REVIEW: Storm King Stout from Victory Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: American Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.1%
Appearance: Dark Brown
Aroma: Caramel, Roasted Malts
Flavor: Caramel, Espresso, Bitter Chocolate
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Chocolate, Brisket, BBQ

Imperial stouts, like many imperial styles, have devolved over the years. Where they were once smoky, flavorful brews with a slight uptick in alcohol content, they have transformed into dark, syrupy messes with overbearing alcohol notes. For some, the aim has shifted from flavor to inebriation. On the other end of the spectrum is Victory’s Storm King.

At 9.1% alcohol by volume, Storm King barely nudges the heavy hitters of the class – sought after beers such as AleSmith’s Speedway Stout and Three Floyd’s Dark Lord are well into the double digits, while Dogfish Head’s massive World Wide Stout comes up just short of 20%. Even Bell’s Expedition Stout, a stalwart of the style, comes in above 10%. What Storm King provides, however, is a beer that is an all-around winner, well balanced with plenty of discernible tasting notes.

Appearance

The appearance is of a standard imperial stout – dark brown, bordering on black, with amber coloration towards the top of a pour. Poured properly, it will produce a small but stable dark tan head – it won’t overwhelm the glass, but will produce just enough to provide a pleasing appearance and a good opportunity to inhale the scents.

Aroma

Storm King Stout - Victory Brewing

The aroma is one of caramel and roasted malts, with hints of chocolate and coffee thrown in, and a distinct hop note that will pierce through the others in the end. Surprisingly, the smell of alcohol is not as present as in many other beers of the style – it smells more like a standard coffee or espresso stout. As it warms, the alcohol aroma will develop slightly, but will never overpower it.

Flavor

The taste delivers what the aroma promises, but with some surprises. The caramel, espresso, and slightly bitter chocolate is all there, with a slight burn thanks to the Imperial nature. The overwhelming taste is that of roasted malts, with almost a slightly burnt hint, a note that is further enhanced by the aggressive hop finish. This bitterness adds a certain drying snap to the end of a sip, and provides a great change of flavor throughout a mouthful. It definitely leans towards the more bitter end of the Imperial Stout spectrum.

Tasting Notes

Victory doesn’t cheat by providing a creamy texture to counter the bitterness, they let it all hang out. The feel is mildly carbonated, on the dryer side of the Imperials. It is also not particularly thick, allowing it to play the field between a drinking beer or a sipping beer.

When it’s all said and done, Storm King is definitely a winning brew. It is somewhat of an oddity – an Imperial style that you can drink a few of in a sitting without risking alcohol poisoning, a stout with a distinct hoppiness. It is an incredibly balanced beer for its style, wowing the drinker with taste instead of beating them into submission with high alcohol content and one singular, overbearing tasting note.

For the true stout fans, who want to push further, Storm King can sometimes also be found on cask, adding a whole new level to the brew. A hand-pumped pint will produce greater aromas, accentuating the base ingredients, with sharper hops and bigger, toastier malt aromas. The mouthfeel will develop as well, it will be creamier and less carbonated. It is well worth having on cask when available – where sometimes the cask is a mere gimmick, in the case of Storm King, it enhances the beer.

This is the type of beer we’ve come to expect from Victory. The Downingtown-based brewery, founded in 1996, has a history of producing well-balanced, basic beers. They tend not to be too experimental with their beers, instead producing brews that fit the style profiles very neatly. While this has resulted in very little in the way of decorations, it has earned them quite a following as far as beer drinkers are concerned.Victory are one of the most highly respected and distributed craft beers in Pennsylvania, and their restaurant and brewery is a key part of any Pennsylvania brewery tour. It has lead to them being the most highly distributed craft beer from the state – Victory can be found in 30 states, plus Japan and Singapore. It has also helped them to become an integral partner in a number of collaboration beers, working with the likes of Dogfish Head, Stone, and Fat Head’s.

One of the most unique things about Victory is their brewing methods– they are one of the few breweries that use whole flower hops in their brewing process. Their brewers feel that this provides better flavor and aroma to the beers. This move has earned them praise and collaboration on an international level, with the German Hop Growers’ Association tapping their talents for a number of specialty beers for events in the past.

So as the weather cools, grab yourself a nice, warming bottle of Storm King for a little bit of relaxation.

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