Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout




Review Date 11/30/2000   Last Updated 10/31/2016  By John Staradumsky

Long live the Empire! Or at least, the imperial stout, which is a beer with roots in two empires. Imperial stout made its journey from Imperial Britain to Czarist Russia during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Just as India pale ale was a bigger, bolder beer designed to survive the long ocean voyages to the troops in India, imperial stout was brewed to a higher alcohol content to help keep it from freezing during shipment. First by sea to the Baltics and then overland through Russia, the beer could be exposed to some brutally cold conditions. It is a bigger beer in every aspect, hops, malt, and yeast.

Samuel Smith’s Imperial stout is on the lighter side of the style, with an original gravity of 1.072 and an alcohol content of 7 percent by volume. Imperials will often run in the range of 1.1 with an alcohol content of 8 to 9 percent. It is brewed at the Old Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorks, England. Tadcaster is also home to John Smith’s Magnet Brewery, where Courage Russian Imperial Stout is brewed. Courage is the most famous and sought-after example of the style.

Though Imperial Stout is a style with roots in the past, Samuel Smith’s version is a decidedly modern brew. It has only been sold since the nineteen eighties, and carried on the tradition of its origins by being brewed in England (a former empire) for distribution solely in the United States (an empire in all but name). Today, it is also distributed in its home country.

Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout is jet-black in color with a thick tan head and a rich vinous nose. The palate has always been reminiscent of a fine red wine to me, perhaps a merlot? There are definite chocolate notes too, as well as hints of prune, passion fruit, and licorice. The finish is roasty and slightly sour, not really bitter, but warm with alcohol and very wine-like. This is a very complex and delicious ale to be sure.

Best served for sipping after dinner rather than with it; I prefer it in the fall and winter by the fireplace on a cold evening.

Update 10/31/2016: Enjoyed a bottle of Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout tonight while watching Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. I'm not sure what the one has to do with the other, except that I love them both. The stout is rich and roasty with a hint of licorice and more chocolate. Not as vinous as I sued to find it, but still wonderfully roasty in the finish. A little more expensive than it used to be (and it has always been on the high side) at $4.99 an 18.7 ounce bottle, but worth it for a classic like this.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.