Sud Savant: Review – Stone Brewing Co. Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout

I was way overdue for a beer from Stone. The fact that I can’t remember the last one I had is not a good indicator. Today I resolve this dilemma by cracking open a bottle of their 2011 “Odd Year” Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout. As the name suggests it’s a big ol’ imperial stout to which Stone has added a Belgian yeast strain and, according to the bottle, “liberal amounts of star anise.” If that doesn’t sound delicious enough, they then “oak” the beer using oak chips! It sounds like a whole heap of delicious, but when it was released there were some mixed reviews. Shall we find out for ourselves? Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12: Dark, almost burnt roast and loads of oak are abundant as soon as the cap is pried off the bottle. It’s so darkly roasted and woody that one can easily imagine a campfire. To drink this around a campfire on a fall evening would be a true prefect pairing. The anise is also there – a fruit with which I am not completely familiar. It does have a “black licorice” scent to it, but more in a more slightly saltier”Good N Plenty” type way and not like a rope of black licorice. It is also less intense in the same way a shallot is more subtle than an onion. Dark fruits remain behind it as does a well camouflaged warmth.

Appearance 3/3: This pours dark! The only time I was able to get any light through this nearly opaque beer was when holding it up to a ceiling light. Only then could I see a dark, deep brown from underneath the surface. The head is dark tan, dense with tiny bubbles and appears almost solid from the top. It takes its time to form (I love that), and its longevity is most pleasing.

Flavor 19/20: This is a unique and tasty beer! Initial flavors waste no time in bull-rushing the palate with plenty of the wondrous, dark roasted malts, the woody oak, and bits of bitter. After holding the beer in the mouth, the anise and dark fruits take on more of the heavy lifting. Belgian yeasts add a sweetness, but not any of the banana flavors for which they are typically known. The flavors are widely varied, but not contrasting. It takes a lot of brewing prowess to blend so many different flavors together so well and to be able to taste each one. The anise and a very nice warmth are apparently holding hands as the beer slides down the throat… and what a nice partnership it is! Oddly, it’s pretty much only those two flavors in the finish (a moderate bitter pops in to say good-bye), but the warmth isn’t just the flavor of alcohol. It actually seems to warm the way fine liquor/spirit would, as it were spreading across the chest. Also, an exhale after the finish can bring the anise right back into the nose! Very neat! The aftertaste is still warm, and leaves a quiet, round bitter to remember this beer.

Mouthfeel 5/5: Carbonation is spread thin, but not buried. The few bubbles one does come across add the vivacious quality expected of them, but they are spaced well apart from one another. The abundance of malts give the full body expected of them, but are balanced appropriately and never become syrupy or slick. The carbonation even foams up ever so slightly to make this beer more drinkable than perhaps its ABV (10.5%) and full body would otherwise allow.

Overall Impression 10/10: Big aroma, big, complex flavor that remains nuanced, fantastic warming quality, and a very appropriate body are all details that make this beer a uniquely flavored winner. When this beer was fresh, reviews would claim a lot of strong flavors, especially from the anise, but currently I find them wonderfully participatory while not becoming overbearing. Good heavens the roast in this is tasty! It’s a big beer, but I could easily do with another bottle.

Total 48/50: This beer is insanely tasty! I appreciated it more an more throughout the bottle and it did everything short of make me use expletives whenever I drank it. The dark roast, oak, and dark fruit are a trifecta that is not to be trifled with. Add warmth to the mix and you’ve got a beer that I’ll be talking about when people bring up unusual and interesting stouts! Dammit Stone, you do good work! My only complaint is that I wish I had enough foresight to buy an additional bottle for cellaring purposes. If the beer has changed this much already (according and contrasting to reviews from when it was fresh), I’d love to see it in a year or so! If you can find this, buy a case. Drink some now and save some for later. You will not be disappointed!

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!