Tasting the McAuslan St. Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout

It finally happened! I walked into the SummerHill LCBO and they had the McAuslan St. Ambrois Russian Imperial Stout in stock! Not after tricking me though. There were none on the shelve where the display was, so I had to ask a very helpful employee to check the back for me. Eureka!

As per my last post praising the design of the bottle and packaging, I had been awaiting this beer for quite some time, and with much anticipation. The St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout is among the best Oatmeal Stouts that I have ever had.  It is delectably creamy, filled with smooth roast, chocolate, and hop flavors, and really creates an exceptional balance in an appetizing beer. That being said, it is a standard 5% abv, and not supremely rich – so I was getting very excited for the 9.1% abv Russian Imperial Stout brewed by the same masterminds.

Beyond all of that, Russian Imperial Stouts have become among my most favorite beer styles due to their ability to carry complex and appetizing flavors in such a compelling balance of sweet and savory.  This new example by McAuslan may have also just set a new standard for excellence…

McAuslan’s owners and brewer have said that since day one, they have wanted to brew a Russian Imperial Stout. But before launching a rich and drastic beer like that they would play among the more relaxed and common beer styles to warm people’s palate to the idea. This really has proven to be a perfect approach. Their beers are distributed widely now across Canada, and other breweries have opened first with extreme beers and just never built traction. Hopefully this will be one of many new and exciting beers to come from McAuslan.

So on to the good stuff! I opened the wonderfully designed tube that the beer comes in and slid the bottle out falling into my hand. It felt heavy – I know that its the same weight as any 341ml bottle of beer, but something about it just forced a powerful presence in my hand. I grabbed a deep and wide bottomed slightly tuliped snifter to pour the stout into. And wow did it ever pour gracefully.

It pours out like oil with extreme smoothness and finesse as black as the night. I let it go very slowly so that a nice creamy head would develop, and so that I could watch it even longer. Rich deep and full foam was growing off the surface of the beer until the bottle was empty and a sturdy, dense two inch head was raised from this black beer. I really do mean black, not dark brown, or hints of amber – it was completely pitch black. The head also was immensely dark; the brownest shade of creamy tan I have ever seen. The contrast in the glass was beautiful; a profoundly dark and generous black beer resting calmly below a mountain of crowded carbonation in a pillowy foam. I did also test it, you can scoop it with a spoon.

The nose is superb and richly satisfying with lightly sweet dark malts and bourbon, vanilla, caramel and oak, with huge espresso, chocolate and a touch of berries. Its complex yet smooth, and really is a perfect depiction of how the beer looks. I still can’t get over how incredible it looks, and now how amazing it smells. It brings you all of the typical Russian Imperial Stout flavors in waves rich, nose tingling sensations.

When you finally dive in, the first thing you taste is the head, which lasts and lasts. It is creamy with a whipped and delicate texture, filled with light coffee and chocolate, and bright notes of whisky. Beyond the head though comes a stampede of pungent and abounding flavors and aromas. First the mellow sweetness from the malts shines through followed by semi sweet and bitter chocolate flowing over the front of your tongue. As a beat goes by, in comes huge roasted coffee, deep oak, spicy and soothing bourbon, bitter bakers chocolate, a glimpse of vanilla and some light oak appearing at the end. There is also a hint of blackberry peering in from the deep with still some whisky malt sweetness.

The whole background is a complex array of fresh hops giving added bitterness and balance to an intricate beer, and also creating a crisp and slightly dry finish. The mouthfeel is sublime and creamy, just as it poured. Its extremely viscous, and glides like oil everywhere coating your palate.

Really, I was happily impressed by this beer, and immediately went out searching for additional bottles. I have four right now in the cellar for ageing, as this beer should build in smooth rich arrogance over time. It is going up among the best Imperial Stouts that I have ever tasted, and also among the best beers I have ever had. Please do go find a bottle, serve it around 12 degrees Celsius (54F), and drink it on its own. This beer deserves your attention, and it will reward you tremendously.

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