This is our second pair of imperial stouts that we’re looking at here (part one is here). This time we’ve got the two that are cellarable for a year or two – the SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout and the Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout.
SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout (サンクトガーレン・インペリアルチョコレートスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 50; OG – 1.090; hops – EK Goldings, Cascade, Willamette, Nugget
Pour – Lots of creamy foam that takes a while to settle, smooth chocolate black
Aroma – Lots of roasted chocolate, lemon and brett as it warms up
Flavor – Fairly chocolate bitter from the start, some nuttiness, then more sharp bitterness on the finish, at first a bit harsh but softens up with oak/brett notes as it warms up, chocolate malts
This is the final installment of the SanktGallen Valentine’s Day chocolate beer set, following up on the Strawberry Chocolate Stout and the Orange Chocolate Stout. Unfortunately, we’ll have to use a regular beer glass made out of, well, glass, rather than the special beer glass made out of chocolate that they made (with the help of a patissier) for the first time this year. Yes, that’s right – they made a beer glass out of chocolate and sold it as a set with the Imperial Chocolate Stout, the idea being that you could drink the chocolate beer out of the chocolate glass, and then eat the chocolate glass. I don’t really know what to make of this, other than that apparently SanktGallen take Valentine’s Day very seriously. (If you’re interested in how such a glass gets made, here are the details. Short summary: balloons are key, and you basically blow up balloon, roll it around in the chocolate goo, let the chocolate dry, pop the balloon, and voila! You’re left with the chocolate cup.)
If you’re wondering why beer would make such a great Valentine’s Day gift, you probably aren’t familiar with how Valentine’s Day works in Japan. In Japan, on February 14 the women are expected to make the first move and give gifts to the men (and these are split between obligatory gifts, like in elementary school where you have to give a Valentine’s Day candy and card to everyone in the class, and real gifts for The One). Then on March 14, which is known as White Day, the men reciprocate. So yeah, these Valentine’s Day beers are generally intended to be bought for men as gifts.
The SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout is a pretty good imperial stout, but really only hits those high notes after it warms up a bit. When chilled it’s quite harsh and bitter, but as it warms up it mellows out a bit and the chocolate/nut tones come out more. More interestingly, there’s a bit more zest and tartness to it, and the straight-up harshness transforms into a brett-like bitterness, which is nice. Overall I like how it is definitely bitter, but I wouldn’t find it strange if others thought it too bitter. I myself am undecided as to whether it crosses the line or not, but I think in the end for me the brett and citrus tartness that accompany the bitterness as it warms up put it on the side of justice, if barely. Overall there’s a fair amount of stuff happening here, and it’s a satisfying imperial stout.
Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout (ベアードビール・ダークスカイインペリアルスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 80
Pour -Thick and oily, jet black, not much carbonation but nice lacing
Aroma – Chocolate, plum, licorice, nice deep roast smell as it warms up
Flavor – Follows the aroma, lots of chocolate and licorice, very nice thick texture, slightly bitter with roast sweet finish
This is one of the beers that always scores very high on RateBeer – currently it’s ranked as the number 12 beer in Japan, and is the highest ranking Baird beer. Let’s just go with that note as an intro and get to the beer itself.
The Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout is a good one, and while I would describe it as fairly straightforward at the same time it has a good amount of complexity. Perhaps what I mean by that is that while there are a lot of elements here, they present themselves at once and don’t change much over time, in the sense of either a progression on a taste or as it warms up. Licorice and plum are probably the most prominent aspects, followed by chocolate and then a roast bitterness.
Overall it’s a nice one, and I would agree that it’s probably Baird’s best offering. I really like the licorice aspects of it, but it still has other things going on. It’s better overall than the SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout, which was a bit of a surprise to me, as last year I remember thinking that the SanktGallen was nicer in that it had a great balance of chocolate and bitter hops. This year, though, I think the SankGallen went too far, or my memory fails me – in either case, the Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout wins this round.
Bringing in the other stouts we reviewed early, then I would rank them like this:
- Swan Lake Imperial Stout
- Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout
- SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout
- Minoh Imperial Stout
The Swan Lake is my preference by far, with a richness and flavor palette that is pretty rare in Japan. The Baird is a clear number 2, and I think 3 and 4 could be flip-flopped without too much complaint. All four are nice enough, though, and constitute the top imperial stouts that I’ve had in bottle form in Japan so far (the Shonan Imperial Stout is up there with the Swan Lake for richness, but I haven’t found a bottle of it yet). I’m sure there will be more to review – AJB has one that scores well on RateBeer, so perhaps next winter we’ll be able to add more to this list.