It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, I'm just about "imperialized" out. My local is on a big beer kick. On tap now is an
imperial stout, imperial pale ale, imperial bock, imperial IPA and yes, even an imperial
pumpkin. Enough already. If this trend doesn't stop soon I'm sure we'll even see an Imperial
Mild. Each one of these beers range from 8% to 12% ABV. Have a couple and then it's time
to leave the bar. You realize that drinking beer is only part of the reason why most people go
to a bar. It's also a social place; somewhere to meet and make friends.
Frankly an "imperial" brew is all misnomer anyway. To me the term "imperial" should only be
applied to one style of beer - Russian imperial stout. Historically, that was the only beer that
carried the name as it was brewed specifically for the Russian Empire starting in the late
1700s. Anything else that carries the name today should really be called something else like
strong, super strength,or jacked up. To make things worse these imperials often amplify a
beer to the point that it is no longer recognizable. I've had a few imperial (or double) IPAs that
bear more resemblance to booze than to that great beer style.
In the beginning of this imperial fad I looked forward to an occasional big beer. After all, just by
virtue of its strength it stood out and clearly showed the adventurous brewer was pushing the
limits of innovation. It was exciting, different, and uncommon. Now brewers seem to be making
imperials just to show they can without regard to taste or flavor nuance.
I understand that there are some very good tasting high octane brews on the market but there
are many that sell simply because they are high octane. I've been in a pub more than a few
times when someone asked the bartender for their biggest ABV beer. Bill, doing something
like that defeats the purpose of enjoying craft beer. You might as well knock back a shot or two
for the same effect.
Remember when a "big" beer was anything over 6.5%? Today's that's run of the mill, middle of
the road. What happened to those great 5% session beers we used to enjoy all night and still
feel great when we got up in the morning? The good ones had flavor, character, and a
drinkabality that allowed for a leisurely night of multiple pints.
Last week I had several bottles of Anchor Small (3.3%) and let me tell you I enjoyed it more
than almost any imperial brew I've recently had. If you can't find that one go out and try a
Stone Levitation at 4.4% ABV and see just how great a true session beer can be.
So, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next month.
There you go again Gina, on your soapbox worrying about something you still don't get. Today
an adventurous drinker seeking bold new flavors has no choice but to turn to imperial beers.
Simply put, the beers are called that because the big flavors are a product of big (relatively)
alcohol. These imperialized brews are a welcome change of pace from the standard beer
I agree about the origins of imperial but that doesn't mean contemporary brewers shouldn't take
the concept and be innovative. As far as I know the first modern use of the term "imperial" came
in the 1990s, when brewers reached for a name for the over-the-top India pale ales some were
producing. To me an imperial beer is a distinct version of a standard style. If it's different how
could it be the corruption you say?. Think of it as a second cousin if it helps.
Did you ever have a Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner? In it, the soft, gently floral flavors of a pilsner
are translated into a peppery, spicy, hop bomb. Since it really is a different beer but
nonetheless related to the Pilsner style, a new name, imperial pilsner, seems justified.
I know you're a big fan of Belgian wit (Hoegaarden). Imagine imperializing those flavors? They're
just waiting to bulk up and give you a new taste experience not to replace your old favorites but
to give you another choice. For the record, Sam Adams also makes just such a beer.
It might give you pause for thought that on most lists of the top ten beers in the world at least
80% would be considered "big" by your standards.
Let me be fair and admit that I love Imperial beers. I like challenging, big, bold flavors. I like huge
hop profiles and complex malt backbones. I'm also in awe of the brewers who promote these
types of beers. In general imperial beers are hard to make and expensive. They require a lot of
costly ingredients, careful brewing, and long aging. They are the flagships of the brewer's art
and we are lucky to have them in such large numbers and styles.
Having said all of that I agree that drinking an imperial brew means having fewer pints. Because
of that I hereby promise only to have lower ABV brews when I'm out at a pub with you Gina since
I would want to spend as much time with you as possible.
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.