The story goes that Peter the Great fell in love with the local stout on a visit to England and requested a steady supply be sent back to his beloved Russia. But, it was a long haul from the British Isles to the Tsarist court, and before the days of refrigeration, beer did not travel well. By reinforcing it with high alcohol and a heavy dose of hops, the brew could be preserved. Thus was born Russian Imperial Stout, a lightly carbonated, dense and dark libation with big roasted malt flavors that can range from sweet to dry. Three American takes on the genre have arrived in Boise just in time to help brace against this unseasonably cool transition to spring. All are offered in a generous 22-ounce package.
Full Sail Imperial Stout, Brewmaster Reserve 2008
This is a dark and dense black coffee-colored brew with a frothy, if short-lived, mocha-shaded head. It's nice and dry on the palate with richly roasted malt flavors that taste like pure, unsweetened dark chocolate. The hops come through on the finish adding the perfect hit of bitterness. Full Sail's reserve offerings just keep getting better and better. This is an utterly satisfying stout, big, but surprisingly refreshing. Don't hesitate though, because while more could be coming to town in the days ahead, it is currently in very short supply.
Hale's Pikop Androv's Rushin' Imperial Stout
This one pours a deep ebony, thick as oil, that's accented by fresh herb, chocolate and dark fruit aromas. It's nicely balanced on the palate with a well-integrated, light hop bite from start to finish that plays against smooth, fruity malt flavors backed by a hint of creamy sweetness. Everything this brewery bottles is worthy, and this silky stout makes for a very good quaff that weighs in at a reasonable 8 percent alcohol.
Stone Imperial Russian Stout
This brewery is known for their no-holds-barred brews, and this stout is no exception. It's so rich you'll probably gain weight just by sniffing its heady aromas of anise, toffee, currant and creamy espresso. It's a big, bold mouthful offering a persistent hop bite to moderate the darkly toasted malt flavors that dominate the palate. It made a great match for a hot pastrami sandwich, but at 10.8 percent alcohol, you might want to share this one with a friend.