Imperial Stout

Glassware: Snifter
  • USA
  • Ale
  • ABV = 8.0 – 12.0% (High to very high)^
  • IBU = 50-90
  • SRM = 30-40

A strong, complex and intensely-flavoured dark ale with prominent malt, yeast, and hop character and a warming, bittersweet finish.

More complex, with a broader range of possible flavours than lower strength English or Irish stouts.  Like a black-coloured American Barleywine, with every dimension of flavour coming into play.


  • Colour^ = Dark brown to black
  • Clarity = Opaque

Key Aromas & Flavours:

  • Malt = Low to moderate; coffee, dark chocolate, or a lightly burnt note (optional: a caramelly specialty malt character)
  • Yeast = Low to moderate; raisins, plums, prunes
  • Hops = Very low to high; any hop variety welcome
  • Other = An alcohol character may be present, but shouldn’t be sharp, hot, or solventy. Aged versions may have a slight vinous or port-like quality.
  • Malt = Moderate to very high; bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, strong coffee and/or a lightly burnt note (optional: caramel, bread or toast)
  • Yeast = Low to high; raisins, plums, prunes
  • Hops = Moderate to high; any hop variety welcome
  • Perceived Bitterness^ = Pronounced
  • Balance = Varies; affected by aging, with some flavours becoming more subdued over time and some aged, vinous or port-like qualities developing

Ranges from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness, hop bitterness and warming character


  • Body = Full to very full; chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long aging)
  • Carbonation = Low to medium; depending on age and conditioning
  • Alcohol warmth = Gentle smooth warmth from alcohol should be present and noticeable, but not a primary characteristic

Characteristic Ingredients/Processes:

  • Malt = 2-row or pale ale base malt, plus roasted malts and/or grains. May have a complex grain bill using virtually any variety of malt.
  • Yeast = American or English ale yeast
  • Hops = Any hop varietals

Historical Development:

A style with a long, although not necessarily continuous, heritage. Traces roots to strong English Porters brewed for export in the 1700s, and said to have been popular with the Russian Imperial Court. After the Napoleonic wars interrupted trade, these beers were increasingly sold in England. The style eventually all but died out, until being popularly embraced in the modern craft beer era, both in England as a revival and in the United States as a reinterpretation or re-imagination by extending the style with American characteristics.  

Traditionally an English style, but it is currently much more popular and widely available in America where it is a craft beer favorite, not a curiosity. Variations exist, with English and American interpretations. (Predictably, the American versions have more bitterness, roasted character, and finishing hops, while the English versions reflect a more complex specialty malt character and a more forward ester profile).

Commercial Examples:

American – North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout; English – Samuel Smith Imperial Stout

^Sourced from the Cicerone Certification Program’s International Certified Beer Server Syllabus.
All other information is sourced from the BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines.

Discovering Beer is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Cicerone® Certification Program.

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