Friday, 12 February 2010
1992 Courage Russian Imperial Stout and Three Floyds Dark Lord
This is a bit of an unfair comparison. One of these beers is an icon, a classic that has spent the last 18 years settling down in the bottle, slowly maturing, integrating, ageing gracefully. The other bottle is almost alarmingly fresh, still full of the fire of the brew kettle, and the bright spiky edges of the copious amount of ingredients (conventional and otherwise) that have been crammed into the bottle.
If that sounds a tad flowery, it's because I'm skirting round the issue of trying to compare the two. The reason they are both in the same video is that Rob from hopzine.com (@BGRTRob on Twitter) very generously shared them with me, and obviously I wanted to document both of them. So rather than making a ludicrous comparison, lets address them separately.
The Courage Imperial Stout (I think this one was brewed by John Smith, hence the rather clumsy "Courage Smiths" in the video) isn't a beer I've had before. I've seen it eBay many times, and on the showing of this bottle, I'm sad that I haven't scooped a few more of them up. Although I'm not a huge fan of really old beers, this imperial stout was in a good place, balancing the intense, empyreumatic character of a proper imperial stout with the gentle attrition of time. All the rough edges have been smoothed off, leaving a core of dark fruit, undergrowth, rich dark tobacco and a little meaty, soy-sauce character. It also has some port wine notes, some old sweet sherry character, and these are all characteristics that you only get in older beers. You can't fake it, or cheat it, it's just the effects of old age.
The Three Floyds Dark Lord is a modern icon. We have a regular customer at the shop, an American beer geek named Geoff (he'd be proud to be known as such, I'm sure), and when I told him that I'd hard a bottle of Dark Lord, he excitedly asked "Oh my god, did you cream? That's supposed to be amaaazing!". I have to say that I didn't achieve a peak of sexual excitement from drinking the Dark Lord, but it is an exhilarating beer. Just the sheer volume of flavour is one thing, and the intensity of the separate flavours is another - espresso, bitter chocolate, honey, black treacle (molasses), pepper, and some winter spice notes. It's a huge bruiser of a beer compared to the faded glory of the Courage Imperial, but not doubt over time it will achieve the same grace and elegance.
At the time of writing, the thrill of drinking such an exalted beer as Dark Lord is still with me, but it's the incredible soft, voluptuous range of flavours in the Courage Imperial that springs most easily to mind.