Cons: maybe the next morning
As most beer geeks know there is a lot of creativity among the craft brewers in America. Many brewers are pushing the envelope with beer styles. The Americans have already seized control of the IPA style. Now, it seems that Americans want to dominate the Imperial stout style. The American imperial stouts tend to be bigger and bolder than the English variety originally brewed for the czar's court.
An American brewery that has really caught my attention is Avery Brewing Co from Colorado. They have been on a tear producing BIG and BOLD Beers. It stands to reason that they would be anxious to produce a big, bad imperial stout. They are confident enough to simply name their imperial stout The Czar. That should say it all but beer is known to cause digression.
This beer is an event for the beer drinker. Avery bottles it in big 22 oz bottles. I would like to advocate sharing a bottle with a friend but it is good enough that greed might kick in. This is a stunningly good beer. This is a beer that must meet a high standard just to live up to the name. And happily, it does so with ease.
I have come to have exceedingly high expectations for any Avery beer. This is based on the level of excellence they have achieved with their different beers. I am surprised because I don't like to use the superlative but The Czar may well be their best beer. It succeeds on both the aesthetic and drinking levels.
In the past two weeks I have enjoyed both the 2003 and 2004 releases. I have also tried the 2002 which was the first version. Each batch has a different alcohol level and they are all stronger than the average beer. Most of the characteristics are similar. Since most of the readers here are not beer geeks I won't linger too much on the subtle differences.
When you crack open the bottle, you will catch a bit of a hop aroma. It is not as distinctive as an IPA nose but this is a well hopped beer. There is also a bit of a roasty coffee fragrance. This is a thick, full bodied beer so expect a slow pour. The beer has a dark brown to black hue. The big head that forms is a beige color. The head held up well for both years.
I personally like to use a tulip shape glass for imperial stouts although many people tend to stick with a regular pint glass. This elegant dark tar in a tulip glass makes for a really stirring aesthetic presentation. I also feel that the tulip glass enhances the aroma of the beer.
The taste of the beer is the true selling point. Now I realize it will be hard to convince nonbelievers that drinking a thick, motor oil of a beer can be transcendent but geeks will understand. There is an assault on the taste buds when drinking this beer. Chocolate and coffee textures immediately present themselves in the flavor. I was also picking up a good hop finish. I was also picking up some fruity nuances and some smokiness in the flavor in different sips.
The alcohol is also present in the flavor. I felt the alcohol was more noticeable in the 2003. This was unexpected since strong beers often mellow with age and become less sharp. It was also surprising because the '03 was 11.9% abv compared with 13% abv for the '04. The '03 seemed a bit hoppier to me. Both were excellent beers.
This is a perfect beer for aging in a cellar or for drinking right away. A true believer will likely want to buy some for now and some to cellar. I will be interested to see how the '03 and '04 stack up against the '05 come next winter. Definitely a beer for the geeks.