Beer Review: Icarus Brewing’s Kalishnikoffee: PSL

Name: Kalishnikoffee: PSL
Brewing Company: Icarus Brewing
Location: Lakewood, NJ
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
ABV: 14.5%

A big, tasty, flavorful stout from one of NJ’s top breweries that imparts flavors of the most ubiquitous of fall beverages.

From the untappd entry for beer:

Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Wildflower Honey, Brown Sugar, Cinamon and Nutmeg. Conditioned on a blend of Fresh Coffee and Vanilla Beans.

This is not the pumpkin beer you’re looking for…. Icarus Brewing (who I’ve made no bones about being one of my favorite, maybe my top favorite, NJ brewery) is able to produce a delicious variety of beers from few base recipes for a couple of series. One of those “multitasker” (to borrow an Alton Brown phrase) recipes or series is Kalishnikov, their Russian Imperial Stout, which has seen quite a few variants, some of which I’ve had, including a delicious barrel aged version.

This version looks to emulate that ever present fall drink, the pumpkin spice latte (i.e. the “PSL” of the beer name). While there are no pumpkins in this beer, the spices associated with Pumpkin Pie – cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, along with the beer having been conditioned on Coffee and Vanilla Beans – help this the beer evoke autumn, at least in name. The standard Kalishknov is brewed with honey…so yeah, a decent amount of additional flavor components in the beer.

Pouring the beer into the glass, it mostly looks the part of a big burly, Russian Imperial Stout. It isn’t pitch black, exactly, but rather a black that was mixed with a very deep brown. The aroma gives off hints of the malt and spices, so nothing out of the unexpected.

The first sip is of autumn. As I said, I’ve had and enjoyed a few different variants of this beer, in addition to a couple barrel-aged versions of Icarus’s Russian Imperial Stouts and this beer seems to match up to those expectations nicely. As I have more of the beer and it warms up, those autumnally associated spices begin to awaken, with the nutmeg asserting itself a tad more strongly than the cinnamon.

In past versions of this beer, the wildflower honey balances out the bitterness inherently associated with Russian Imperial Stout, from a style perspective. The autumnal spices mask the honey and accentuate the bitterness of the coffee adjunct, and combined with the vanilla, give the beer a very earthy overall flavors for me.

Although there is no Pumpkin in this beer, the additional spices normally associated with the gourd are and that’s where the additional flavor elements of this beer shine. Hell, pumpkin itself isn’t a all that flavorful, but it holds the spices quite nicely, as does this beer. The ever-present honey in the “Kalishnikoff” line of stouts from Icarus helps to enhance the overall potency of the spices.

Playing with a proven fan favorite beer in their Kalishnikoff Russian Imperial Stout and mixing it up with the autumnal spices of the ubiquitous coffee beverage, Icarus has yet another winning beer in their portfolio.

Highly recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check-in

Beer Review: Cosm of Darkness (Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration)

Name: Cosm of Darkness
Brewing Company: Timber Ales in collaboration with The Eight State Brewing Company
Location: New York, NY / Greenville, SC
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 12%

“An outstanding Imperial Stout crafted with multiple adjuncts that is a bounty of flavor.”

From the untappd description of the beer:

Cosm of Darkness is an Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with our friends from The Eighth State Brewing Company. This beer has been aged on Ugandan vanilla beans and cassia bark before being canned for your enjoyment.

Few beers are as welcome on a cool evening as a big, bold stout. Timber Ales is a relatively new brewing company, a contract brewer at that, but they have burst out of the gates with big stouts/barrel-aged stouts and barleywines/barrel-aged barleywines, as well as the requisite IPAs. One of my local shops had a single of this beer for sale and based on hearing Jason Stein on Al Gattullo’s Craft Beer Podcast, I had to give a beer from Timber Ales a try.

Pouring the beer into the glass, all I see is darkness and I like it. As the head forms, there’s a hint brownish red, which is a slightly different tone than a typical stout. Aroma from the beer hints at the vanilla the can indicates is in the beer. This looks to be, and has the aroma of, everything I want in a big Imperial Stout.

There’s something else to the beer at the outset lending additional layers to the look and aroma. I assume it is the cassia bark. Before having this beer, I never heard of cassia bark. A quick google search educated me – it is essentially a form of cinnamon. In theory, cinnamon and vanilla pair very nicely together. In practice, in the form of this beer…oh hell yeah.

First sip is of roasted malts with hints of vanilla with the cassia bark shining through. Those three elements are the basis of the flavor of the beer and they all play together perfectly, with the cassia bark perhaps being the star of the trio. It is definitely cinnamon, but unlike cinnamon I’ve had in the past. Especially cinnamon in beer.

Like all big beers (and this is a gigantic beer at 12%), the flavors emerge to a greater, and more delicious degree, as the beer settles from the cold of the fridge to room temperature. Again, as the beer warms, the cassia bark is what is most prominent to me as a lovely compliment to the roasted malts and vanilla.

Jason, I believe, began as a homebrewer and has since partnered with Twelve Percent Beer Project in Connecticut where all of Timber Ales are brewed. Seems like a great partnership, at least based on this beer.

Cosm of Darkness is an outstanding Imperial Stout that is a great beer to enjoy over the course of an hour or so. Based on this beer, I’ll be seeking out more beer from Timber Ales.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-bottle cap rating.

Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 65)

We all love Stouts, and now we have a dedicated badge to celebrate your dedication to these dark, top-fermented beer in multiple variations, like Oatmeal, Milk and more! Which one will you start with? That’s 325 different beers with the style of Stout. Try 5 more for Level 66!

 

 

Beer Review: Black is Beautiful | Czig Meister Brewing

Name: Black is Beautiful
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 10.1%

“A delicious, potent, and flavorful stout brewed for a great, noble cause.”

Beer description:

Black is Beautiful is a beer initiative started by Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio to show our solidarity in the ongoing movement against the injustices people of color face daily. We will be donating proceeds to the ACLU NJ. This collaboration is a way for us to help not only our local community, but to use our voice and do a part in our ongoing goal toward liberty & justice for ALL.

Black is Beautiful -This 10% Imperial Stout is a variant brewed with chocolate & hazelnut

Earlier this year, Weathered Souls Brewing out of San Antonio launched a worldwide collaborative stout, Black is Beautiful, an imperial stout recipe to be shared with other brewers. Marcus Baskerville, founder and head brewer of Weathered Souls asked participating breweries to do the following:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

I think those are pretty fair requests. I know if I had a brewery, I’d be making my own version of Black is Beautiful.

As of this post going live, 31 breweries in NJ are participating, about one third of all the breweries in the State. Many of these breweries are doing a limited run, making the beer available only at the brewery on draft, with limited canning runs, or like Czig Meister, in crowlers. I’ve been wanting to try one from NJ since I heard about it because (1) Beer for a good cause is a great idea and (2) I love stouts. Unfortunately, not many breweries in NJ (thus far) have canned and or put their version in distribution. Fortunately, a friend from work lives near Czig Meister, so when we decided to meet up at their awesome outdoor biergarten for some socially distanced beer consumption, I knew I was going to try this beer.

Czig Meister is offering their version in crowlers to go. Photo courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook.

Since the beer is an Imperial Stout clocking in at 10% ABV, I can understand why this beer was only offered in 8oz pours. That 8oz pour; however, is full of flavor.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, this is a very dark beer. Aromas of roasted malt and some chocolate are present. I didn’t initially realize hazelnut was used in this beer until I tasted the beer then read the description so I imagine that other aroma I caught was indeed the hazelnut.

First sip test…the beer passes with flying colors. Damn is this a delicious stout! There’s a ton of sweetness, but not cloying at all, at the start of the beer. The chocolate begins to assert itself as I continue to enjoy the beer. I really like the spin that Czig Meister put on the recipe with the hazelnut and chocolate. The blend of flavors from the roasted malts and chocolate make for a sumptuous beer. The hazelnut sneaks in and cuts the bitterness at the end in a nice way and brings a great level of balance to the beer.

This is a wonderful, delicious dessert stout but I wouldn’t say it is super sweet like a big pastry stout, which I appreciate. However, the chocolate and hazelnut bring a very welcome flavor boost and sweetness into a big, burly stout. Achieving a good balance between sweetness and bitterness, especially for an Imperial Stout is mark of a good brewer and Czig Meister has achieved that balance extremely well.

The Czig Meister version of Black is Beautiful is a superb stout. What’s more, it is a beer for a really good cause. I’ve long been a fan of Czig Meister so I had pretty high expectations for this beer and it delivered. I now want to see what other breweries are doing with what is a solid, base stout.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Black is Beautiful (2020)

Raise your glass and join us in supporting the many Black is Beautiful collaboration beers as we come together to recognize and bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily.

Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout

Name: Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Stout – Coffee
ABV: 5.1%

“A smooth, extremely drinkable and balanced Coffee Stout – one of the better I’ve had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety.”

From Tom River Brewing’s beer list/untappd description:

Coffee before beer or sometimes (if it’s that kind of day) beer before coffee. In that spirit, we collaborated with Bubby’s Beanery right here in Toms River to create Top O’ The Morning. This beer was brewed with Bubby’s blend of Honduran roasts, lending flavors of sweet milk chocolate, cashew and caramel. We then added lactose to carry the acidity of the coffee and to provide heft and mouthfeel. The infusion of robust coffee flavors provides a jump start to your day…morning, noon or night.

Toms River Brewing is a NJ brewery I’ve touched upon briefly here at the Tap Takeover and will again in the future. (Hint: I’ll be posting one of my “brewery spotlight” posts later in the week.) I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in some of my local stores over the better part of the last year and I finally stopped at their brewery recently, during a rainy day on the way back from Chegg’s in Beach Haven. The second beer I had that day is what asserted itself in my taste buds with a pint of deliciousness and has me here writing about it.

On to the beer…

I knew I wanted something a little darker, I saw what Toms River had available via untappd before we even left our trip and the description above really had me intrigued.

The beer I was given in the very interesting glass is dark as dark can be. Only if you look very closely can you see the black Toms River Brewing logo on glass. In other words, the beer looked the part of coffee stout. The aroma of roasted malts that wafted from the glass to my nose was another good sign.

Sometimes you can tell from the first sip of beer everything you need to know about it. That’s exactly what happened with Top O’ the Morning, I got the full flavor of stout and coffee in that first sip and it was delightful. The lactose brings a very welcome sweetness to the beer, adding to the sweetness from the roasted malts and balancing the coffee’s natural bitter elements. There’s also a pleasant lacing of chocolate throughout each sip of beer.  All these flavors blend very well together.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve had plenty of coffee stouts where the bitterness from the coffee, or overly roasted beans and malts are very off-putting. Toms River skirted that issue completely. The finish on this beer was so good, I found it a little difficult not to consume it in one quick gulp. If I can really level any criticism at the beer (and it is very minor at that), a smidge more bitterness would have been welcome. However, I tend to drink my coffee fairly sweet, so the sweetness in this beer from the lactose is a nice mirror to how I typically drink my coffee.

The beer has the perfect density and feel for the style, too. That element, coupled with the balanced taste, make this one of the more enjoyable coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while. The craftsmanship and quality of this beer have me eager to try more beers from Toms River Brewing in the future

Beer and coffee are two of my favorite beverages, which is why I love a good coffee stout. With Top O’ the Morning, Toms River Brewing blended the flavors of these two beverages together in great harmony.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

 

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Bolero Snort French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout

Name: French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout
Brewing Company: Bolero Snort Brewery
Location: Ridgefield Park, NJ
Style: Stout – Pastry
ABV: 10.3%

A delicious “pastry” stout with several adjuncts that strikes a perfect balance between those various elements.

From Bolero Snort’s Bergen County Bull Stout 2019 page:

🍁 🥞 French Toast Bergen County Bull Stout 🥞🍁 a brand new variant for 2019 Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Maple, Cinnamon, Cocoa and Madagascar Vanilla 🤤.

Bolero Snort has been a NJ mainstay for a about a half-dozen years now, they’ve garnered a following and reputation without having a home base, they’ve been a contract brewery since their inception. That all should be changing by the end of 2019 as their brewery/taproom (which will be the 12th largest in the State) finally opens. Over the years, they’ve been releasing a big stout around Thanksgiving, which they call Bergen County Bull Stout. Anytime a bovinely inspired pun can be inserted, it will happen. Furthering the pun, so to speak, the initials of that beer are BCBS, four letters which should ring a bell for beer people.  As for the beer itself, the base of Bergen County Bull Stout is a barrel-aged imperial stout and each year, the Bolero boys brew a couple of different varieties. This year’s new variant is French Toast, which contains maple syrup and cinnamon as the prominent adjuncts with additional flavors of cocoa, Madagascar Vanilla, and lactose.

This was a very limited release as is the full complement of Bergen County Bull Stout variants, so I was happy to get a bottle since most stores were permitting only one bottle per customer. The bottle sports a nice label, cool font for the beer name, with the newly fashioned and stylized “BS” logo (as seen to the right) front and center. One last note on the packaging, I really appreciate that this is a 500ml bottle as opposed to what was once a standard, the 750ml bottle. 500ml is slightly more than a pint and is just enough for one person to consume on their own.

The beer pours almost obsidian and the aroma coming from the beer has my mouth watering. I get the full flavor-smell of French Toast – cinnamon, maple, and even that pleasant eggy-bread aroma. My only concern before taking the first sip is that it might be too sweet.

This is a complex beer…I need to put that up front as if that wasn’t obvious. The eggy-bread aroma of French Toast is present in the taste with the bourbon hints from the barrel making their way through everything. I also tasted ample amounts of cinnamon and maple syrup, too. The beer is most definitely a stout, the adjuncts don’t diminish the stout elements of the beer at all. The vanilla is a little toned down, which is welcome because especially Madagascar Vanilla can overpower other flavors to a negative degree. Here in the French Toast variant of Bergen County Bull Stout, the Madagascar Vanilla complements the cinnamon and maple and sits very nicely with the overall “French Toast” profile on the finish of the beer.

This beer is full-flavored, full bodied and boozy. As I said, the character of the bourbon barrel seeps through the whole of the beer, it isn’t intrusive but rather complements all the other additives Bob Olson and crew have thrown in the mix for this beer. Earlier I said I was concerned that the beer might be too sweet. Well, the beer is most definitely sweet but not to a cloying degree.

Pastry Stout (or dessert stout) has emerged as a distinct style over the past few years and this beer definitely falls into that category. I’ve had a few other beers that emulate breakfast meals like pancakes and bacon, but the French Toast variant of Bergen County Bull Stout is probably my favorite and most balanced I’ve had along these lines. A beer that has the flavor components of that rich, dessert-like breakfast while still retaining the stout qualities that give the beer it’s primary character.

The full “range” of Bergen County Stouts released in 2019. Image courtesy of Bolero Snort’s Web site

I’ve been really enjoying Bolero Snort’s output over the past year or two. For my birthday my wife took me to a beer pairing dinner at a local restaurant which was great experience – delicious food and tasty beer with an excellent host/ambassador in Adrian from Bolero Snort. Say one thing about Bolero Snort, they’ve never shied away from the flavor adjuncts and this beer is proof that their skills are well up to their ambition. This beer is probably the best I’ve had from them. As their motto says, that is No BS, just ragin’ good beer.

Highly recommended, link to 4.5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Asbury Park Brewery’s Roasted Stout

Name: Roasted Stout
Brewing Company: Asbury Park Brewery
Location: Asbury Park, NJ
Style: Stout – Irish Dry
ABV: 4.9%

From Asbury Park Brewery’s beer page:

A dry Irish style stout with mild sweetness and notes of coffee and chocolate imparted by roasted malts and flaked oats.

There’s something almost quaint about naming a beer with the simple descriptor of “Roasted Stout” in this day and age of independent/craft brewing. The brewers at Asbury Park Brewing Company may have been thinking along those lines, I would venture to guess. Simple, straightforward, and to the point. That isn’t always a bad thing. Rather, in the case of this beer, that’s a good thing.

Like a stout should, Asbury Park’s Roasted Stout pours a deep black. Not too much of an aroma, so a quick sip tells me much of what I need to know. This tastes like a stout, shockingly. I’d even say this could be the ideal stout to give somebody who wants to know what a stout should taste like.

But why would I say this is an “ideal stout?” Well, first off is that aforementioned color. Second, the balance of roast, sweet, and bitter is quite even. Flavors of roasted malts are expected from a stout. Sometimes that roasty flavor can turn to burnt flavor, but not here with Asbury Park’s Roasted Stout. The sweetness from those malts evokes chocolate, some coffee, maybe even a hint of toffee and just a wonderful flavor that finishes slightly dry. Functionally, at least for me, the flavor profile was effective in that it encouraged me to drink more and more. If anything, the beer exceeded my expectations and was more flavorful than I expected it to be.

This is almost a session stout, given the low ABV which is only a little higher than Guinness Stout. Much as I enjoy Guinness, I found the Roasted Stout from Asbury Park Brewery to be a little more flavorful and maybe a little sweeter. As more and more breweries pop up in the US in general, and in the US specifically, locals will gravitate to those breweries. Having a clean, tasty stout is a must and Asbury Park Brewery have solid, dependable stout in their portfolio. Quite simply, Asbury Park Brewery’s Roasted Stout delivers exactly what you’d want in a roasted stout.

As the badge I earned indicates, I had this beer on Stout Day (which is in its 8th year and usually falls on the first Thursday of November) and this was an absolute perfect beer to have on the day. I’d say that’s as about as good a recommendation as one could get for a stout.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Stout Day (2018)

Stout Day (2018)

International Stout Day is dedicated to this namesake bold, malty, and historically rich style of beer. First brewed in the late 1600’s, this style has a long history well worth raising a toast to!

 

Beer Review: Left Hand 25th Anniversary

Name: 25th Anniversary
Brewing Company: Left Hand Brewing Company
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: Stout –Imperial / Double
ABV: 12.1%

From Left Hand’s page for the beer

Assertive notes of dark chocolate, cherries and roasted coffee beans with a smooth warming finish.

In 1993 we set out to change the world one pint at a time. For 25 years we have forged an independent path, building a stronger community and creating an employee-owned company founded on brewing the best beer we can make. Cheers for supporting us at Left hand and independent craft beer.

25 years is quite a long time to be in the brewing business, outside of the multinational macro brewers. Left Hand Brewing is one of the old guard of Colorado breweries, having been at the forefront of the Western American Craft beer movement since 1993. They’ve brewed some iconic beers like Sawtooth Ale and Milk Stout and the innovative Nitro brand that began with Milk Stout Nitro, the beer for which they are likely best known. So, for an anniversary ale, they decided to go with an Imperial Stout.

This one pours dark with a khaki head. Closer examination reveals colors that hint at crimson and deep red. The aroma, to be honest, doesn’t stand out too much. I mean, it smells like a well-made stout with some roasted coffee notes, but I don’t get the cherries. In other words, it smells like other stouts I’ve enjoyed in the past.

First sip is fairly complex – roasted malts, some cocoa with a hint of cherry sweetness. It immediately put a smile on my face. A few more sips and I get the full taste; dark/bittersweet chocolate dominates the palate. The coffee is still hinted, but the cherry flavor is a nice undercurrent providing a sweetness that offsets the bittersweet chocolate. It doesn’t feel too much like a 12.1% beer in the body, but there’s definitely some heat/booziness from that high ABV.

This stout drinks a little better as it approaches room temperature, with the cherry notes becoming more pronounced giving the beer a nice overall flavor profile. I found the bittersweet notes to be a little more dominant than I typically enjoy in these types of big stouts. On the whole; however, this is a complex and tasty Imperial Stout.

As an anniversary or special occasion stout, it definitely works. The addition of the cherries gives the beer just enough of a unique taste to make it stand out from typical Imperial Stouts. Not sure if it is available on draft, but the beer is in 4-packs of bottles for distribution. This a beer you’ll want to pour when you have no plans on a cool night aside from relaxing and reading a good book or watching a movie.

Left Hand had a big celebration for this beer. That would have been a nice time to visit the legendary brewery!

Recommended, link to Untappd 3.75-bottle cap rating.

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: AleSmith’s Speedway Stout

Name: Speedway Stout

Brewing Company: Alesmith Brewing Company)
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 12%

From AleSmith’s page for the beer:

Speedway Stout’s ominous, pitch-black appearance has become a hallmark of this modern-day classic. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate the flavor, supported by notes of dark fruit, toffee, and caramel. A healthy dose of locally-roasted coffee from Ryan Bros. Coffee, Inc. added to each batch brings out the beer’s dark chocolate flavors and enhances its drinkability. Despite its intensity, Speedway Stout’s fine carbonation and creamy mouthfeel make it very smooth and surprisingly easy to drink. This beer ages very well and will continue to mature for many years to come.

AleSmith is one of the great California craft breweries, having established itself as a presence in San Diego over twenty years ago in 1995. Their beers have won acclaim and loyal fans from their IPAs, their San Diego Pale Ale .394 (named in honor of Tony Gwynn) and this, perhaps their most popular beer with over 100,000 check-ins in untappd. I’ve wanted to try it (or one of its variants) for a while and I’m pleased I finally did.

I’ve seen the beer in large bottles and pint cans, with the pint cans sold singly for about $7, which may be pricey for a single pint in a liquor store but compared to a pint in a bar, it is a bargain. Be that as it may, I popped open the can and out came a thick black beer that was quite dark. As the head formed, there was a little bit of a deep brown at the top and in the foam – the color was reminiscent of a lightly creamed coffee. In other words, this looked like my kind of stout. With an aroma of coffee coming from the glass along with the roasted malts, I barely sat down before taking the first sip.

Whoa-Damn!

This beer is a flavor assault, in a good way. The the typical stout-like flavors are present: roasted malts, extra hops since this an imperial stout and an ample amount of coffee. Usually stouts this high in alcohol with this complex of a flavor profile are barrel-aged. The brewmaster(s) at AleSmith coaxes plenty of flavor without the addition of the stout having aged in barrels and that is quite impressive. While the hops are definitely present as I said, they were just one component of the flavor profile and not overly dominant like I’ve had in some other stouts from West Coast breweries.

As much as the flavor profile is potent and delicious, one thing that is deceiving is the ABV. While you do get some of the alcohol and slight booziness, I would never guess this beer is 12% ABV.

After some friends and coworkers talked up this beer, I had fairly high hopes for it. I was a little cautious because some the hops can be far too dominant on some of these stouts, but that was far from the case with Speedway Stout.

Highly recommended. Now I just need to try some of the variants.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Heavy Weight (Level 58)

Heavy Weight (Level 58)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 290 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

2X (Level 29)

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 145 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name.