Samuel Smith's Imperial Russian Stout is something of a tiddler in these stakes coming in at only 7.5%, but it doesn't disappoint on the flavour front with rich treacle on the nose that carries through into the mouth, supporting a pleasant fullness that is not overly viscous. It appears to be fairly well attenuated for a beer of its strength, not particularly bitter for a big stout and has the lovely velvet like roasted barley feel, but strangely I have experienced this to a greater degree in some stouts of normal strength. The carbonation is suitably low but still results in some satisfying foam cling to the glass at the end of it all.
Typically the American contender in tonight's events weighs in a little heavier at 10.8%. Stone Imperial Russian Stout is considerably more bitter, a great deal more viscous and amazingly, is impenetrable to light. Seriously. I held it up to the sixty watt bulb on my desk lamp and no light passed through. It's a black hole of a stout, sucking all light around it. It has little of the treacle flavour found in the English offering, instead giving up a small measure of the richer roast malt character that is typical of American dark beer. Coffee, liquorice and potent alcohol smack you on the nose, but it really comes to life after warming in the palm when a delightful spiciness develops. The Americans appear to have done it once again in the dark beer stakes. Someday a European dark beer will top them. I'd wager it'll come from Scandinavia.