Widmer Brothers W’11 KGB Russian Imperial Stout
As you can tell, both by the date of my last review and the beer I’m reviewing today (and, should you look in my refrigerator, you’d see a whole shelf of 2-month old beer waiting to be reviewed), it’s been a long while since I’ve sat down to take notes on a brew in any capacity. I did try to furiously type some general opinions on a beer into my phone at the last AZ Girls’ Pint Out event, but that ended up getting accidentally deleted when I switched phones last week. I genuinely miss putting some time aside to analyze a beer according to my senses and practicing my writing skills through descriptions and observations – it’s such an intimate way to enjoy a great beer and I feel like it really helps me to decide whether or not it’s something I’ll pick up in the future. Take stouts for example; I probably would have either never picked up a beer this dark simply because I thought I strictly liked pale ales, or it would have taken me a lot longer than a month to learn about, try, and enjoy. I was never really eased into the dark side of craft beers, even to the point where I still have yet to pick up a Guinness (in my defense, I am from Wisconsin, where Miller Lite basically runs the college-aged market)…though that’s changing tonight…finally.
So, how about those stouts, huh?
Poured into a standard tumbler, Widmer’s W’11 KGB Russian Imperial Stout appeared an opaque tar black throughout most of the glass, but near the top, right under the head, a thin highlighted layer of burnt sepia with jeweled garnet tones glimmered in just the right light. A layer of caramel colored foam built quickly from the bottom with medium bubbles while fading just as fast off the creamy top, reaching about 2 fingers thick through the end of a vigorous pour. It eventually faded to a thin, velvety sheet that laid gingerly across the liquid and left evenly spaced lines of lace along the glass.
Hints of a nutty coffee and roasted, smoky malts slathered in melted pieces of dark chocolate dominated the nose from the very first whiffs. As it slowly warmed, aromas of toasted caramel, burnt brown sugar, and toffee wafted from the beer, closely followed by some mild earthy citrus hops that were hardly noticeable. Something sweet was trying to push its way through the heavier fragrances, but I couldn’t quite grab a hold of it – I’ve heard others describe dark fruits and berries, but I just couldn’t pick them out over all of the roasted, toasted goodness.
Segueing right into the flavor profile, I was met with an extremely deep and bitter roast coffee that smothered my entire tongue on the first sip and nipped my taste buds awake. Toasted grainy malts helped to smooth it out, and as I continued drinking, I found that it became more and more silky, eventually keeping the bitterness at a level where the other flavors could present themselves. I was a little surprised that the dark chocolate in my mouth was much less pronounced than it was in the nose, but it also seemed to taste sweeter than it smelled and added an extra bit of roundness to the beer. About a quarter of the way in, the alcohol started to peek through and offered a quick burst of warmth while pairing with the hops and medium carbonation to produce a peppery/spicy character. As the bitterness continued to fade (or as my tongue became more used to it), touches of caramel, brown sugar molasses, and toffee, all slightly burnt, aided in smoothing out the brew and gave me a few more dimensions to work with. Overall, I found the W’11 KGB held a fairly light and oily mouthfeel as well as flavor – especially for an imperial stout – hiding in a medium body, but it’s still quite drinkable despite the high alcohol content. In the end I feel like it could use that fruitiness that continues to evade me through both the nose and taste, even just to help wash down the smoky, biter aftertaste that lingered on the back of my tongue for the next 15 minutes after a drink.
W’11 KGB Russian Imperial Stout is most definitely a winter beer, to be enjoyed as a heat source for the coldest days. So if you still have one in your fridge, I recommend drinking it now, before it gets too warm outside, or wait until next winter, because the weather where I am right now unfortunately does nothing to compliment the beverage.