THE NORTHEAST SEEMS like the ideal region to develop America’s best Imperial Stouts: buffeted by salty ocean waters and beset by frigid winters (and, increasingly, hurricane winds), it’s also the closest proxy the US has for the English harbors whence the style emerged. And yet, aside from Cigar City’s almost comical dominance of at least one ranking, it’s mostly Midwestern and West Coast breweries that brew the most renowned of this blackest of beers.
Exclusivity and celebrity, though, are not always virtues in a world that occasionally just wants to kick back by the fire and pop a brew or two without desecrating the cellar or emptying the piggy bank. Nor are port-barrel-aged, coffee-filtered, and triple-carob-steeped liquid desserts always apropos for a simple nightcap. And here is where Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing positions their Storm King: a 12 oz. bottle widely available at reasonable prices, sensibly composed of traditional ingredients, and yet still formidable enough not to drink like a ‘lite’ rendering of the style.
Weighing in at 9.1% ABV, Storm King is indeed hefty. But this strength is belied by its color and aroma, which show a cola brown corona and medium toasted malts instead of black molasses pitch. Nor is Storm King especially dense in the body—still full overall, of course, but not oily or syrupy and with an impression of dryness from a roasted malt bite around the midpalate. Some dark coffee is present and a little molasses develops after a few sips, though neither becomes the beer’s defining flavor. Its finish implies a little dark fruit and is pleasantly lingering, prickled slightly by carbonation that otherwise is understated. Hops imply a little herbal leafiness, though their bittering role is minor and largely supplanted by the roast of the malts.
Indeed, Storm King touches on a rather broad array of flavors, but overall is that uncommon stout satisfied with balance instead of lurching towards singular bold associations like chocolate, black cherry, or espresso. Revealing a notch more of its ABV would have better reflected its imperious name, but as-is Storm King is still handily one of the better strong stouts widely available in the States.
Served: 12 oz bottle