Bitter Old Rasputin

Old Rasputin (9% ABV bottle)- Russian Imperial Stout- North Coast Brewing Co. CA
Grade: C+

Old Rasputin

If I trawl the old memory banks I think good ol’ Rasputin was one of the first handful of imperial stouts that I had and the one thing I’ve always liked is the way it looks. Pitch black with a respectably thick tan head that thins down to a thin cover that leaves sticky lacing all the way down. No light getting through this stuff at all and as crazy as that might sound that’s a good looking beer to me. The nose is appealing with sweet notes of dark fruit like plum or raisin. Of course at 9% ABV you can definitely smell the booze.

To be blunt the first sip of Rasputin is a kick in the mouth. The carbonation is sharp and hits your tongue first. After that it’s a big bitterness around the edges. There’s a coffee flavor that goes beyond dark roasted into burnt. The fruit in the nose of the beer are pretty much nowhere to be found in the taste.

As you make your way through the bottle your palette starts to get used to the bitterness. With that acclimatization comes the realization that Rasputin does have a nice velvety body that bitterness aside is very pleasant. Flavor-wise you notice some fleeting hints of unsweetened baker’s chocolate and maybe a touch of roasted malt. Lingering underneath that is an earthy, chalky aftertaste that isn’t all together unpleasant, but can be a bit off-putting. Aside from the bitterness there are no other assertive flavors in here to hang a hat on and enjoy.

Put all of this together and Rasputin is a decent imperial stout, but personally I don’t see it as balanced, complex, or amazing as many others do. Russian imperial stouts tend to split into two schools, sweet or bitter, and Rasputin is very much in the bitter end. Still, for those still trying to find their preference in the world of RIS I would recommend trying Rasputin at least once to see if a bitter stout is for you.

Cheers! -John


Hakim Stout At Addis Red Sea

     Last night my girl and I went to dinner with a friend of mine in town for a conference. I hadn’t seen him since he’d moved from here to Vancouver about 3 years ago and we decided on Addis Red Sea, a great little Ethiopian restaurant down in Boston’s South End near the Cyclorama.  Addis is a place we had frequented back in the day thanks to it’s vegan friendly menu for him. I’ve always loved the food, the atmosphere, and everything else about Addis, including its small but diverse beer & wine list. Well, the beer menu used to be more diverse. I remember when I first came to Boston a decade ago, this was the place, oddly enough, was where I’d had my first sip and fell in love with Xingu the Brazilian black beer.

     But times change and the beer menu has shrunk to something that lacks the original scope, but makes sense given the clientele. The list has been reduced to about 10 standard domestic & imported macros, Ommegang’s Abbey Ale, Tusker from Kenya, and most interestingly a few brews from Ethiopian brewery Harar. They offer their pilsner, lager, and stout, but in reality they’ve only ever had the stout, Hakim Stout, available when I’ve asked. Suits me just fine as I’m a fan of dark beers more than the other two.

     So I order the Hakim and realized that it’s actually a pretty decent beer. Sweetness is pronounced for a stout more so than even a milk stout. The main flavor is malt and a bit of coffee. There’s a hint of caramel, dark fruits, and a little bitterness, but not much of any. Pretty good mouthfeel if a bit on the thin side for a stout in general, but especially an alleged imperial. One could accuse Hakim of having a relatively pedestrian profile and that would be a fair assessment, but given the richness of the food anything you drink is going to pale in comparison. The Hakim does a nice job of complimenting the spicier dishes and balancing the savory with its sweetness. I wish I could get a hold of this in a liquor store in the area so that I could sit down and do a clean review of it.

     Addis is obviously not a beer lovers destination, which doesn’t matter because even if they didn’t have beer I would still go here because the food is amazingly rich and hardy fare. And you get to eat with your hands. That being said any beer geeks who find themselves there should give the Hakim a try if only for the uniqueness. It’s not a life changing beer and shaky under the imperial stout umbrella, but when in Rome. And if you don’t like it there’s always the Ommegang to fall back on.

Hakim Stout (5.5% bottle)- Imperial Stout- Harar Beer Factory, ETH
Grade: B-/C+

Cheers! John

Ten Fidy: An oil change for your liver

Ten Fidy (10% ABV can)- Russian Imperial Stout- Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery, CO 

Grade: B+

Poured from can into Duvel tulip snifter.

Appearance: I know it’s overused in many references and reviews, but this stuff really does look like the aftermath of a long overdue oil change. Black brown that swallows light and allows none to penetrate. Very thin cocoa head.

Smell: Nutty. Roasted coffee. A hint of burnt chocolate. Not very strong though.

Taste: Lots of earthy bitterness like unsweetened chocolate. Alcohol. Finishes bone dry. Flies in the face of a lot of imperial stouts in that there isn’t the creaminess and sweetness at the finish. There’s lots of bitter and burnt here along with hops hiding away. Somehow given all that it’s still appealling.

Mouthfeel: Oily and thick. Carbonation not really a presence. Covers the palate, but then disappears with that dry finish.

Drinkability: Given the boldness of the taste and high ABV one Ten Fidy will be enough for a sitting.

Overall: It’s a compelling beer but definitely not for everyone. There will be plenty of RIS fans who will take a pass on this one, but you should at least try it once. In all honesty it could use something extra to boost the complexity and balance out the bitterness. I picked up a 4 pack and the other 3 will last me a long, long time. It’s a bit like a really strong rauchbier in that respect; even though it’s good you need it only on occasion.

Funniest part of reviewing Ten Fidy was when I brought it in to the livingroom, my girlfriend perked up and was like, ‘Ooh, what’s that?‘ I passed the glass, she took a sip, and pondered for a second.

Finally she said, ‘It tastes like something familiar.’ Pause. ‘Oh, I know. Oil.’