Consider this question for a moment: Are there currently more barrel-aged imperial stouts in this country than there are non-barrel-aged imperial stouts?
Before this blind tasting, my answer to that question would have been “Of course not, there’s always going to be more non-barrel-aged imperial stouts.” And then a fucking gross of stouts showed up at the Paste office, and now I need to reconsider these realities. Only one month after we received a “mere” 102 non-barrel-aged imperial stouts for January’s tasting and ranking, we raked in 144 of them for barrel-aged imperial stout. Note: These numbers are the result of sending a call to the same exact press list of breweries, and the difference in numbers is considerably more than a standard deviation. In other words, we’re pretty sure this isn’t a coincidence. We went into this tasting expecting fewer BA stouts in total, and what we received was the exact opposite.
It begins to make sense, when you think about it from commercial perspective. With the proliferation of barrel-aged stouts, it may be that breweries perceive “regular old Russian imperial stout” as prone to sit on store shelves when placed next to fancier, barrel-aged alternatives. In fact, one brewmaster friend of Paste whose brewery makes both a non-barrel and barrel-aged imperial stout said the non-barrel stout only existed because he didn’t have enough barrels for the entire batch. If he did, they only would have produced the barrel version, skipping over non-barrel imperial stout entirely.
15. Funky Buddha Last Buffalo in the Park
City: Oakland Park, FL
The verdict: Some breweries are good at brewing with “gimmicky” adjuncts, and some are great at it. We had some coconut beers in the course of this tasting that were just syrupy sweet, artificial tasting messes, but this is how you do barrel-aged coconut beer right. It’s no surprise, given that we also loved Funky Buddha’s Last Snow coconut porter when we blind tasted porters a couple years ago, that the imperialized, barrel-aged version is also spectacular. From one score sheet: “Sweet milk chocolate and coconut aroma, with acute coffee bitterness; finishes beautifully.” You know it’s good when even the tasters who aren’t big fans of coconut in general are quickly won over. Moderately sweet, it knows where to draw the line in terms of residual sugar, and the coffee really helps in terms of balance. These guys might have the dubious honor of being the best coconut beer producers in the country. If that’s your jam, you owe it to yourself to seek out this bottle.
4. Funky Buddha Morning Wood
City: Oakland Park, FL
The verdict: This beer is actually listed as the #1 “American porter” in the world on Beer Advocate, which is of course absurd. At 12% ABV, this thing is an imperial stout, and what an imperial stout. It’s actually the imperialized version of Funky Buddha’s delicious Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, then taken and given the bourbon barrel treatment. The nose is huge, full of sweet coffee, maple, spice, smoke and a touch of oak. To quote from one score sheet: “Big coffee, then chocolate cake with spices.” Or another, slightly more succinct: “WAFFLES!” This beer is on the sweeter side, but it earns its decadence with malt complexity and balance between all the competing flavors in play. Nothing stands out too strongly, to the detriment of the others. The coffee, maple, whiskey and savory aspect are all weighed into the perfect ratio, with enough residual sugar to make it fun, but not too much to make it cloying. This is the kind of concept that Funky Buddha seems to do so well—a big, crazy, decadent beer that you’d expect to go terribly wrong, looking at the ingredients on the label, but they somehow pull it off.