Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Imperial Stout

Left Hand Brewing
Longmont, CO

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

As any shopper of fine beer knows, there are certain brews or breweries that tend to get overlooked, often for no reason in particular. Those of us who fancy ourselves as connoisseurs of craft beer are always on the lookout for the next big thing, be it the latest release from our favorite breweries or beers that are hard to find in our area or are limited/seasonal releases. That means many seemingly good brews get ignored on a regular basis, since even the most diehard Beer Dork has a limit as to how much he or she can purchase and consume.

For example, as a Beer Dork living in Wisconsin, Nigel often passes over many year-round releases from quality brewers such as Capital, New Glarus, and Tyranena. Some of them, such as New Glarus’ Hop Hearty IPA and Tyranena’s Bitter Woman, are favorite standbys, but with so many new and exciting brews to try (some of which are from those same brewers), I often don’t get the opportunity to enjoy them. I have a reputation to uphold in my role as a Senior Beer Review Correspondent for, which is to find the newest and most exciting releases in the world of American craft beer, get drunk off of them, and attempt to write a coherent review for you, the loyal reader. Nigel must make sacrifices, and I am happy to do so as long as you continue to find my long-winded, pointless ramblings mildly entertaining.

In addition to overlooking some of my favorite brews, I also tend to pass over many breweries altogether, both on the local and national levels. Some of these are intentional, due to either a lack of quality or an affiliation that I don’t personally approve of. Among them are Leinenkugel’s, Point, Berghoff, August Schell, Sam Adam’s, Red Hook, and, to a lesser extent, Goose Island. Other breweries get passed over unintentionally due to the fact that I haven’t heard much buzz about them, the fact that I see them everywhere and make the assumption (perhaps unfairly) that they’re just average and I’ll try them at a later date, or … I just simply don’t notice them. This group contains brewers such as Montana’s Big Sky, Maine’s Sea Dog, New Hampshire’s Smuttynose, California’s Lagunitas, and the subject of this review, Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Co. I can’t praise and I can’t criticize for the simple fact that I really don’t know anything about them, despite their relatively high national profile.

Left Hand is a perfect example of an unintentional victim. Honestly, I had so little knowledge of Left Hand that I was clueless as to where they’re based, and for some reason I had developed the impression that they specialized in a unique type of beer (organic, kosher, etc … I’m not even sure), which is clearly false (perhaps the southpaw theme threw me off). Left Hand is another in a long line of Colorado craft breweries and has a lineup that is similar to virtually every other widely distributed craft brewer out there. Part of the reason for passing them up time after time (other than reasons I’ve already stated), is that the styles I typically saw never really impressed. Haystack Wheat, Juju Ginger, Blackjack Porter, and Milk Stout can be found in numerous places, yet I never once had the urge to give them a sample.

This all changed a few weeks back when I discovered Left Hand’s Imperial Stout, a Russian imperial that came in a four-pack with a monstrous ABV and a price tag to match. Perhaps it was the timid styles (wheats? fruits? milk stouts?) that had caused me to avoid Left Hand, or perhaps it was my ridiculous false impressions, but it no longer matters. Any brewer that crafts one of the finest styles out there, the Russian imperial stout, will surely grab Nigel’s attention. While I was a bit reluctant to purchase a $10 four-pack from a brewery I knew absolutely nothing about, I went for it, and I must say now that I surely don’t regret that decision.

Left Hand’s Imperial Stout falls just short of elite, but it is tantalizingly close to a five mugger. It pours with the typical lifelessness you expect in a Russian imperial: a thick, black, used motor oil color (according to the bottle, it’s a black beer to brighten your day), with a mild light brown head that quickly dissipates, leaving only a tiny bit of lace at the very edge of the glass. It’s black and boring in the glass, just as it should be. Aromas of dark roasted malts and chocolate singe the nostrils, as does a slight sweetness of dark fruits and thick, sugary molasses. The aroma isn’t as strong as some Russian imperials, but it does lack one thing that many have: an alcoholic zip. This is a good thing, in my opinion, so I appreciate the aroma despite its somewhat timid qualities.

The flavor is far better than the aroma, and it is VERY close to cementing this as a five mugger. All the typical RIS flavors are in full effect and Left Hand has done a remarkable job of balancing them in perfect harmony. As you would expect, malt dominates. It’s equal parts roasted nuts, chocolate, and coffee, giving it a thick, powerful flavor that is perfect for the cold winter months. Lighter, sugary hints of toffee and molasses come through as a secondary player, as does a nice, sweet hint of dark fruit (I mostly taste fig, though there is another tiny zip that I can’t quite put my finger on). Like with the aroma, I’m shocked as to how little of the 10 percent ABV comes through … it’s a bit more detectable in the taste than in the smell, but only in very tiny doses. Full bodied, yet surprisingly smooth on the palate, Left Hand has done an exemplary job of capturing all the flavor complexities that make up the difficult Russian imperial stout. Even the aftertaste is less than you would expect from such a powerful brew.

Well then … if all of Left Hand’s brews are like this one, I’m certainly regretting having passed them up for so long. Imperial Stout left such an impression on me that today I purchased a bomber of Left Hand’s Warrior IPA, which will be the ultimate test as to the legitimacy of this brewer (I am a certified Hopologist, after all). If you’re a Russian imperial stout fan, you would be remiss if you didn’t at least sample Left Hand’s version, despite the somewhat hefty price tag (I believe they come in bomber form as well, if the four-pack is a bit too much for you). It’s a fine example of a fine style, and it was an enjoyable first experience for Nigel with Left Hand.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 29, 2008.
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