Tasting Notes: Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout from Stone Brewing

StoneTIRSPourFor this installment of Tasting Notes, we lay down our hammers and deal the workweek a final, crushing blow with the help of a tall, imposing pour of Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout from Stone Brewing (Escondido, California).

Released back in March as the successor to the fan-favorite Stone Imperial Russian Stout that was developed in 2000 and discontinued in 2016, Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout arrived with an upgraded recipe boasting “the careful addition of Belma hops and flaked oats.”  Although the beer retains the original recipe’s old-world nature by pouring “jet-black with a fluffy chocolate head and [tasting] of deeply dark fruit flavors with rich chocolate and coffee overtones”, the added flaked oats enhance the beer’s “long-lasting smooth and silky finish” while the new-world Belma hops “[intensify] its berry flavors and aroma while subtly introducing a juicy melon undertone.”  In an impressive show of force, Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout flexes its power with a 10.6% ABV and 65 IBUs.

Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout is nearing the end of its run as a Special Release offering, but it can still be found in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles, 22 oz. bottles and on draft at many craft beer-friendly establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, Virginia and throughout the rest of Stone Brewing’s nationwide distribution area.

Now that we are all a bit more familiar with Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout’s heritage and updated tweaks, let’s get into these Tasting Notes and see how it all translates!

Tasting Notes for Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout from Stone Brewing

Appearance: Totalitarian presents itself as an inky, glossy black brew capped with nearly two fingers of super creamy, dark mocha-colored foam.  Even when held to the brightest of light sources, the darkness holds and this Imperial Stout remains completely opaque.  Head retention is solid, but the top cap does slowly slip down to a chunky ring that leaves sweeping lines of lace across the glass.

Aroma: This party is all about those roasted malts as it jumps off with a strong presence of dark chocolate, smoke and char, and espresso roasted coffee.  These heavier notes are broken up a bit with tones of anise, dark fruit and rich toffee, but the roast is undeniably the center of attention here . . . and that’s pretty alright if you ask us.

Taste:  Deeply roasted malts lead here as well, saturating the palate with incredibly satisfying notes of bittersweet dark chocolate and intensely roasted coffee beans.  That roasty, slightly bitter malt character is quickly balanced by tones of dark fruit, booze-soaked berries (strawberry, black currant and raspberry), toffee, rich molasses, subtle melon, earthy leather, and burnt sugar.  A touch of creamy vanilla creeps in just as the flavor profile closes with a graham cracker and sweet bready character.

Mouthfeel:  Full-bodied with a softer carbonation level, this beer is creamy, smooth and velvety on the palate and lingers a bit to give the flavors a chance to fully develop. To keep things from getting cloying, the malt presence and those sneaky hops work together to find a nice balance between this stout’s roasty bite and sweeter qualities.  The 10.6% ABV provides a slow building heat in the throat and belly, but it is far more reserved than expected.  The aftertaste leaves behind just a touch of smoke, toffee and chocolate.

Final Thoughts:  Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout may be an updated take on the OG Stone Imperial Russian Stout, but it still holds true to what big, beautiful Imperial Stouts were before the rise of the overly-sweet, adjunct-filled Pastry Stouts that are now the norm.  The goal that was achieved here was to coax as much aroma, flavor and complexity possible from just hops, malt and yeast while still maintaining some semblance of balance.  It is all about straight-forward craftsmanship, and it is absolutely gorgeous for being so.

Now this may leave some questioning why would the decision makers at Stone Brewing retire the original Stone Imperial Russian Stout if they were not going to make any drastic changes?  Well . . .we can only answer that question with another: Why not?  It was a completely different world when the recipe for Stone Imperial Russian Stout was developed in 2000. That beer was already considered a viscous monster to those dabbling in craft beer at that time, and the idea of adding oats for more body would have been considered insane. Now, that’s what people want.  On top of that, you have to consider that Belma hops were not even released until 2012. So, who’s to say those hops would not have made it into the original if they had been available?  If trends were different and other ingredients were in the brewery almost two decades ago, there is a good chance that the original could have looked a lot like the Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout that is in front of us right now.

With that said, that is a lot of what-ifs.  What we do know is that Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout is all about showing respect for the past while still keeping an eye on the present.  It is a needed throwback offering that gives veteran craft beer drinkers a chance to reminisce on the days when the Russian Imperial Stout style was at its height of popularity . . . but, at the same time, it gives newer craft beer enthusiasts a chance to have a more educational, streamlined experience with the style while still possessing the body, feel and hop flavors that are more customary today.  Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout wears two hats and it looks damn good in both.  Be sure to check this one out before it begins to disappear from shelves and taps.  Prost!