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.  Darker and more roasty than American Barleywine, but with similar alcohol.


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

Key Aromas & Flavours:

  • Malt = Low to moderate; coffee, bittersweet or dark chocolate, cocoa, black licorice, tar or a slightly burnt grain quality (optional: a light caramel or toasty malt richness)
  • Hops = Very low to high; citrus, pine, resin, earthy, herbal or woodsy aromas most common
  • Yeast = Low to moderate; plums, prunes, figs, black currants or raisins
  • Other = An alcohol aroma may be present, but should not be sharp, hot, or solventy. Aged versions may take on a vinous or port-like quality.
  • Malt = Moderate to high; coffee, bittersweet or dark chocolate, cocoa, black licorice, tar or a slightly burnt grain quality (optional: bread, toast or caramel malt richness)
  • Hops = Moderate to high; citrus, pine, resin, earthy, herbal or woodsy flavours most common
  • Yeast = Moderate to high; plums, prunes, figs, black currants or raisins
  • 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

Finish ranges from fairly dry to moderately sweet (changing with age), with lingering roastiness, hop bitterness and warming character


  • Body = Full to very full; chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body and texture may decline with age)
  • Carbonation = Low to medium
  • Alcohol warmth = Gentle smooth alcohol warmth should be present and noticeable, but as a background character

Characteristic Ingredients/Processes:

  • Malt = Two-row or pale ale malt, plus significant dark roasted malts and/or grains
  • Hops = American or British hop varietals are typical
  • Yeast = American or English ale yeast

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 in England as a revival export and in the United States as an adaptation, by extending the style with American characteristics.

Varying interpretations exist with American versions having more bitterness, roasted character, and finishing hops, while English versions often 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, Thornbridge Saint Petersburg

^Sourced from the Cicerone Certification Program’s International Certified Beer Server Syllabus (Version 5.0)
All other information is sourced from the BJCP 2021 Style Guidelines.

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

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