Style Details

Impe­ri­al Stout
Ame­ri­can Por­ter and Stout
BJCP Style Code
20 C
Color may ran­ge from very dark red­dish-brown to jet black. Opa­que. Deep tan to dark brown head. Gene­ral­ly has a well-for­med head, alt­hough head reten­ti­on may be low to mode­ra­te. High alco­hol and vis­co­si­ty may be visi­ble in “legs” when beer is swir­led in a glass.
Rich and com­plex, with varia­ble amounts of roas­ted grains, mal­ti­ness, frui­ty esters, hops, and alco­hol. The roas­ted malt cha­rac­ter can take on cof­fee, dark cho­co­la­te, or slight­ly burnt tones and can be light to moder­ate­ly strong. The malt aro­ma can be sub­t­le to rich and bar­ley­wi­ne-like. May optio­nal­ly show a slight spe­cial­ty malt cha­rac­ter (e.g., cara­mel), but this should only add com­ple­xi­ty and not domi­na­te. Frui­ty esters may be low to moder­ate­ly strong, and may take on a com­plex, dark fruit (e.g., plums, pru­nes, raisins) cha­rac­ter. Hop aro­ma can be very low to qui­te aggres­si­ve, and may con­tain any hop varie­ty. An alco­hol cha­rac­ter may be pre­sent, but shouldn’t be sharp, hot, or sol­ven­ty. Aged ver­si­ons may have a slight vin­ous or port-like qua­li­ty, but shouldn’t be sour. The balan­ce can vary with any of the aro­ma ele­ments taking cen­ter sta­ge. Not all pos­si­ble aro­mas descri­bed need be pre­sent; many inter­pre­ta­ti­ons are pos­si­ble. Aging affects the inten­si­ty, balan­ce and smooth­ness of aromatics.
Rich, deep, com­plex and fre­quent­ly qui­te inten­se, with varia­ble amounts of roas­ted malt/grains, mal­ti­ness, frui­ty esters, hop bit­ter­ness and fla­vor, and alco­hol. Medi­um to aggres­si­ve­ly high bit­ter­ness. Medi­um-low to high hop fla­vor (any varie­ty). Mode­ra­te to aggres­si­ve­ly high roas­ted malt/grain fla­vors can sug­gest bit­ters­weet or uns­wee­te­ned cho­co­la­te, cocoa, and/or strong cof­fee. A slight­ly burnt grain, burnt cur­rant or tar­ry cha­rac­ter may be evi­dent. Frui­ty esters may be low to inten­se, and can take on a dark fruit cha­rac­ter (raisins, plums, or pru­nes). Malt back­bone can be balan­ced and sup­por­ti­ve to rich and bar­ley­wi­ne-like, and may optio­nal­ly show some sup­por­ting cara­mel, brea­dy or toas­ty fla­vors. The pala­te and finish can vary from rela­tively dry to moder­ate­ly sweet, usual­ly with some lin­ge­ring roas­ti­ness, hop bit­ter­ness and war­ming cha­rac­ter. The balan­ce and inten­si­ty of fla­vors can be affec­ted by aging, with some fla­vors beco­m­ing more sub­dued over time and some aged, vin­ous or port-like qua­li­ties developing.
Full to very full-bodi­ed and che­wy, with a vel­ve­ty, luscious tex­tu­re (alt­hough the body may decli­ne with long con­di­tio­ning). Gent­le smooth warm­th from alco­hol should be pre­sent and noti­ce­ab­le, but not a pri­ma­ry cha­rac­te­ris­tic; in well-con­di­tio­ned ver­si­ons, the alco­hol can be decep­ti­ve. Should not be syru­py or under-atte­nua­ted. Car­bo­na­ti­on may be low to mode­ra­te, depen­ding on age and conditioning.
Over­all Impression
An inten­se­ly-fla­vo­r­ed, big, dark ale with a wide ran­ge of fla­vor balan­ces and regio­nal inter­pre­ta­ti­ons. Roas­ty-burnt malt with deep dark or dried fruit fla­vors, and a war­ming, bit­ters­weet finish. Des­pi­te the inten­se fla­vors, the com­pon­ents need to meld tog­e­ther to crea­te a com­plex, har­mo­nious beer, not a hot mess.
Typi­cal Ingredients
Well-modi­fied pale malt, with generous quan­ti­ties of roas­ted mal­ts and/or grain. May have a com­plex grain bill using vir­tual­ly any varie­ty of malt. Any type of hops may be used. Ame­ri­can or Eng­lish ale yeast.
A style with a long, alt­hough not necessa­ri­ly con­ti­nuous, heri­ta­ge. Traces roots to strong Eng­lish por­ters bre­wed for export in the 1700s, and said to have been popu­lar with the Rus­si­an Impe­ri­al Court. After the Napo­leo­nic wars inter­rup­ted tra­de, the­se beers were incre­a­singly sold in Eng­land. The style even­tual­ly all but died out, until being popu­lar­ly embraced in the modern craft beer era, both in Eng­land as a revi­val and in the United Sta­tes as a rein­ter­pre­ta­ti­on or re-ima­gi­na­ti­on by exten­ding the style with Ame­ri­can characteristics. 
Tra­di­tio­nal­ly an Eng­lish style, but it is cur­r­ent­ly much more popu­lar and wide­ly avail­ab­le in Ame­ri­ca whe­re it is a craft beer favo­ri­te, not a curio­si­ty. Varia­ti­ons exist, with Eng­lish and Ame­ri­can inter­pre­ta­ti­ons (pre­dic­ta­b­ly, the Ame­ri­can ver­si­ons have more bit­ter­ness, roas­ted cha­rac­ter, and finis­hing hops, while the Eng­lish varie­ties reflect a more com­plex spe­cial­ty malt cha­rac­ter and a more for­ward ester pro­fi­le). Not all Impe­ri­al Stouts have a clear­ly ‘Eng­lish’ or ‘Ame­ri­can’ cha­rac­ter; anything in bet­ween the two vari­ants are allo­wa­ble as well, which is why it is coun­ter-pro­duc­ti­ve to desi­gna­te a sub-type when ent­e­ring a com­pe­ti­ti­on. The wide ran­ge of allo­wa­ble cha­rac­te­ris­tics allow for maxi­mum bre­wer crea­ti­vi­ty. Jud­ges must be awa­re of the broad ran­ge of the style, and not try to judge all examp­les as clo­nes of a spe­ci­fic com­mer­cial beer.
Com­mer­cial Examples
Ame­ri­can –Bell’s Expe­di­ti­on Stout, Cigar City Mar­shal Zhukov’s Impe­ri­al Stout, Gre­at Divi­de Yeti Impe­ri­al Stout, North Coast Old Ras­pu­tin Impe­ri­al Stout, Sier­ra Neva­da Nar­whal Impe­ri­al Stout; Eng­lish – Cou­ra­ge Impe­ri­al Rus­si­an Stout, Le Coq Impe­ri­al Extra Dou­ble Stout, Samu­el Smith Impe­ri­al Stout
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.075 - 1.115 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.018 - 1.030 SG
30 - 40 SRM
8.0 - 12.0 %vol
50 - 90 IBU