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


Very Belated Extreme Beer Fest 2008 Notes

"My favorite? Traquair Jacobite. Very tasty scotch ale." Repeat every 5 minutes.

"My favorite? Traquair Jacobite. Very tasty scotch ale." Repeat every 5 minutes.

Way back on Feb 15th & 16th I volunteered to work at The Beer Advocate‘s (BA) 5th annual Extreme Beer Fest (EBF), which was an amazing event as all the BA events are. Below is a collection of notes (mostly from memory) about some of the magnificent beers that I got to sample. Sample is the key word for the most part. We’re talking 2oz. pours so you get an idea of what a beer is like, but not necessarily a complete picture.

The EBF isn’t just about high alcohol content or super hopped brews. It’s more about ‘extreme’ in the sense of pushing boundaries of craft brewing be it by aging in a variety of barrels from new oak to used bourbon to used Tabasco sauce barrels or by using non-traditional ingredients or by simply doing things with beer that hasn’t been done before or even reviving centuries old recipes nearly lost to time. The results were sometimes good sometimes bad, but always different. I’m only giving brief notes on the beers I actually had. There were well over 100 beers between the two days and I hit only a fraction.

Friday- 2/15/08: Night Of The Barrels (NOTB)
Every beer offered on Friday night was, as the name would imply, either aged in barrels or some other sort of wooden vessel. The good thing was all the brews I sampled were fantastic. The bad thing was that most of the beers featured were one offs or small batches that you were almost never going to find out in the real world except on tap at the breweries themselves.

Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien (15.5%)- BFM Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes, SWI
I hadn’t ever run across a “Bière de Garde” before so I have no idea if they are all like this, but if they are, I’m on board. Sour and fruity, but not too much of either. There was a slight yeast flavor from the bottle fermentation. Something between a beer and a wine.

Braggot (6%)- Magic Hat Brewing Co., VT
This old school (circa 1300 AD) mead/beer concoction was a nice break from the routine. Crisp, dry floral finish. Chamomile? Like the love child of Sleepy Time Tea and a bottle of mead. I wish I could get regular access to this. May have to make a trip to the brewery for a bottle.

Oak-Aged Bender (5.1%)- Surly Brewing Co., MN
Brown ale aged in new oak barrels. Had a weird almost burnt rubber aftertaste. Heard a lot people saying that the regular bender was far better.

Scaldis [a/k/a: Bush Ambrée] (12%)- Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl, BEL
Quadrupel. Says right on the label “Strong Belgian Ale” which is exactly what it tasted like. Belgian body with a lot of front end alcohol spice. Not bad, but one of these small 8.5oz bottles would do it for me.

Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale (8.4%)- Stone Brewing Co., CA
Stone took their 070707 VE offering, a Belgian strong ale, and aged it in used oak Syrah/Shiraz barrels. Never had the original, but man this stuff was nice and smooth. Crisp, dry finish that was a bit wine like. A very nice diversion given the thickness and/or cloying nature of many of the NOTB brews.

Traquair House Ale (7.2%) & Traquair Jacobite (8%)- Traquair House Brewery Lld, UK/SCOT
These are both Scotch ale/Wee heavy styles. The Jacobite is very similar to the House Ale, but is spiced with coriander. Both were good but the Jacobite was my favorite with its sturdier malt backbone and touch of spice.

Utopias- Cacao Aged (26%)- Boston Beer Co., MA
Yes, that’s right as if Utopias wasn’t rare enough the Sam Adams gang took some of the ’07 batch of Utopias and aged it on cacao especially for EBF. Strong stuff that I was lucky enough to get a hold of. I heard a lot of people comparing it to bourbon or scotch which on one hand I can see, but really given its thickness and taste it’s more like a sherry/port wine hybrid. Very rich. Very sweet. Some chocolate. A lot of dried fruit: raisins & prunes more than anything. And of course alcohol. Good, but you have to be prepared for Utopias to not taste anything like beer. Think of a port wine’s mouthfeel and consistency before you take a sip and you will be ok.

Saturday- 2/16/08: EBF main event
2 sessions. Both sold out @ 1000 tickets each. Lots of people and lots of beers. Some beers were leftover from NOTB, but most were completely different and there were twice as many brewers.

Allagash Black (7.50%)- Allagash Brewing Co., ME
I only had two samples of this dark Belgian and it reminded me more of a stout than a Belgian. Regardless it was good and I’m now on a search for a bottle.

Blasphemy (11.8%)- Weyerbacher Brewing Co., PA
Bourbon barrel aged version of their QUAD. Sweet Jeebus this was tasty. Mildly sweet vanilla flavors pop up in an already good quadrupel. I managed to snag a 12oz bottle of this which is now sitting in the cellar waiting. Waiting!

Bourbon Ten Fidy (10%)- Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery, CO
I hate to admit it, but I like the bourbon barrel aged Ten Fidy because it takes the edges off the bitterness of the original. The original is good, but bourbon aged is way better.

Coffee Bender (5.1%)- Surly Brewing Co., MN
I know there are a slew of coffee/beer bastard brews out there, but this one is actually pretty damn tasty. Better than the Oaked Bender. Damn shame I can’t find Surly in Boston.

Dark Lord Imperial Stout (13%)- Three Floyds Brewing Co., IN
There was a ridiculous amount of hoopla around this beer. Dark Lord is one of those ‘holy grail’ beers for beer geeks. There’s such high demand for it and such small quantities brewed that bottles often sell on eBay for over $100 for a 22oz bomber. So people were forced to get in line and wait until a specific half hour pouring window. However, the brewery held back enough to pour plenty for all the volunteers afterwards. It’s a damn good imperial stout, but I think it might be a little over hyped. Sure it would be nice to lay hands on it in Boston, but I can’t so instead of blowing money on a black market bottle or plane tickets to Indiana I guess I’ll just have to suffer through a glass of Smuttynose Baltic Porter or Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Oh, what a terrible life.

Red Poppy Ale (5.5%)- Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey, CA
Another sour cherry offering that I found very tasty and sippable. Good luck finding it on the east coast was what all the other BA volunteers told me when I asked. Drag. I filled an empty water bottle and enjoyed it as a wind down for the next two nights. Then I cried silently when it was gone.

Om (9.5%)- Strong Ale- Cambridge Brewing Co., MA
I can’t even begin to tell you about the sonic therapy that went into this oak aged Belgian style brew. Check their website under the seasonal brews. Regardless of the process the result was beautifully subtle ale that I’m glad I have access to given that CBC doesn’t bottle and this is a very limited release.

Sunday Brunch- 2/17/08: Hair of the Dog brunch @ Redbones BBQ.
This was mostly just for fest staff as a thank you to us from the Alströms.

Aventinus (8%)- Schneider-Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH, GER
I’d heard plenty about this weizenbock, but hadn’t had the opportunity to have a go at it. It’s funny that after all the great stuff I had over the preceding 48 hours this was the one that made me fall in love with beer again. A big rich beer, that wasn’t too in your face. Wheaty, meaty, and so drinkable.

Black Albert (13%)- De Struise Brouwers, BEL
Yet another ‘holy grail’ brew that is brewed in Belgium, but only available at Ebenezer’s Pub in Maine of all places. They bottled a special batch of 3 magnum-sized bottles back in 2007 for a few special people. The owners of Ebenezer’s decided to bestow a bottle upon the Beer Advocate’s own Alström Brothers. In turn the brothers shared it with the volunteer staff at the after brunch. Very very tasty. Rich and silky smooth; it’s as good as an imperial stout can get. truly great stuff I’m lucky to have had. Unfortunately, this means when the weather clears a bit there must a road trip to the middle of nowhere Maine to try and get more.

Three Philosophers (9.8%)- Brewery Ommegang, NY
Can’t go wrong with Ommegang. This quad was nice way to start brunch. Smooth, full bodied, and delicious. Even better that the bartender spaced on the 10oz snifter it’s supposed to come in and poured me a pint.

Can-can with The Sea Hag

Beer Works Imperial Stout (draft)- Russian imperial stout- Boston Beer Works, MA, USA
Grade: B+
  Woof. A bit of the heavy this is then, eh. I’m a big fan of stouts and especially brewpub imperials. Thus, I’m no stranger to Beer Works and their Imperial Stout has never left me down. It is heavy on the alcohol and has a bit of a slick taste build up on the tongue by the bottom of the glass, but it doesn’t get heavy perse`. Sweet with nice malty flavors balanced with a coffee bite, this is an amazingly rich bevvie made to be savored. It’s hardly work drinking a pint of this down. One pint, (OK, maybe two) of this black gold will do you fine.
Blue Moon (draft)- Witbeer-  Blue Moon Brewing Co, CO, USA 
Grade: B
  Well, spank my ass and call me Charlie, I had no idea Blue Moon was produced by Coors. Well, I guess if Ford can make Jaguars I shouldn’t be shocked by an American mega-brewer putting together something that tastes good enough to not shotgun it down with a grimace. Blue Moon is one of my standard “go-to” pints when I’m out on the town. It’s a witbeer, which means it’s a cloudy, unfiltered, wheat-based brew similar to a hefeweizen, but usually lighter. Notice I said “usually” because in this case Blue Moon runs a bit heavy like a hefeweizen and is far from the lightness that tends to embody classic European witbiers like Hoegaarden. Still, it’s got a good taste that  is a bit outside the norm. There’s some citrus tang going on in there and I’ve always smelt something akin to coconut, especially when out of a bottle when drinking Blue Moon. (Most people just look at me like I’m out of my tree when I mention the coconut thing.) The fact that I see this on so many taps these days regardless of geography all makes sense given the distribution power of Coors. Kind of a drag to think it’s made by a big ol’ corporation, but anything that might keep a person from drinking another Bud Light is fine by me.

Guinness (draft)- Irish dry stout- Guinness Ltd., Ireland 
Grade: A-
 [See Past Review]

Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen (draft)- American pale wheat ale/Hefeweizen- Harpoon Brewery, MA, USA 
Grade: B
  Another of my “go-to” bar pints, UFO is a good if unremarkable domestic hefeweizen. It’s got a generally strong flavor, but lacks in the robust bready body of brews like a Paulaner or Franziskaner. Still, it’s a good middle ground when you aren’t looking for anything exotic, you don’t want the lightness of a lager, and a stout would be too much. There’s enough character to UFO that you feel like you’re actually drinking a beer and not something that you were told was beer though tastes suspiciously like water.

Kingfisher (bottle)- American macro lager- United Breweries- UB Group, India (by way of New York?) 
Grade: B
  Anyone who has been to an Indian restaurant has probably paired up their dinner with Kingfisher. There’s nothing too fancy going on here. Its light, crisp finish is a nice way to cut the richness of Indian dishes and cool the curry kick. There’s a certain bite to Kingfisher that I really like and keeps it among the regular rotation in my own refrigerator.  Looking around the web it seems that even though you will find this in the import section of your liquor store it’s probably brewed somewhere in New York state. Go figure. There are better and worse Indian beers out there, so when in doubt order Kingfisher.
Magic Hat #9 (draft)- Fruit/Vegetable beer- Magic Hat Brewing Company, VT, USA 
Grade: B
 [See Past Review]

Sea Hag IPA (can)- American IPA- New England Brewing Co., CT, USA-
  The art on the can looks like a bad metal band design from 1987: black background, yellow & red lettering, and a stylized Sea Hag reaching over the logo. (Note: There actually was a bad metal band in the 80’s called The Sea Hags. Yes, I still have the cassette.) I hesitated grabbing this because I’m not a huge fan of IPA’s and once had an awful experience with canned microbrew to boot. So put the two together and it made for a tough decision to grab this. I looked at the ominous black can and figured what the hell.
  When I popped the first can it immediately foamed up out over the top and as I slurped away the excess foam and got into the heart it Sea Hag was surprisingly tasty. There was a good amount of hop bite to it but there was a slight sweetness that helped to keep it mellow. I enjoyed this more than any other IPA I’ve had except for the high octane Dogfish Head brews and wouldset it just above Sierra Nevada. For those of you in the New England area, Sea Hag beats Harpoon IPA like a rented mule so find this stuff and give it a try. I’m not a fan of IPA, but this is what I’m going to look for when I want one.