February is Stout Month, when Oregon brewers roll our their most precious dark secrets for us to try. This February 2015 alone there are EIGHT new imperial stouts in bottles from Oregon breweries that make for an ideal time to re-stock your cellar, or maybe just your fridge. Our lineup includes five beers aged in bourbon, rye, and rum barrels, and even one brewed with strawberries.
Full Sail: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
The grandaddy of Oregon barrel-aged imperial stouts, Full Sail Brewing’s 2015 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (formerly known as “Black Gold”) has been released in 22oz bottles every other year since 1998. On alternate years Full Sail releases a barrel-aged take on an imperial porter–which is also good–but Black Gold is sometimes among the finest whiskey barrel beers made anywhere. That may be dependent upon how much bourbon whiskey you like in your beer, though; Full Sail’s is sometimes full of so much you might think the brewers dropped a shot into the bottle.
This year’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout is inky black with aroma of dried cherry, shaved chocolate, and whiskey. It has a full, malty palate with flavors of dark chocolate, vanilla, cherry, dried figs, and a subtle hint of molasses. It finishes deliciously warm on the palate. Brewed in December of 2013, the beer was carefully aged for a year in Kentucky Bourbon casks from Jim Beam and Four Roses. This extended aging allows the stout to pick up the flavors of the wood, bourbon, and oak. The aging accentuates the robust character of the imperial stout and brings out the depth of flavor from the bourbon creating an overall elegantly sophisticated beer. This special beer is available now in 22oz. bottles and draft. ABV 10.5% IBU 40 (Formerly known as Black Gold)
Burnside Brewing: Red Light District
This imperial stout may be the most unique of the bunch, as it’s the only one containing fruit and the only one aged in rum barrels. Burnside Brewing Co.’s Brewmaster Jason McAdam added 44 pounds of Belgian chocolate syrup to this beer and spared no expense in adding another 400 pounds of local strawberries to this brew before aging it in Pacific Rum barrels from local Bull Run Distillery. Unlike most of the imperial stouts on this list, the Red Light District has a lighter body without a heavy roast or bitterness and that allows the strawberries to come through more, though they are still subtly done. As the beer warms, the soft Belgian chocolate character envelops and notes of alcohol and oak emerge, along with soft but notable sugar cane and molasses flavors. Out of all the imperial stouts on this list, this may be the one best consumed fresh. On sale now at Burnside Brewing’s pub in Portland, with very. very limited amounts of bottles available at fine bottleshops in Oregon only.
Double Mountain: Chaos Reigns
First released a couple years back as a draft only beer, Double Mountain Head Brewer Kyle Larsen’s Chaos Reigns Imperial Stout has returned, and this time it’s in 16oz bottles. At over over 10% ABV and more than 100 IBUs, it’s a classic American Imperial Stout.
Brewer Kyle Larsen writes about Chaos Reigns, “As a brewer, you can only guide the beer you brew. Mother Nature and yeast have minds of their own, and will do what they please within the guidelines we as brewers provide. In homage to the Chaos that rules our lives, we bring you Chaos Reigns. Dark, all encompassing, deceptively silky smooth with a warm afterglow. Make it Reign! 10.6% ABV, 100+ IBU”
Chaos Reigns can be found in both bottles and on draft throughout the Northwest, British Columbia, and Southern California as early as of February 11th, 2015.
Oakshire Brewing: Hellshire V
Oakshire Brewing releases a new barrel-aged beer in the Hellshire series each year; the style has alternated between barleywines and imperial stouts, and for its 5th year, it’s an export-style stout aged for 9 months in freshly emptied Knob Creek bourbon barrels. Hellshire is one of the rarest and most anticipated releases on this list and is often only available at the brewery and the new annual Hellshire Day and Barrel-Aged Beer Fest that now marks its release. If we are lucky, a few cases might make it to select bottleshops in Portland and kegs to special events, otherwise get thee to Eugene on March 14th or have a friend scout one out for you.
Oakshire Brewing tells us that this year’s Hellshire V has a symbiotic relationship with the art by Sean Äaberg, who has designed all five years with his hellish, cartoonish, and colorful yet almost grotesque scenes of the damned. This year, though, Oakshire has added a twist by putting out two different labels with his illustrations in the spirit of comic book variant colors. Perhaps this is a bid for collectors to have both labels or just a fun nod to the artists talent. Either way this Bourbon Barrel-Aged Export-style Stout is practically sessionable at 8.3% ABV at least when compared with some of the other beers on this list. OG 19.74 IBU 25
Block 15: Super Nebula
Block 15 Brewing out of Corvallis, Oregon, release of Super Nebula bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout is like the Maltese Falcon of Oregon stouts. I can remember a day when Block 15 was but a hidden gem in its little college town, and Brewmaster/Owner Nick Arzner would bring up cases of his bottle releases to Portland. Those days are long gone now as beer geeks form a line down the block to buy up each bottle release, usually selling out on the same day. The recent release of Super Nebula at the brewery on February 7, 2015, came in two versions, the regular and one made with Coffee and aged in Elijah Craig whiskey barrels.
The 2014 vintage (released in February 2015) has a lot of Dutch chocolate character, a smooth, creamy, and not so bitter body. The bourbon and oak flavors are well layered into the depth of malt and chocolate character. The oak and bourbon spice adds a little vanilla and subtle smokiness with a surprising restraint in its roastiness. Low carbonation lends to the rich, creamy character and booziness that recalls a hot cocoa spiked with bourbon. Super Neb may also be the biggest beer on this list at 11% ABV, but good luck finding any bottles.
Fort George: Bourbon Barrel Cavatica
A special highly limited bottling of Astoria-based Fort George Brewery’s Cavatica Stout aged in Willett Bourbon barrels for 9 months is now available in select bottleshops and at the brewery. Cavatica is a beefy and hoppy stout to begin with, and retains much even with the aging time, a lot of that intense roastiness and bitterness remains, yet plenty of bourbon has been soaked up in that time. Bourbon Barrel Cavatica is a classic for roasty stout and bourbon lovers, but should age fairly well at 9.9% ABV.
Worthy Brewing: Dark Muse
From Bend comes Worthy Brewing’s second annual release of Dark Muse Imperial Stout. Available at Worthy’s pub and in stores now, this 10.1% ABV beer depicting a Rasputin-looking wise man is described as smooth, complex, and dark with a rich body and roasty character with loads of alcoholic warmth. A touch of bitterness rounds out the 60 IBUs with a full mouthfeel and round finish. The limited release of 22-ounce bottles and draft is ready to drink now or hold on to for years to come. Worthy’s brewmaster, Chad Kennedy, considers this the ultimate cold weather beer, meant to warm the body and awaken the soul with the first sip.
Widmer Brothers: KGB Russian Imperial Stout
Created by Widmer innovation brewer Ben Dobler way back in 1998, you could occasionally find KGB Russian Imperial Stout on tap at the Widmer Gasthaus. KGB Russian Imperial Stout is brewed using roasted barley, chocolate malt, and Midnight Wheat. KGB has a color that is as dark as a torrid past, a body as full as a well-kept dossier, and a taste as complex as a conspiracy theory. In 2011 Widmer Brothers released it as a spring seasonal in bottles. Not long ago, in 2013, the Portland brewer released chocolate and raspberry versions of this imperial stout in its Brothers Reserve series in 22oz bottles. KGB RIS also made it to 4-packs of 12oz bottles–where it was one of the best big beer deals of the year–and I still have a few cellared.
Now in 2015 Widmer Brewing is celebrating its 30 Beers for 30 Years series and commemorating KGB’s original release in ’98 with a brand new redesigned 22oz bottle and limited draft availability. Widmer has been releasing 2-3 of these vintage re-brews every month or so; in other words these new 9.5% ABV bottles might go quick.