Beer Review: North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin

Name: Old Rasputin
Brewing Company: North Coast Brewing Co.
Location: Fort Bragg, CA
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9%

From North Coast Brewing’s page for Old Rasputin:

Produced in the tradition of 18th Century English brewers who supplied the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great, Old Rasputin seems to develop a cult following wherever it goes. It’s a rich, intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish.

The Old Rasputin brand image is a drawing of Rasputin with a phrase in Russian encircling it — A sincere friend is not born instantly.

The Russian Imperial Stout is perhaps the biggest, boldest of all stouts. In most cases, it is the stout with the most pronounced hop presence. As the name implies, this style received the name because they were first brewed for Emperor Peter the Great of Russia. (or Catherine the Great?) Regardless, North Coast’s take on the style aptly named Old Rasputin is probably the most iconic and widely known American interpretation of the style.

I’ve had a few Russian Imperial Stouts (I even reviewed one from Carton) but generally, the barrel-aged versions are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. For the longest time, the hop assertiveness wasn’t for me. Since I started enjoying more hop-forward beers I wanted to give one a try, one that wasn’t barrel aged so why not go for the granddaddy or “ded” of the style?

The most noticeable element, initially, is how dark this beer is. I’ve had PLENTY of stouts, over 200, and Old Rasputin is one of the darkest stouts I’ve ever poured. This beer has presence, especially with that old Russian mystic staring at you from the bottle. The most pronounced element of the beer’s aroma was the roasted malts, I think. Atop the beer is a thick, fluffy head that looks like a frothy cappuccino head.

That aroma is a pretty good indicator of what to expect with the beer. There’s a lot of bittersweet in the beer, maybe some chocolate hints and maybe even some toffee. I’ve seen some comments / reviews of the beer that mention hints of cherry, but I didn’t get that at all. Most of these flavors come from the malts but the hops aren’t going to let you forget about them.

The hops have a big bite, but not unpleasant for me. The roasted malt brings most of the flavor in the beer and their potential sweetness is balanced out the hop presence. While this is a big, flavorful beer and the hops are assertive, I would have guessed the IBU lower than 75 IBU. In many ways, this almost a chewable beer for how thick and robust it is.

I had a bottle of Old Rasputin many years ago, long before being on untappd, so I can’t remember exactly how the beer worked for me. Now? Seems like it should be an annual acquisition as nights get cooler and the big bastard of a beer will help warm the soul.

Unsurprisingly, North Coast brews a barrel-aged version of the beer that I may have to try. As it stands, Old Rasputin is rightfully an iconic beer of the style. With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and tag this beer as an American Craft Beer Classic.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

For a great history of Old Rasputin, check out Jeff Alworth’s piece on All About Beer.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Imperial Czar (Level 5)

Originally created and brewed for Russian Emperor Peter the Great, the Russian Imperial Stout has a history as rich as it’s roasty, hoppy flavor. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Russian Imperial Stout!

2X (Level 31)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 155 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.

 

Beer Review: Carton Brewing Sundae

Name: Sundae
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: “Neapolitan” Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Carton Brewing’s Web site:

Neapolitan Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac Barrels with Walnuts and Maraschino cherries

The first stride along this path was enough Super Galena in the middle of the boil leading a strawberry hop tone in vanilla and chocolate malt notes creating a Russian Imperial Stout with a different gait. The move to “let’s throw some Neapolitan ice cream in there and see what happens” isn’t a giant leap. Going from a big bold stout with chocolate vanilla and strawberry freeze dried ice cream to “brandied walnuts and a cherry on top right?” is actually a small step. Sundae is Cosmonaut put down in cognac barrels with maraschino cherries and walnuts for a year. Drink Sundae because this one’s for you, Mr. Gorsky.

Carton Brewing has been at the forefront of NJ Craft Brewing since they’ve been brewing and selling beer in 2011 for many reasons. Carton’s range of experimental styles (adding prickly pear cactus to one beer or white truffles to another, for two examples) are akin to an artisanal chef.  The wonderful taste of their beers drive people keep seeking out those beers and making the trip to the Atlantic Highlands to get cans of their beer. They brew one of the most sought-after limited-release beers in the region,  Regular Coffee. Long story short, they are doing things smart, artistically, and with a passion and chances are I’ll be writing about more about Carton here in the future.

One of their regularly brewed beers is Cosmonaut, a Russian Imperial Stout and Sundae is a variation on that beer. I haven’t tried Cosmonaut so I can’t compare this variation to the original. Pouring Sundae from the can, what I initially took to be a black beer was actually a deep burgundy/crimson. You know, that dark tone of red that can be indistinguishable from black until the light hits it the right way and then all you see is that deep red. The aroma is a sweet rich smell that lingers nicely before drinking the beer.

From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is.” It looks like a stout, has some of the dark rich flavor profiles of a stout, but feels a slight bit thinner than most stouts I’ve had. The combination of these characteristics makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.

I was concerned about the addition of walnuts. I don’t mind nuts of any kind on their own so much, but I am not a fan of when they are added to brownies or ice cream. I shouldn’t have worried, the presence of the walnuts is subtle and really complemented by the beer being aged in the cognac barrels with the cherries.

Russian Imperial Stouts tend to have more of a bitter aftertaste and are sometimes slightly higher in hop presence than most stouts. Again, the cognac and cherry presence buried that bitterness and the aftertaste of the beer is more akin to a sweet aftertaste than bitter aftertaste, which makes this a perfect dessert beer, as if the name of the beer didn’t already imply that. What was also impressive is how well-hidden the relatively high ABV of 10% is. Perhaps because I sipped the beer over the course of an hour it didn’t hit me as much as I expected it would have.

What this beer reminded me of most was when you are at the end of your ice cream sundae or bowl of ice cream. You’ve got your favorite toppings, the ice cream is melted enough that when you swirl all the ingredients together you’ve got what amounts to ice cream soup. That was always the most fun part of ice cream to me and that’s what this beer evokes – sweet, tasty fun.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating.