You know when you take your first mouthful of a particularly feisty chili or curry and it sends your taste buds into overdrive, firing off warning messages to your brain that this one might just be too hot to handle? Then you soldier on and, palate suitably adjusted, it turns out you were just being a wuss. Well, it seems the same can apply to big bastard beers like this Russian Imperial Stout, the biggest beer yet released by Hargreaves Hill. After wallowing in the lovely rich aromas - dark caramel, vanilla, sweet liquorice - the initial taste was a surprise: an intense coffee-like bitterness that left a dusty coating. "Hmmmm..." we thought, uncertain. But, just as a test wicket requires careful preparation before a titanic battle can commence, so The Crafty Pint's gob needed resetting up a few notches in readiness for tackling this oily, ruby-tinged black beast. And what an enjoyable battle it turned out to be. If you've tasted the brewery's Stout - itself pretty bold - you'll recognise some of its characteristics here as it's clearly the elder, much-tougher-in-a-fight brother: chocolate liqueur, creamy treacle and molasses flavours give way to a long, lingering bittersweet coffee finish, not dissimilar to a multiple espresso laced with brown sugar. The alcohol warms the cockles too, in a beer you'll want to clear a couple of hours in the diary for. Truly a whopper.