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Did Someone Remember to Turn Off the Kiln? Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout Review.

March 3, 2010

Think back to your family vacations as a child. Or even to the ones you take now with your spouse and children. Odds are you have heard the phrase “Did we remember to turn off/shut/unplug/lock insert object A?” This usually creates a frenzied mental checklist resulting in a half-hearted “Um, yeah. I think checked that before we left.” The vacation goes off without a hitch (haha, yeah I just assumed vacations go off without hitches…) and when you return your home has not been burglarized or burnt down. Lucky you!

So what in the heck does this have to do with my most recent beer indulgence, Rogue Ale’s XS Russian Imperial Stout? It seems that during the course of brewing the Lord of all dark beers someone took a vacay and left the kiln on whilst the Great Western, Harrington & Klages, Hugh Baird XLT-80, Black, Munich, Chocolate Malts and rolled oats were getting their warm air on. This stuff tastes burnt!

Now, I review each beer on it’s own merits. I’m not a style freak; As a matter of fact I encourage new styles and inventive interpretations of styles. However, when it comes to a big bad Russian Imperial I do expect a few things: Dark color, roasty aromas, and a delicate balance of powerful dark malt flavors.

Dark flavor. Check. Roasty, coffee aroma. Check. Flavor…um…we’ll get to that in the review.

I’m not sure what the “XS” stands for in the six Rogue brews that carry the moniker, but five of the six have the word “imperial” in the title. So, these are the biggest and baddest. The XS Russian Imperial Stout uses the aforementioned malts, Willamette, Cascade, and Chinook hops, two “secret ingredients” (I’m guessing one of these is the black stuff that gets stuck to the side of a way overcooked bag of popcorn), plus water and yeast.


Beer: XS Russian Imperial Stout

Brewer: Rogue Brewing, Oregon

Style: Russian Imperial Stout

ABV: 11%

IBU: 88

Serving: 7 oz. bottle, Snifter Glass


Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout pours very black into my Michelob Celebrate snifter glass. It appears to be very thick and has a dark brown head that sits tight on top trapping the aroma. Even as you tip the glass no color comes through at the edges.

The aroma on this one consists of coffee, roasted malt, and a surprisingly large dose of hops. Also in the nose are chocolate, nuts, and alcohol. The high level of roast and hops is an odd combination that I’m enjoying quite a bit. I know that the IBUs of Imperial Stouts are high to help balance out the powerful malt character, but they’re rarely an active participant in aroma or flavor. These 88 IBUs are quite noticeable.

Up to this point things are going great. This is a supermodel of a beer and as aromatic as a stout can come. Once you take your first sip of this beer things take a drastic turn. At first it is a subtle balance of roasted malt and a teensy-weensy bit of hop. Then this sort of blackened popcorn flavor creeps in and takes hold of the profile. The flavor of Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout is as bitter and burnt as they come. It is even reminiscent of charcoal. Wheres the chocolate? Wheres the coffee that tickled my nasal cavity? Swig after swig I gave this one another chance. “Let it warm up a bit” I pleaded to myself each time. It didn’t matter. The character becomes a tiny bit more balanced, but the dominating flavor here is burnt, hyper-roasted malt.

I was left smacking my lips in disgust as the long, bitter finish reminded me of the time I crunched a piece of popcorn that was entirely black. The thick body and low carbonation are standard Imperial Stout fare as is the warming from the 11% ABV.

So, Rogue Ales with their vast selection of brews, ultra-informative website, and good beer pedigree fall short here. XS Russian Imperial Stout feels like someone forgot to unplug the kiln before pulling out of their driveway for an 8-day vacation. $6 and 7 ounces later I’m left scratching my head as to what they were going for here. Perhaps this is exactly what they intended and my palate just isn’t tuned for this. To each their own, and I respect each and every beer that comes out of any brewery. Unfortunately, I can faithfully say that this is the last Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout I will ever have.

SCORE: 43/100

**In order to better demonstrate how I feel a beer performs overall I have ditched the 5-category system for a single x/100 score. I was finding that many of my reviews were not being best represented by 5.0 scale. The new scale will allow me to rate the beer with a wider number range better showcasing my true feelings and not succumbing to mathemathical law.**

Chance of Craft Beer Epiphany: 25%

I’m in the minority of people when I say that I prefer many things on the dark side. Burnt popcorn? Fill me a bowl as long as they aren’t 100% burnt. Those extra crunchy french fries that got stuck in the oil for weeks and then escaped Nemo-style into my fry container? I’ll take a whole sack please. However, I find that the majority of people will quickly denounce all things burnt or over-cooked. So, it is with great confidence that I predict few people will be turned on to craft beer thanks to Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout. The burnt, bitter qualities will send people running for their heavenly pale lagers. Give them a different Rogue and then see what they say.




Rogue Ales

  1. nick permalink

    Good call ditching the /5 point system. Much easier to understand this way. Shame the beer was poor. Great company though. Had their holiday brew and it was lovely.

    • Thanks Nick! Yeah, I’m hoping it was a bad bottle…perhaps not aged quite long enough? Either way the reviews online seem to echo my same sentiments. Some love it and some really don’t like it. I hope D.C. is treating you well!

  2. Erik permalink

    Very disappointing for a Russian Imperial. I’m kind of hoping that you just got a bad bottle of the stuff!!

    • Erik, much agreed. I’m always drawn to a big dark boozy stout. This one was a let down, but I still have faith in Rogue. The bottle recommends aging up to one year and that it was bottles in 2009. So, perhaps it was bottled in the latter half of ’09 and I cracked it open too soon.

  3. I love Rogue, and I love stouts of all kinds — this saddens me.

  4. Erik permalink

    Quite correct James. RIs are like Barleywines in the sense that they need to be in bottles for like EVER. But I cant think of a batch that I’ve let go past a month. I’m just a dark beer fan like that!

    Rogue is a great beer in general. The only Rogue I havent liked is their “Shakespeare Stout”. I just wasnt impressed because I’m pretty convinced that I’ve brewed something darn similar. But thats a topic for another conversation.

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