There are certain breweries you don't often see around these parts. San Diego based AleSmith is one of them, though I'm fairly certain JB's has carried their wares in the past. Maybe others have too, I don't know, but from my perspective, the Speedway Stout alone is worth the trip to San Diego.
The beer has, apparently, been named "the best beer in the world(!!!)" by RateBeer, and I can see why. I mean, it's hard to make those kind of claims, but Speedway Stout truly is a stellar imperial stout, right up there with Deschutes's Abyss. Which one is better? It's hard to say, and I think some proper aging of the Speedway would be the only way to judge it properly.
How does it do on its individual merits, then?
It pours a jet black, with a couple of fingers worth of a dark head. Retention is there in good form.
Give it a whiff and you don't want to stop smelling it. I mean, I suppose you do want to drink it too, but just sitting around like a glue addict is kind of tempting.
Shake the feeling off to take a drink, you'll find a dominating chocolate, flanked by the friendly inviting molasses. Following close behind is a smooth scent of coffee—not the roasted to 700 degrees stuff, we're talking quality coffee—and a very gentle backbone of anise.
Sip, and the coffee comes through a little more than on the nose. It's not harsh tasting—as often is the case with these kind of beers—and the chocolate compliments it perfectly. There's a bit of vanilla sweetness toward the middle, all served up in a velvet like texture. Keep sipping, and you'll pick up other subtle flavors; fruits and the aforementioned anise make themselves known sooner rather than later.
Weighing in at 12% ABV, it's definitely a heavy hitter, but the flavors mask the alcohol well.
So, is the Speedway Stout the best beer in the world? Is it better than the Abyss? I really don't know, nor do I care. It's a stellar ale, and you probably should travel the 1,000+ miles to try it. (Although I'm fairly sure a trip to Belmont Station in Portland would suffice.) Do try it if you have the chance, and you'll feel very, very good about yourself.