not be the one for you...it’s coffee like whoa!