Anyone who made a trip to the imported section of their local NLC in the last few months has likely seen St. Ambroise’s Special Reserve, standing tall among other beers in a large, somewhat daunting cardboard container, not unlike those used to store high-end scotch and other liquors. Despite its packaging, this unique bottle of craft beer- inspired by the thick, jet black stouts of Imperial Russia- doesn’t carry too heavy of a price tag, clocking in at around $7 a bottle.
The creation of Imperial Stouts dates back the rule of Peter the Great, or more specifically when he opened Czarist Russia to the West in the late 17th century. At this time, Porters had just begun to take a strong hold on the beer drinking populace of England. Arthur Guinness took this brewing style to Ireland, increased its dark, coffee-tinted profile and added “Extra Stout” to its label, creating the world-renowned brand of stouts that grace the taps and fridges of almost every bar in the Northern Hemisphere to this day.
During his 1698 trip to England, Peter the Great fell in love with stouts, and requested that some be sent to the Imperial Court in Russia. Unfortunately, somewhere along its tedious thousand-mile journey, the beer spoiled. Determined to save face, the Barclay brewery of London developed a beer capable of withstanding the travel distance by rapidly increasing the amount of hops and alcohol. The result was an inky black concoction with enough warmth and complexity to immediately take Russia by storm.
The St. Ambroise Special Reserve does a wonderful job paying homage to its ancestors. Pouring out of the bottle, the beer seems to have a slightly more viscous texture than your average lager or ale, and the head it creates in the glass carries a wonderful color of milk chocolate. It relies on a strong, yet balanced, espresso-like bitterness to help offset its whopping 10% ABV. Needless to say, a beer carrying a flavor profile and alcohol content this strong is best shared among a few people, as its easy to get tired of the intense, complex flavors it delivers. The brewery also recommends drinking it out of a snifter glass, which I would recommend if you don’t mind looking a tad bit pretentious.
Fans of dark, powerful flavors will certainly enjoy this beer. While it leans on the bitter side, it is well-balanced with notes of dark chocolate and espresso. Act fast though, as we are now almost a month into 2018 and this limited edition beer is sure to be getting low in the NLC stocks. If you can, pick up two, as this unique beer is also able to age because of its high alcohol content for any number of years. I’ve got a second bottle of it aging in my basement, and I plan to do another write up on it when I open it up at the end of this year!
Location: A few remaining at NLC’s around the city