Archives for posts with tag: imperial stout

It has been FOREVER since I did a real beer post. Thanks for your patience and putting up with the sporadic posting. Before I get to the beer, here’s the deal: we’re putting our health before EVERYTHING now and so our eating plan allows one cheat day per week. I’m averaging 1-2 beers on cheat day and I’ve been cleaning out old stuff that has been around too long. Not very exciting for reviews! LOL

I did get tempted into Gomer’s midtown location a couple weeks ago and after ogling all the bottles my eyes settled on a canned beer I hadn’t seen before. YES, I am still enamored with the idea of canned craft beers, ESPECIALLY if what’s inside might pour like motor oil!

I picked up this six pack of Santa Fe Brewing Co’s Imperial Java Stout for under $9 and it seemed like a good value. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was an “imperial,” I thought it was just a regular coffee stout.

I’m a sucker for packaging and while extremely simple, the Santa Fe can appealed to me because on one side there is a beer mug that says “after noon” and on the other side is a coffee cup that says, “before noon.” Clever.

Coffee beers are best drunk fresh because the coffee character is quick to go. I didn’t know this until I heard it on Craft Beer Radio recently, so I was excited to try a coffee stout that seemed to be a relatively new addition to Gomer’s lineup (i.e. hadn’t been hanging around long) and was also canned, giving it the best chance of retaining as much freshness as possible without drinking it right at the brewery.

According to Santa Fe’s website (worth looking at, they have a nice lineup of interesting-sounding beers) the Imperial Java Stout has an ABV of 8% uses two hop varieties and four types of malt. The website says they use organic beans fro New Guinea and East Timor that are locally roasted in Santa Fe.

Of all the coffee beers I’ve tasted I would say this one is the most coffee forward. There is no mistaking this as a coffee stout. I’m writing this from memory since it’s morning and I don’t really want to drink a stout from a coffee cup as fun as that seems, but I recall a LOT of coffee character (think cold-brewed coffee) with a good, classic stout backbone.

The beer has a good amount of sweetness to it, not quite like Left Hand Milk Stout but not dry, either. The sweetness is balanced in the finish by an earthy hop character and I would say the beer has good overall balance. I enjoyed one can while eating a couple of Justin’s Dark Chocolate peanut butter cups last week and that dried the flavor of the beer out a lot while bringing out more of the hops and a the dark roasty, almost astringent character.

I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by this beer since I knew nothing about it going into it. It’s a good stout in and of itself, but as a coffee lover I think this is a great example of what a coffee-heavy beer can taste like when done properly. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another six pack of this again!


The Toronado is probably one of the most famous bars in the country. I heard about it through listening to Craft Beer Radio, and it has probably been made most famous by its annual barley wine event. I was in San Francisco for a work weekend a few weeks ago and on my day of touring San Franciso, the Toronado was the grand finale. By some miracle I made it back to San Jose, 60 miles outside of SF!

The Toronado is, by all standards, a dive bar. It is in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, so expect to see lots of colorful people and an interesting atmosphere. It’s too bad they don’t have street seating out on the sidewalk because I can think of fewer places that would be as much fun to have a few drinks and watch people.

The bar is dark, the service is non-existant, they don’t serve food and it’s a ton of fun! When I was there, the place just kept getting busier and busier, and they had one bartender and no servers. So, 150 or so people all had to crowd the bar to shout drink orders to the guy. The music was good, with a mix of Iron Maiden, Guns n’ Roses and other classic bands. The people were friendly, and it was probably the most laid-back dive bar I’ve been to. They don’t serve any food, so people either bought their own with them or ordered sandwiches from the shop next door and brought them in.

Now, let’s talk about the beer. The Toronado has some good taps, and things we’d never see here in KC, but it didn’t blow me out of the water completely. They did seem to be having a happy hour, though (I was there for a few hours, and the whole time I was there my beers were $1 off), which was VERY cool for a Saturday. Try finding that anywhere!

I started off with, what else, Pliny the Elder, the world famous double IPA brewed by Russian River Brewing Company. This beer weighs in at 8%ABV, but it felt stronger than that to me. A full pint was, get this, $4. The hops were piney and resiny, West Coast style, but without some of the grapefruity and floral notes I also like in IPA’s. I got tired of it about halfway into the glass, and was a little disappointed I had wasted so much sobriety on what to me was a run of the mill double IPA that you can find 20 more like at any bottle shop in town. Maybe I’m a heretic!

I decided to change up my tactics a lot on my next round, heading straight for the cask ale side of the menu. The Toronado had about 4-6 cask ales on hand pumps while I was there. I can’t honestly say I have ever had a cask conditioned beer before this, so I was really excited. I went with a brewery I’d never heard of, and a beer I’d never heard of, Twist of Fate by Moonlight Brewing Company. After screaming to the bartender several times, I learned that Twist of Fate is an English style “bitter,” basically an amber ale meant as a session beer, more or less. He warned me, “It’s served warm, at room temperature.” Perfect! My kind of place! Moonlight was started in 1992 and only makes about 1000 barrels of beer per year, almost all of which are kegged/casked and sold off Bay Area taps. I was really happy to be drinking something so local!

The beer was served as promised, and cost me a whopping $3. Yes, $3 for a pint of artisanal, local, cask beer. Crazy, huh? It was perfect at that temperature. Had a bit of a bite to it, sort of sour, but not like an acetic acid sour. It definitely wasn’t a “sour beer” by any stretch, but it had that type of bite, with a nice malt and hops balance. At 5.6%ABV it was a little strong for a session beer, but it was smooth and delicious and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. With a menu full of awesome beers in front of me, I liked it enough to have a second one!

I was buzzing pretty good by now and I probably should have gone next door to eat something, but I literally had the best seat in the house, so I didn’t want to give up my perch. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to have Lost Abbey’s Serpent’s Stout. LIke Russian River, Lost Abbey is a famous California brewery and it was a treat to sample their beer. This one was served in a tulip glass, also at a very appropriate temperature for an imperial stout (which for me, is around room temperature, again). I think this one was a measly $4, too!

At 10.5%ABV, this ended up being a big mistake. I honestly can’t tell you much about the beer other than it was good. I was flying pretty high by now and adding a big beer to it all didn’t help, plus I was engaged fully in conversation with my new friends I met at the bar and wasn’t really taking tasting notes. I read some complaints that this beer can be “hot” meaning sharp with the alcohol, and I didn’t notice that, possibly because I was two sheets to the wind by this time.

Not wanting to call it quits just yet, I finished my afternoon drinking session with another Moonlight offering on cask, their IPA called Bombay by Boat. At 5.9% this just added insult to injury and, again, I have no brilliant tasting notes to offer, but it had a nice bitterness, some balance from the malt, and was really smooth and easy to drink being on cask. It cost $3. I could have stayed all night!

Somehow, I managed to leave the Toronado, catch a bus back downtown, walk to the Caltrain station and get back to San Jose! Amazing! 🙂

The Toronado was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it to anybody who is visiting San Francisco. Bring some food and plan on staying for a while. My original intent was to go a mile west of the Toronado to the actual Haight-Ashbury intersection and eat dinner at the Magnolia, which is supposed to serve excellent beer and food, but I was pretty much stumbling out of the place and just getting back to where I needed to be seemed like the best idea of all. The best dive bar in the world, except for the Cigar Box, that is!

Now that Sprecher seems to be getting more widely available in Kansas City, I don’t mind reviewing this previously obscure (for around here) beer so much! I actually purchased this bottle in Omaha, NE, a few months ago. A four-pack of Sprecher’s trademark 16oz bottles was something like $7!

Sprecher makes some really good beers. I used to associate the brewery with someone I didn’t particularly like from my past (who turned me onto the brewery), so I’m glad I’ve been trying more of their beers and rediscovering this superb Wisconsin brewery over the part few months!

This beer is from Sprecher’s Premium Reserve lineup. It is a Russian Imperial Stout (you can tell this because the brewery cleverly named it “Russian Imperial Stout”), which is a style of stout originally brewed in the UK with extra alcohol (higher gravity) and hops to be exported to the Baltic courts. The “imperial” designation comes from the rumor that these beers were especially popular with Russian royalty.

This is an extremely popular style of beer in the craft brewing scene and for good reasons… stouts are delicious, all sorts of adjuncts like fruits, coffee and chocolate can be added to play with the flavors, and they are fun to drink. What’s not to like?

I poured this beer into my large (16oz) nonic pint glass (the large pint glasses with the bulge near the mouth). The beer poured absolutely pitch black with just the faintest of red highlights in the very corners of the glass. The head was the brown color of the crema on an espresso, deep and rich and fluffy like shaving cream.

I got a little aroma of roast and maybe coffee initially, but once the head disappeared I couldn’t get anything for aroma, and this time I don’t think it’s my nose!

The beer is an easy drinker, with little carbonation and a smooth, silky mouthfeel. If I didn’t know better, I would think it has oatmeal in it because of the texture, but none is listed on the website. This beer weighs in at 32 IBU’s and 8.5% ABV, so it’s not a mammoth stout, but it’s no lightweight, either.

There is some sweetness and dry roast on the front end of the sip, while the hops sort of come in later in the sip from the sides and meet up for a big finish with a little bitterness from the roasted malts. This is a well-balanced beer, with a nice finish that isn’t too dry or too sweet. There are hints of chocolate in the flavor, too, but I don’t pick up any coffee-like flavors despite getting some on the initial aroma. A nice caramel flavor on the aftertaste.

As far as imperial stouts go, this is fairly one-dimensional when compared to something like Bell’s Expedition Stout, for example. I’d compare it more to something like Old Rasputin or even a standard stout like Anderson Valley’s incredible Barney Flatts Oatmeal Stout. That said, it’s a very enjoyable beer, very easy to drink and, after having only 1-2 beers in the past four weeks, something with a noticeable kick for my now lightweight status! This would be a good bar stout for when you’re socializing, not forcing you to think too hard about what you’re tasting. Another winner from Sprecher!


I was in Michigan for a few days for vacation and visiting old friends, and we spent one day up in Holland seeing my old digs, trying to make a beer run, and visiting New Holland Brewing Company. The beer run wasn’t as good as I had hoped, and the weather was horrible the day we went up there, but NHBC was lively and I had some good beers.

When you visit the brewpub, which occupies the former Vogelzang Hardware store on 8th St. in downtown Holland, there are always three sets of beers

to choose from: Mainstays, High Gravity and Specialties. The mainstay choices are things the brewery makes year-round, like Mad Hatter IPA and The Poet stout. The high gravity series are the big beers, a lot of which are also made all year long, like Night Tripper, Existential (double IPA) and The Pilgrim’s Dole (wheat wine). The specialty beers are seasonals or one-offs that change frequently. On this visit there were 4-5, and I wish I had snapped a photo as I can’t remember them all, but one was a smoked lager, which I had, while there was a helles and a couple more beers to choose from. Thanks to NHBC’s Facebook page, I can now fill in these blanks. The specialty beers on tap while I was there were Copper Pot (Vienna Lager), Smokey Joe (smoked lager), House Lager (style unknown) and there was a helles whose name wasn’t available, either.

I tend not to like smoked beers, as the smoke can be way too overpowering for me, but I decided to try the smoked lager and see what I thought. I didn’t take tasting notes, so my recollections are the best I could do, but I really enjoyed this beer. The beer itself was a regular lager, basically in this case a vehicle to carry the smoke flavor, but the smoke was subtle and delicious. It would have paired really well with food, I think. I can’t remember a whole lot about the beer other than I liked it a lot and it was probably the best smoked beer I’ve had.


I also enjoyed a Night Tripper, which was $5.00 in a 10-ounce flute type of glass. The beer was served way too cold, in my opinion, off the tap, but it warmed up very fast after having my hands cupped around the glass for a few minutes. Again, I didn’t take tasting notes, but this is a nice imperial IPA. The carbonation is low, it is pitch black, and there are lots of nice roasty flavors along with dark fruits and quite a kick of alcohol on in the aroma and flavor. I enjoyed this beer a lot, but I found 10 ounces to be a bit much for me. I was going to do a mix of samples from the High Gravity series and while I enjoyed the Night Tripped very much, afterward I had wished that I’d done that instead of a full glass of just one.

My girlfriend wanted to have a Dark & Stormy, but they were out of ginger beer, so she had a mint julep, instead, made from NHBC’s artisanal Zeppelin Bend whiskey instead. The whiskey sells for something like $75/bottle, and their whiskey cocktails are $16 each! It seemed like an OK drink, but I think their bartenders are very much beer servers first and mixologists a distant second. It was not a $16 cocktail, in my opinion, although they did give her a nice hit of whiskey and can’t be accused of underpouring it.

They had a lot of liquor infusing in big jugs behind the bar, and I was tempted to try the cucumber-infused gin, but I passed. My stomach was so-so that day, and I just wasn’t in much of a drinking mood. New Holland started distilling their own liquors about 3.5 years ago or so, and when they first started making them available I had a “gin and tonic” there. Unfortunately, the “gin” was brandy with flavorings in it to make it taste gin-like, so it was AWFUL in a drink. That abomination liquor is now called Jumpin’ Juniper, and they do make a real gin now, but I was afraid to try it, even though I am a huge fan of Hendrick’s very cucumber-ish gin. Maybe next time!