Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sip with care: Imperial stout

In his review of Imperial Stouts in the Food Section of the Washington Post this morning, Greg Kitsock writes:

Imperial stouts pair well with Stilton cheese, walnuts, fruitcake soaked in rum, high end chocolates, and any super-rich dessert.

Several years ago, I challenged the chef at the Sputnik Café (near to Annapolis, Maryland) to create a dish which combined three of the above five pairings.

He acquiesced.
imported by B. United International
At a beer dinner, he served his patrons a cheesecake of Stilton and pastry, topped with figs and toasted walnuts, and drizzled with honey. What an amazing treat Chef David Brown had created, although some diners were at first surprised. He had but slightly sweetened the Stilton cheese.

I paired his cheesecake with the adjectivally rich Albert Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Imperial Stout.

The A. Le Coq company was founded in London in the early 1800s by Albert Le Coq, a Belgian merchant. He brewed and exported a strong stout exclusively for the Russian market.

In the early 20th century, the company opened a brewery in Estonia — cheaper transportation costs, after all. But soon the "untidiness" (to borrow from our previous Defense Secretary) of the Russian Revolution intervened. The brewery continued on; the beer did not.

The English brewery Harvey's brews it now — allegedly with the original recipe — with permission from the Le Coq family's estate.

Tasting Albert Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Imperial Stout exposes the shallowness of some good-beer drinkers when they reduce a beer to its recipe parts: how many bittering units (IBUs), what's the original gravity (OG), etc.

This beer contains 'only' 50 IBUs of hop bitterness, 'only' 9% alcohol by volume (abv) — but my, oh my!

The intense roasted bitterness, tar notes, licorice notes, sherry notes, deep dark unctiousness, all are blended together in a profound way. This is indeed an after-dinner drink, a 'warmer' for a blustery winter's night.

Sip with care — with some Stilton on the side.

The Albert Le Coq is not mentioned in the above Washington Post piece. Instead the emphasis is on fine American examples, such as these two personal favorites: Legends Imperial Stout from Richmond, Virginia, and Storm King from Victory of Pennsylvania.

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