This is an 11% ABV Imperial Stout, aged in first-fill bourbon barrels.* It is the first in the new Vanishing Point series of Edinburgh-based I&G, a range of small batch limited editions.
First, what is Imperial Stout? It is the apex of the stout style, which means, a strong porter – that’s what stout is – made extra-rich in alcohol and flavour, and typically aged and/or shipped to acquire traits of maturity.
Traditionally too, in the heyday of stout and porter they were not flavoured with coffee, chocolate, or anything except hops.
I prefer the beer unflavoured, as the style originally was.
VP01 meets this bill, it has no coffee or chocolate added as I read the ingredients list. It uses a blend of malts (see I&G’s website for details), roasted barley or wheat, and Pilgrim hops for good bittering without excess aroma, another traditional touch. (Typically porter was not aromatic from hops, that was more a characteristic of ales).
Aging in barrel was in excess of 200 days, which replicates the vatting of original London porter.
And it tastes great: malty, rounded, no scorched raw cereal notes as too many stouts have. This beer offers the true stout profile, based on many years’ tasting classics in the genre such as Carnegie Porter and Sinebrychoff Porter, also the recreations of Harvey’s A. Le Coq Extra Double Stout and Wells Courage Imperial Russian Stout.
The hops support the malt without sitting on top. While I enjoy some very hoppy Impy stouts, the rounded, elegant profile is one expression and you see it to perfection here.
Some old learning states despite the enormous quantities of hops used in the style, once out of the vat it had a soft palate as the hop character broke down over time, having done its primary work of preservation.**
This beer expresses that, over half a year in wood surely rounded out the spikes on racking. In any case, the taste is rich yet equable, like a fine Burgundy – or well-blended Demerara rum.
The bourbon barrel was used very well here in that there is no strong vanilla taste, no slightly degraded (oxidative) note as some barrel-aged stout has.
Here the oak seems rather neutral yet undeniably present, lending a pleasing dryness and one that complements the style, IMO.
If there was one change I’d make, I’d give it a more estery profile. Yeast selection and fermentation temperature can affect that, I like the beers with a slight dark fruit note. Perhaps if cellared for a year or more it will achieve that.
Kudos to I&G – they keep trying different things, with results often quite different to their original model, and I like that but especially when the results are in the zone, as here.
*Sample was provided by I&G.
**See the statement here for example that by vatting porter the “hop bitter” was “in a great degree decomposed”, in other words, reduced and softened by the effects of time.