Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review - Battle of the Russian Imperial Stouts: Phillips Hammer vs Driftwood Singularity

Now that winter is here with its cooler climes we have officially entered dark, heavy beer drinking season. In this spirit two of Victoria's best breweries, Phillips and Driftwood, have brought out competing versions of one of the more intense beers around, the Russian imperial stout.

Russian imperial stout, like India Pale Ale, was originally brewed in Britain with high amounts of alcohol and hops to preserve it during shipment by sea. Its destination however, was not India, but the Baltic states and Russia, where it was said to be popular with the Imperial court.

Both versions have the high alcohol content typical of the style; the Hammer weighs in at 8.3% abv, and the Singularity a whopping 11.8% abv. Singularity has spent four months being aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, whereas Hammer comes in two versions: both barrel-aged and not. Both come in 650 ml longnecks, but price is one big difference between the two, Hammer costs around $6 in most specialty liquor stores; Singularity will set you back a fairly hefty $12. Anyways, let's get to the tasting.

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout (no barrel)
This beer pours a deep black, with a pleasing dark brown head that quickly fades and has an aroma of roast barley and malt. It has a heavy, yet silky body and a flavour dominated by roasted barley. It is smooth on the palette with a clean and not overly bitter aftertaste, despite being such a heavy, intense beer. For an Imperial stout it is perhaps a touch bland, and could use a little variation in its flavour other than roasted barley. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this beer and could easily have more than one, a credit to its smoothness and drinkability, despite its high alcohol content.
Rating: Good

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout (barrel aged)
Similar to its cousin in appearance and aroma, in taste it differs considerably. This beer is a more complex and interesting stout, its flavour more nuanced from a mild sweetness taken from its time in bourbon barrels. It does have some sharp notes in its entry from the sweetness, but with a bit of aging these should mellow. I will be laying a few of these away for the future, however this beer is great enjoyed straight away.
Rating: Very Good

Driftwood Singularity Russian Imperial Stout
Like all Driftwood's offerings, Singularity is well-marketed. Its jet-black label with a single fuzzy dot in the centre, suggesting a black hole, or singularity, makes you want to buy it immediately. It cleverly proclaims itself, a "beer of infinite density",a claim not actually far from the truth. In the glass this stout is an impenetrable shade of midnight with no head and has a potent aroma of masses of malt with sweetness around the edges. Similar to the barrel-aged Hammer, it has sharp notes in its entry, but to a much larger degree. Its flavour is quite complex with waves of intense malt and bourbon sweetness and has a fairly smooth aftertase considering its strength. It finishes well with coffee notes and reasonably strong alcohol warming. This beer is certainly intriguing, but a bit intense to be honest, and I like intense; it took me and my girlfriend some time to polish off a bottle. I'm sure with a fairly long aging process this beer would mature into something fantastic, and there is something to be said for nursing a glass into the wee hours, but if you're looking for something with a touch of drinkability right away, look elsewhere.
Rating: Good

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