I can’t take it anymore. The Dark Lord has been chillin’ in my fridge for half a month now and I must taste it. The Bard, Billy Shakespeare, words it more eloquently that myself when he says, “As is the night before some festival. To an impatient child that hath new robes and may not wear them.”
For those unfamiliar with Dark Lord and why it is so sought after, click here.
Enough people have asked how it is, or how it compares to Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (Wes), or how it compares to other years, etc, etc… and now I have to know. Confession time: this is the first time I will ever have sampled Dark Lord. Needless to say, I’m pumped after hearing so much about it, but also wary. It seems like whenever you hear about Dark Lord (or ANY über-popular beer) you primarily hear two sentiments. 1. Oh my gosh, it’s SO good! and 2. It’s OK, but it’s overrated. In this case, I’m still very excited to finally be tasting this, but I also have the bullshit meter on so that I can review this beer as accurately as possible. Since we’ve already established that patience is not my strongest suit… Let’s pour!
Aroma 12/12: This is a beautiful smelling beer, even if the stout characteristics aren’t exactly its strongest. It smells very sweet and is an insanely pleasant mixture between a molasses malt and a strong fruit aroma. The aroma could be considered port-like or like a dark cherry pie, though having just purchased some port I would lean toward that. (Note: For those that don’t know, Port is liquid sex in a bottle. Buy a bottle that’s over $10, make sure your significant other is going to be around, and don’t plan on going anywhere.) It does have some very dark notes, as a stout should, but they are placed much further back in relation to the fruits and the nearly-burnt molasses. A light charring in the malt at times give a hint or two of smoke and is a very neat nuance to find behind the port. As the beer warms the Intelligensia coffee is undeniable, but it is a timid spectator and has no interest in a starring role. This gives it more characteristics of a stout in my mind, and it forces me to bump it up a point from 11 to 12.
Appearance 3/3: This is black and holding it up to the light only reveals the darkest of stained wood tones around the edges. The head was small, half a finger, and would seem to indicate a very low carbonation. This pours like oil! Or blood. Given the name of this beer, it’s probably a mixture of both. The head is dark brown, creamy, and slides lethargically down the side of the glass after a swirl. Enjoy it while you can because after 15 seconds, it will only remain as a ring around the surface and disappear soon after that. Normally, I swear, I would be docking points for a paltry head, but with an ABV of 15% you have to have some sort of allowance for style. After all, would one dock Samuel Adams’ Utopias for “low carbonation”? Methinks not.
Flavor 19/20: Port. I swear there is port in this beer! The initial flavors are of black cherry juice and a slight booziness, but they ever so gradually bring in the roasted, slightly smokey malt notes and soon enough you’d swear you were holding port in your mouth. The backbone is still boozy, yet not hot, and brings in tons of fruits. However, they are not the typical dark fruits that one would normally associate with a stout: plums, figs, raisins, etc. These fruits instead lean heavily on dark cherries and sweet, red, vinous grapes. I could even understand it if someone said they tasted a red raspberry or two. The fruit aside, there is a darkness lying behind it: the deeply roasted, lightly charred malts. However, they are so subtle and nuanced that they lend more of a dark tone to the existing fruits than actually coming forward as their own flavor. It’s a tremendous example of brewing prowess and understanding how flavors can compliment each other. The finish finally shows us an insanely smooth glimpse of the coffee we saw in the aroma. This time around it appears to have more mocha sweetness to it and less of a typical coffee’s bite and bitter. The aftertaste is the smoldering remains of the port, much as if the Viking-esque character from the label had just pillaged a town (or my taste buds). The port is there, albeit greatly reduced, and the smokey, charred notes become a little stronger as the beer runs over the back, bitter-sensing part of the tongue. Despite the permeating sweetness of this beer, it does not leave the mouth slick or slimy. In fact, after an initial salivation, the tongue is left feeling quite dry and one can feel the alcohol being exhaled and as a warmth in the chest.
Mouthfeel 5/5: As mentioned in the previous sentence, the warmth that this beer spreads throughout the chest is fantastic. That 15% ABV is remarkably well presented in this beer. It isn’t camouflaged completely, but what is present is used to enhance the already spectacular blend of flavors. The body is as heavy as I’ve seen in a beer and insanely smooth. This, of course, comes at the risk of extremely low carbonation. For me personally, this is something I don’t entirely mind in an imperial stout, especially when a quick swish in the mouth gives that little bit of texture that only carbonation can add. However upon first sips, just sitting in the mouth, this beer can come across as almost completely flat.
Overall Impression 9/10: Long story short? I love port. I love its warmth, its unusual, elusive smokiness, its sweetness, its body, and its unique flavor. For all these reasons I love Dark Lord. The only possible things holding it back are an absent head and the fact that I might not know this was a stout if it weren’t on the label.
Total 48/50: This was tremendously tasty in every sense of the word “tremendous.” I barely could’ve imagined that a beer could so closely resemble a port. Do I usually look for something a little more “stout-like” in an RIS? Yes. That was my only issue with this beer other than the head (which has been excused earlier in this review). I should like a bit more of that stout “darkness.” However, the amount of dark flavors that currently exist in this beer are a flawless compliment to the other flavors. Would more dark flavors ruin that harmony? Probably, but a mix of two great flavors is not a bad thing, it just might not be as good as the single perfect harmony they’ve already established.
Cheers to Three Floyds and what they’ve got here. I’ll definitely be trying for DLD tickets next year as well!
Oh… and for those wondering the Russian text of “тёмный лорд русское имперское пиво” on the Dark Lord bottle translates as, “Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout,” or “beer” instead of stout. You’re welcome!
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!