A thirsty band of FT contributors gathered this Easter weekend with one aim in mind – to sample and report upon the delights and disappointments of a collection of one of the finest traditional beverages: Imperial Russian Stout.

We decided not to liveblog it – lest the laptop fell into the Wrong Hands – however be assured that the following comments are a true and accurate representation of the tastes and terrors that befell us.

14.58pm. A list of beers is stuck up on the wall to allow the recording of comments by drinkers still possessing the requisite i) motor skills for pen-holding and ii) mental skills for cogent thought (and for everyone else as well). 34 types of imperial stout and porter will be available to drink during the session, however some are different varieties of the same beer (e.g. four different versions of the Dark Star Imperial Stout with bottling dates ranging from 2006-2009). See the end of the post for a full list.

15.30pm. The first arrivals discuss the acquisition of stout from various London emporia. Special mention must be made to Kris Wines in Holloway who supplied a large number of the stouts present. Several tales of woe are heard, passed down from mysterious shopkeepers warning that previous purchasers were Never Seen Again/There Bain’t Be An Offy Here for Twenty Year.

15.36pm. Nearly forgot the beer bottle openers! Disaster averted.

15.42pm. Two of the party make expedition over the road to buy more beer. This may seem unnecessary given the presence of over 40 bottles of beer, but bear in mind that none of said bottles contain liquid under 6% ABV. Thus the purchase of Quaffing Juice is deemed appropriate.

16.00pm. IT BEGINS. The catchiness of the official Twitter hashtag is in question – #imperialstout is swiftly replaced with #istout2010, a modern catchy zinger of a hashtag. As with most modern catchy things it fails to take off and everyone sticks with #imperialstout.

16.02pm. Rick explains the strategy. Thanks to finding a chinagraph pencil in the art shop down the road, all glasses have been marked with a line at 100ml to give everyone a fair measure. We’ll start off all tasting the same beer (from the bigger bottles) then just take our pick of what we fancy.

The first stout to be sampled is the originator of the whole project, purchased from the nice man at Stoke Newington farmer’s market:

Pitfield 1792 Imperial Stout (9.3%, UK, two bottles – one best before 2010, the other 2011) (website)
First impressions: “Very frothy – a froth that won’t quit!”
Aroma: “Christmassy”, “Galloway’s sore throat expectorant”, “Vicks vapour rub”, “Savoury”, “if you inhale too hard it makes your eyes water a bit”.
Taste: “Cheers! Hwor that’s good”, “Plus one!”, “Dryness”, “fizzy”, “charcoal but doesn’t taste like a bbq”, “HEAVY METAL”, “It’s quite alcoholic isn’t it?”, “The older one is much sweeter than the other one”, “the burnt toast one is nicer”, “on a scale of 1 to beer this is beer”, “grapefruit, cocoa powder towards the finish, bright sparky notes”, “a remarkably likeable beer – I’d take it to lunch, I wouldn’t buy it pudding”.

Swiftly on to the next one!

Ridgeway’s Foreign Export (8%, UK, best before 2011) (no website)
First impressions: “It’s not very nice is it?”
Aroma: “wet bracken/heather and the odd berry”, “leaf litter”, “countryside”, “less aroma than the Pitfield”
Taste: “lemonade”, “compost/grass”, “tastes like leaf litter as well”, “the notes on the back are complete shit”, “this is what the yeast goes and drinks while it’s rising the bread”, “nettles, or something”, “thin fizziness”, “liquorice that you used to dab in sherbet dibdabs”, “a strong middle, maturing like a 13 yo stroppy child – it’s the Kevin the Teenager of beer”, “tastes a bit like plantfood”.

16.20pm. Pete says we are on the cusp of an alcopop revival! Popular flavours are apparently passionfruit or lychee – could this pave the way for alcoholic Rubicon? One example is meant to be served in a champagne glass – and is called EVE.

16.29pm. First belch of the day from Ewan! This announces the tasting of the four different Dark Star bottlings. Everyone has a sip of the 2009 batch (as we have loads of it), we then split into groups for the other years.

Dark Star(s) (10.5%m UK, best before 2 yrs after bottling) (website)

First impressions: “Alarmingly boozy.”
Aroma: “Love Hearts or similar fizzy sweets”, “you can smell it from inside your mouth”, “english mustard”
Taste: “the strongest one so far”, ” would go well with sausage and mash”, “marmite but that’s not quite right – more vanilla/ice creamy”, “yum”, “delicious”, “like drinking spirits”, “nice and smoky and bitter”, “burnt toast :)”, “looking forward to the next one”, “would drink again”.

16.30pm. Subway vs Nandos – taking sides! Nandos wins with only 2 votes for poor old Subway. Kat mentions that world champion swimmer Liam Tancock celebrated his recent win at the British Championships by going for a Nandos.

First impressions: “not as alcoholic as the 2009”
Taste: “sweet vanilla”, “has mellowed in comparison to the 2009”, “lack of whack”, “fudge!”.

Aroma: “chocolate cake baking”, “much sweeter”, “floral”
Taste: “unbearably sweet – trickly and horrid”, “medicinal”, “yuk”, “interesting but not ‘nice and interesting'”, “fneh”.

Aroma: “olive oil”, “eyewatering vietnamese coffee with condensed milk in it”, “Covooooonia!”
Taste: “medicinal”, “sublime!”, “potent and punchy”, “nice warmth”, “gravy – beefy oxo cubes and bovril”, “a flat mouth-feel, but OPEN like the praires of Wisconsin – with gravy on them”, “treacle”.

Ewan prefers 2009 to either 2006 or 2007. Pete’s favourite is the 2008 because it’s less alcoholic than the 2009, Sarah likes the 2006. No-one really likes the 2007, most people agree that the 2009 is the best.

16.46. Any sense of structure or decorum is now flung aside in favour of a general free-for-all.

Great Divide Yeti (9.5%, USA, best before Dec 2010) (website)
Aroma: “fruit polos”
Taste: “liquorice and sticks”, “bright and fruity”, “Jamaica Ginger cake”, “Refreshers”, “very sweet at first but very bitter once you’ve swallowed it”, “Christmas mincemeat”, “lovely”.

Acorn Gorlovka (6%, UK, best before June 2010, named after a town in Ukraine that’s twinned with Barnsley) (website)
First impressions: “almost certainly the people of Gorlovka are unhappy about this”
Aroma: “roasted chestnuts – though that might just be the name making me think that”
Taste: “spicy”, “I’d stick holes in some jamaican ginger cake and pour this in as a marinade!”, “cake”, “buttercream frosting”, “better than average but not something I would order again and again”, “boring, bland, and not an imperial stout”, “not awful but lacking in body”, “MEH!”, “sensible but nice”, “fizzy then dull”.

Brew Dog Paradox Smokehead (10%, UK, best before Oct 2010) (website)
First impressions: “completely nuts”
Aroma: “a chimney peat monster”
Taste: “someone’s dug up a bit of a bog and put it in a glass”, “imperial stout with tcp in it”, “whisky”, “stunt!”, “but what a stunt, after dinner joy!”, “odd and interesting”, “not good for sustained drinking”, “stupidly smokey but pleasantly so”, “feels like drinking 2 different drinks at the same time but not 100% awesome like you’d expect that to be”, “I really like it but I like smokey whisky”, “is this the one that smells like whisky? It *really* smells of whisky”, “the novelty is starting to wear off – I’m now bored of it”.

Rogue XS Imperial Russian Stout (11%, USA, best before Jan 2010 – bottled in 2005) (website)
First impressions: this features a hard-working member of the proletariat on the label, the beverage appearing to give him strength and radiance.
Aroma: “er… like all the other ones?”, “indistinguishable from other stout”
Taste: “this is clearly Imperial Stout”, “little bit fruity and middle aged – like the city of portland”, “bitter”, “very active and very strong”, “not bad – there’s earthiness that I quite like”, “what were you thinking?”.

17.00pm: Marna brings out some cheese for everyone to try! This will be blogged separately.

Mikkeller Fra Til (8%, Denmark, Best before 2012) (website)
First impressions: this arrives in a large bottle with a very basic label upon which one can write the recipient’s name (‘Fra/Til’ means ‘From/To’ in Danish)
Aroma: “I don’t know!”
Taste: “after the bonkers Smokehead this is really nice and huggy and mellow, almost milky “, “typical stouty chocolate tobacco”, “syrupy and spicy”, “absolutely beautiful – a tart boozy tang”, “clovey”, “browner rather than black”, “spicy and fruity”.

Marble Beers Organic Decadence (8.7%, UK, best before Dec 2010) (website)
Aroma: “tar”
Taste: “like a bonfire in a good way”, “it’s VERY NICE”, “surprisingly bitter”, “like a Kitkat”, “roadworks”, “puts the ‘plain’ into a pint of plain…”, “it is confusing with cheese”.

Kleinduimpje Imperial Russian Stout (8.5%, Netherlands, best before Nov 2010) (website)
Taste: “total bog standard stout”, “half Belgium beer”, “taste doesn’t stay in the mouth”, “ephemeral”, “dusty – not in Memphis”.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10%, USA, bottled Dec 2009) (website)
First impressions: “like I just picked up some pebbles from brighton beach and sucked them”
Taste: “salty ozone seaweed iodine”, “quite nice”, “marshmallows”, “fvcking alcoholic”, “cheeky, chocolatey”, “7/10”.

17.35: All stout has now turned into human blood, according to Katie. Others judge that her vitamin B6 content is lacking! She moves onto Blandford Fly.

t Smisje Catherine The Great Imperial Stout (10%, Belgium, best before 2013, has a very silly label on the bottle viz. Catherine The Great’s horse ready and waiting in the harness ) (website)
First impressions: the lightest-coloured beer we’ve had so far, also very frothy.
Taste: “very clearly Flemish”, “it’s a triple that’s got carried away”, “basically just a triple”, “a good triple but not an Imperial Stout”, “delicious! Not a stout though”, “we should do a guerrilla raid on Belgium – BEER BEER BEER”.

Ascot Ales Anastasia’s (8%, UK, best before 2011) (website)
Aroma: “good noseyness”
Taste: “nice but no distinguishing features”, “regular stout with extras rather than having imperial ‘all over it'”, “quite thin for the strength”, “a session imperial stout”, “tastes of pigskin – or that might be the pigskin I am eating”.

18.03pm. After 2 hours everyone is well sloshed despite being VERY SENSIBLE and NOT CONDONING BINGE DRINKING.

Dolle Brouwers(9%, Belgium) (website)
Taste: “A slightly more stouty triple, but still a triple. BELGIANS.”

18.15pm: Telly is switched on.
19.40pm: Telly gets switched off again.

Flying Dog Wold Dog (9.3%, USA, best before Dec 2010) (website)
Taste: “orangey”, “oaky, like fruit gums”, “nice but not my favourite”, “zing”, “citrus orange peel”, “oaky, dry old wood”.

Victory Storm king (9.1%, USA, best before Dec 2014) (website)
Aroma: “an old library vellum and dust paste”
Taste: “quite sour, undercurrent of biscuity malt”, “fizzy and spicy”.

19.50: Time to (almost literally) crack open the Harveys – this one has a CORK in it which proves difficult to extract. It is also the OLDEST in the collection and possibly the most divisive.

Harveys (9%, UK, best before 2009, bottled 2003) (website)
First impressions: “looks like oil”
Aroma: “Worcester sauce”, “cheap 10p fudge”, “gone off raisins”, “sake”, “sherry”, “that smell is to sherry as the old doctor is to the new one, i.e. close, but with a foot for a face”
Taste: “wine”, “thick mouth-feel, quite bitter, dark chocolate easter egg”, “sherry AND orcester sauce”, “AWESOME”, “not as mental as it smells”, “a CHEAP milk choc easter egg”, “dirty old shoe leather, not nice at all”, “shouting wine”, “cough candy and shit”, “definitely not shit”, “adjectivising”, “balsamic vinegar and cocoa powder”, “condiment-tastic (mushroom soy)”, “cup of coffee made yesterday with dust on it”. Pete says something about Estonia and cocks then proceeds to tell a dirty story from the back of the bottle.

Sam Smiths: (7%, UK, 2 bottles with best before dates of 2009 and 2010) (Wiki)
Taste: “bog standard but GREAT”, “lovely but boring – in lovely way”, “sweeter than the Decadence”, “Sam Smiths is too familiar – is this is the same as straightforward?”

Brew Dog Paradox Springbank: (10%, UK, best before 2011) (website)
Aroma: “cola bottles”
Taste: “fizzy, drinkable for a stunt beer”, “lighter, fizzier and smoother than the Smokehead – works well”, “impossible to mark”.

Brodies Romanov Empress Stout (12.1%, UK, best before Dec 2010) (website currently broken)
First impressions: Exploded upon opening (apparently Kris from Kris Wines had given us prior warning of this which we FOOLISHLY IGNORED)
Taste: “horrible gritty banana”, “the aftertaste of Marmite”, “nice banana”, “banana antibiotics”, “I recently ate some fried eggs that tasted like banana – the sweetie not the actual egg”, “cold coffee”, “3/10 and only because I liked chemistry at school”, “banana out of 10”, “when I said Marmite I meant Bovril”.

20.15pm: Carsmile, Pete and Katie have concocted a rhyme:
Brodies, Brodies, imperial stout
Horrible gritty banana!
It’s Brodie
It’s Grody
It is really quite explodey

Left Hand Imperial Stout (10.4%, USA) (website)
First impressions: “a really sloppy snog of a drink”
Aroma: “lovely”
Taste: “I’m not exactly sure what to make of this”, “it’s like someone’s taken the milk stout (also brewed by Left Hand) and shoved a load of vodka in it”, “nice coffee from costa w/ hazelnut syrup in it (left overnight)”, “milkshake”, “Nesquik cereal”, “Quality St coffee creams & milk bottle sweets – until you swallow, then its corner shop vodka (Kiroff to be specific – £9/bottle)”, “a bit too sweet”, “9.999 tasty goodness out of 10”.

20.35. Sarah’s water tastes ‘delicious’.

Durham Temptation (10%, UK, best before 2016, bottled 2010) (website)
Aroma: “buttery”
Taste: “don’t like it”, “very sweet – an attempt at bitterness but it’s not convincing”, “not so coffee-like as previous beers”, “gueuze concentrated sourness”, “if it was a planet it would be boiling sulphur like Venus”, “thickest one so far”, “liquorice”, “quite nice, sweet, whatevs, not anything hugely interesting”, “vortex of dull”, “treacle toffos”, “I can’t believe it’s not butter”.

20.57: Heated discussion concerning Opal Fruits. “Strawberry was the best one” – “no it wasn’t”. 3 votes say strawberry, 12 say other citrus flavours (personally I think orange was best). Pete claims to have loved vinegar sweets as a child, all denounce this as FALSEHOOD. Also there was NEVER a gin wine gum and DEFINITELY no chambois. Brandy tastes of bran though.

Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (9.2%, USA, bottled July 2008) (website)
First Impressions: “it has a purple head – hur hur hur”
Aroma: “washing up liquid”
Taste: “too scared to taste it”, “ashtray – but I really like it”, “doesn’t taste of porridge at all”, “dusty chocolate wrapping paper”, “coffee-ish”, “chocolate-Marmite mashup”, “they’re all starting to taste the same”.

21.12: Mark S admits Anthrax’s influence on his facial hair. This makes it 22 years old.

21.24: Theseus is the one with the menopause. Minotaur. Definitely not the same as Perseus.

Thornbridge St Petersburg (7.7%, UK, best before Dec 2010)
Aroma: “fizzy”
Taste: “thumbs up”, “spicy tobacco”, “Heston Blumenthal’s coconut tobacco”.

21.30: Everyone is singing ‘Aqua Marina’ from Stingray. Apparently the dude famous for taking the tennis scratchy bum arse girl photo died yesterday. We’re all upset and showing our grief through laughter.

21.45: Rating countries on ability to run across them in the quickest time, i.e. Vatican is the winner. England would take slightly longer.

Pitfield Night On Mare St 2 (14.2%, UK, best before Dec 2010, bottled 2007) (website)
First impressions: mostly reverence for this infamous local barley wine
Taste: “a bit stale, a mix between sweet and gueuze”, “plum cake”, “a weird sweetness that hits a gueuzeyness”, “satisfying aftertaste”, “off sherry”, “black treacle”, “xmas pudding mix w/ flavour of brandy”, “treacle at the back of the cupboard”, “I love you barley wine – well worth the wait”.

22.24: Busted’s 7th single ‘Who’s David’ is revealed to be about popular soon-to-be-illegal drug mephedrone. ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ may well be the best movie-tie-in of the 2000s that mentions the movie title in the song title. Goldfinger is probably the best of all time viz “COLD FINGER”.

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout (9%, Norway, best before 2014, bottled 2009) (website)
First impressions: “the strike through the O makes it MORE METAL”
Taste: “it missed my tongue! Nice though”, “like a mousse”, “little blast of choc then it’s gone”, “hits the right notes but doesn’t linger at all”.

22.42: A question for the floor: how many types of booze are there? The correct answers are: cherry brandy, avocaat, beer, wine, Special Brew. Any others are FOLLY.

22.46: Pete is miming Mrs Pepperpot’s suspected actions towards her normal-sized husband viz hugging a huge invisible cock – “milking it for all its worth”. Pete is directed INTO THE BIN.

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter (7.8%, USA, best before 2011, has Hunter S Thompson-style drawing on the label) (website)
First impressions: Pete’s favourite bit of Gonzo trumpet playing is where he goes ‘pfffffff’ but not ‘bmffffffff’.
Taste: “it’sssssstout”, “nice enough porter but nothing distinctive”, “it’s fine”, “one of those beers that i intend to get a half of at a beer festival but then i get a pint but I don’t realise that what i’ll get in return is STOUT when actually i fancied LAGER”, “it is ACTUALLY a porter, and manages to maintain its porterness”.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout (10.5%, USA, Bottled 2009, label features Satan wearing a Russian hat) (website)
First impressions: “there is no metric measurement upon the bottle therefore it is bottomless”
Aroma: “Borribles are real, but only from the 2nd book onwards”
Taste: “The recent Mastodon album is somewhat of a departure from their earlier work”

Pitfield Imperial Stout (i.e. not the 1792 one) (9.3%, UK, best before Jan 2009)
Taste: “The paint stripper of beers”, “a different kind of purity”, “devil on the floor”, “sometimes, y’know, you just go ‘i’m drinking imperial stout'”.

approx 23.00pm: Agree that champagne & stout cocktail construction that was mooted before tasting commenced is probably best left untested. However a good sticky drink might work better with the dryness of champagne than normal Guinness. The Left Hand is suggested as a possible future option for this.


Our final top 10:
1. Left Hand Imperial Stout (USA)
2. Dark Star 2009 (UK)
3. Pitfield Night On Mare St 2 (UK)
4. Dark Star 2006 (UK)
5. Brewdog Paradox Springbank (UK)
6. Marble Organic Decadence (UK)
7. Mikkeller Fra Til (DEN)
8. Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (USA)
9. Pitfield 1792 Imperial Stout (UK)
10. Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout (NOR)

Least favourite beer: Acorn Gorlovka (UK).
Most controversial beer: Harveys Imperial Stout (UK).

Deferred beers: Nigerian Guinness (we’ve all had it before), Night On Mare Street 1 (Carsmile took his ball home with him).

More photos can be found here.

Full list of beers, A-Z:
Acorn Gorlovka
Ascot Ales Anastasia’s
Brewdog Paradox Smokehead
Brewdog Paradox Springbank
Brodies Romanov Empress Stout
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Dark Star 2006
Dark Star 2007
Dark Star 2008
Dark Star 2009
Dolle Brouwers Special Extra Export Stout
Durham Temptation
Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter
Flying Dog Wold Dog Barrel Aged Imperial Porter
Great Divide Yeti
Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout 2003
Kleinduimpje Imperial Russian Stout
Left Hand Imperial Stout
Marble Beers Organic Decadence
Mikkeller Fra Til
Nigerian Guinness
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
Pitfield 1792 Imperial Stout
Pitfield Imperial Stout
Pitfield Night on Mare St
Pitfield Night on Mare St 2
Ridgeway Foreign Export Stout
Rogue XS Imperial Russian Stout
Sam Smiths Imperial Stout
Stone Imperial Russian Stout
Stones Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Sout
t Smisje Catherine the Great Imperial Stout
Thornbridge St. Petersburg
Victory Storm King Imperial Russian Stout