Beer Review – Death by Rivertown Brewing

Back in 2012 Rivertown Brewing released a series of beers inspired by the four horsemen of the apocalypse:

  • Pestilence – a Flanders Oud Bruin
  • War – a smoked Irish Red Ale
  • Famine – a black Hefeweizen
  • Death – a Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Jolokai Peppers

Fortunately, the release of these beers did not actually trigger the end of times, at least as it plays out in the book of Revelation.  In fact I was blissfully unaware of these beers at the time of their release and only know about them from Tom Aguero’s reviews of War, Famine and Death.  (Editors Note – From all accounts the brewers took the Pestilence theme a little too seriously and this beer is not a pleasant tasting experience.  I’ve heard/read others compare it to taste sensations not normally found in beer, such as vomit and Limburger cheese).  Recently Rivertown decided to release another batch of the final beer in the series, Death (a fact that I also learned at Tom’s blog, Queen City Drinks).  So when I saw it on tap at the Crest last week I had to give it a try.  It was interesting enough that I stopped by Weiland’s Market a couple of days later and picked up a “growler full of Death.”  I’ll be honest that I contemplated getting a 32 ounce bottle to save a little money, but what kind of person orders a “half-growler full of Death.”

Opening the seal on a growler full of Death.
Opening the seal on a Growler full of Death.


  • Brewery: Rivertown Brewing (Cincinnati, OH)
  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout
  • ABV: 11%
  • Cost: $24.99 for a 64 oz growler

The details I could unearth on the ingredients and history of this beer are pretty minimal, but the two facts I was able to ascertain are worth noting.  Firstly, it weighs in at 11% abv, pushing the legal limit for beer in Ohio.  Secondly, it is made with Jolokai Peppers, more commonly known as Ghost Peppers, which are more than a 1000 times hotter than a Jalapeño pepper.

My Review

Appropriately enough Death is jet black and pours with a minimal head that never gets more than a few millimeters high.  If you hold it up to the light some ruby highlights can be seen leaking through on the edges.  Thankfully the beer does not smell like death (or for that matter Limburger cheese).  The nose is a little bit boozy, with a healthy dose of vanilla.  If there is any aroma from the Ghost Peppers it is well masked by the other ingredients.  The boozy, vanilla aroma of this beer is reminiscent of a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout, although to the best of my knowledge it is not barrel aged.  The taste begins with rich caramel malts and accents of dark fruits, more like an English-style Barleywine or a Wee Heavy than an Imperial Stout if you ask me.  Before too long the heat of the Ghost Peppers arrives, peaking at the finish and leaving you with a lingering, but very tolerable burning sensation.  The mouthfeel is thick and chewy.

Admittedly I enjoy spicy foods and I use hot peppers when I cook far more often than the rest of my family appreciates, but for me the heat of the peppers is just right.  It’s shares equal billing with the caramel and dark fruit flavors of the base beer without overpowering them, as is too often the case in pepper beers (aka Elevator’s Ghost Scorpion Lager or Stone’s Punishment).  Like hot foods in general the heat grows little by little the more you drink, although this effect is mitigated if you are eating food while drinking the beer.  The alcohol is there, but seems less pronounced than it was on the nose.  I speculate that is because your sense of taste and smell is occupied with everything else going on in this beer.


Although I love both beer and hot peppers the combination of the two does not usually work for me.  This is the first chilli pepper beer I can remember where the peppers make a balanced contribution to the taste of the beer without overpowering the other flavors.  It’s not for everyone, but if you like big malty beers like Imperial Stouts, Scotch Ales or English Barleywines AND you like hot spicy food this beer is a must try.  This is a limited release so you should seek it out soon if you want to try it.  I have not seen any bottles of Death (too bad what a great gift idea), but it was available on tap and in growlers at various places in the Columbus area as of last week.

Rating = 8.0

Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.

4 thoughts on “Beer Review – Death by Rivertown Brewing

Add yours

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