It took me a long time to realize Leinenkugel made more than Sunset Wheat. I had just never seen anything other than the witbier-like brew in stores. I’m pretty glad that’s changed.
Yes, I know Leinenkugel is owned by SABMiller … and yes, I know Leinenkugel brews are more “crafty” than “craft.” But I’ll be damned if I didn’t just about fall in love with the Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout, which has an 86 on Beer Advocate.
I had a sample of this beer before during last summer’s trip to Milwaukee (including a barrel-aged version) and thought it was pretty good. Well, this year’s stout – bottled and all – was really good.
The beer poured like motor oil – thick and midnight black. Some light carbonation formed on the surface, but did nothing to hold back intense aromas of chocolate-flavored booze. At 9.5 percent ABV, there’s probably no hiding the alcohol of this malt-forward stout, but each deep inhale filled my nose with milk chocolate, vanilla and cream punctuated by a welcomed warm whisper of the booze.
There was an almost sugary sweetness to the aroma, kind of like Cool Whip. Somewhere behind all that the biscuity notes of Munich and Caramel malts lingered. This beer struck me as a great Christmastime brew thanks to some cinnamon spiciness. (Sidenote: I swear at the end of each sniff, I could perfectly imagine a ripe, freshly peeled banana. I have no idea where that came from but turned the smell of this beer into some kind of banana split.)
All that takes nothing away from the taste, which is fueled by a constant dance of espresso, chocolate and vanilla, forming an amazing combination that clung to my tongue and never wanted to let go. I literally made an effort to salivate more in order to wipe away the aftertaste of sweet, roasted grains.
The Chocolate malt holds really strong up front with expected results (lots of chocolate flavor) but there was really no hint of booze from the taste like there was from the smell. When I let each sip sit on my tongue, I got just a slight tingle of that barely-there carbonation that left an aftertaste of sweet cream. Heavenly. As the beer warmed, those espresso flavors became more pronounced, pushing the chocolate to the side.
If you’re like me and didn’t realize Leinenkugel had a worthwhile portfolio of beers outside their fruit-inspired concoctions, the Big Eddy series is worth a try.
Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout stats:
- Malt: Munich, Caramel, Chocolate, Classic Pale and Pale Ale
- Hops: Warrior, Summit and Glacier
- Additives: N/A
- ABV: 9.5 percent
- Brewery: Leinenkugel of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin