First off, the Imperator, this is the fifth in Abita's lineup of "big beers" following the Abbey Ale, Andygator, SOS, and Strawgator. Imperator is a black IPA, listed on their site as 8% abv and 90 IBU. I remember enjoying this one when it was on draft as a select option, so hopefully the bottle release is just as good.
My first thought was that the color was spot on, a dark tone but not as rich and thick as a stout would be. The beer poured with a frothy head, more white than tan, and it lingered a good while.
The aroma was roasty as expected, but lacking the real hop bite I would want in a black IPA. The characteristics to look for in the style are a roasted malt backbone with a hop-forward nose and taste, but this one really has more of a malt-forward presence. I'm not saying the hops didn't exist, but I would have liked them to be more pronounced.
The taste was more of the same, this beer is a good start but it would really benefit from even more hops. I remember the draft version being a lot hoppier than this bottle, but there was no date listed that I saw, so I guess I might have been sent a bottle that had been sitting for a while. I hope that's the case, because it would explain the lack of hop profile expected out of the style.
Next, the Bourbon Street Stout, Abita's first release in their new Bourbon Street Series. This one was also a select not too long ago, and I loved it on draft. I would go so far as to say that the draft version that I tried was a top 10 Louisiana brewed beer, maybe even top 5. They cold crash it for 6 weeks after fermentation is complete, then transfer 100% to bourbon barrels for 8 weeks. I think that's on the shorter end of barrel aging, but in all honesty it's probably plenty long enough to get the right flavors. The beer clocks in at 10% abv and 20 IBU.
Like the Imperator, this had a great looking pour, dark and rich with more of a tan head. That's what you want a stout to look like, nothing to complain about so far!
While the Imperator lost some luster on the nose, the Bourbon Street Stout is fantastic. The barrel aging really gives a complex array of flavors, oak, vanilla, some roasted tones, and plenty of malty sweetness to balance out the alcohol notes.
The taste follows through on this one strong, a complex delicious beer and a good example of a bourbon barrel aged stout. I don't know where it would rank in the pantheon of great bourbon barrel imperial stouts, certainly behind Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Founder's KBS, two others that can be occasionally found locally, but both of those are going to be a lot harder to get your hands on than the Abita Bourbon Street Stout. I think a blind tasting might be in order sometime soon!
For now though, I'd say pass on the Imperator unless you know you're getting a fresh bottle, and if you see the Bourbon Street Stout, grab a few. I plan on finding a few more to add to the cellar myself.