Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing is a US version of a Russian Imperial Stout i.e. a brew enjoyed in colder climates. Unfortunately for me the Australian summer is getting back to its usual heat and humidity; even more unfortunate is the fact that most of the beers I have in the fridge from my epic list are dark beers. Thankfully I have air conditioning – so it’s time cool my climate and enjoy some dark beer goodness. This is beer number 88 – Old Rasputin.
The bottle says:
The bottle looks like an antique – the label features an aged black and white portrait of Grigori Rasputin, framed by lots of shiny gold. It gives the impression that it’s old and valuable, like something that you’d find forgotten on your Granddads shelf. The neck label describes the history behind the ‘Russian Imperial’ part of the name, and advises that this is a ‘rich intense brew with big complex flavours’ – aka another beer with flavours that will completely confound me…
The body is shiny black, with a big head that kind of looks like chocolate milk…the first aroma that I get while pouring is also thick chocolate milk! A closer smell uncovers a strong hop aroma of grapefruit, with just a hint of sweet chocolate in the background. The flavour is the same grapefruit hops, which turns into a roasted bitterness as the beer slides across the tongue. The aftertaste lasts, and has a strange sweetness right at the end, like chocolate coated sultanas. It’s a big beer and very obviously American. No sign of the alcohol yet.
I’d assumed that when the beer was warmed, the hops would calm down and the roasted malts would dominate…because that how stouts work, right? Apparently not…the aroma hops in this beer are just as strong as when it was poured, and the hop flavours are even stronger. It only becomes out stout late in the aftertaste, where some roasted coffee tries to compete with the piney hop bitterness – these two flavours complement each other very nicely, so it’s not a bad thing, just a little unexpected.
OK, so maybe I didn’t let it warm up enough…I’m blaming the air conditioning. Towards the third half of the glass (forgive the mathematical inaccuracies) the beer starts to behave as expected; the hops have calmed down and made way for the roasted malt flavours. The alcohol finally makes an appearance on the palate, but it also gives the body a surprising lightness which feels like your drinking a watered down stout instead of a thick Imperial Brew. The aftertaste has some nice cigar smoke.
I hate to say it, but this beer left me just a little disappointed. It started fantastically, and for the majority of the beer the flavours and aromas were what the label suggested – rich, intense, big and complex. I just wish I stopped a few mouthfuls earlier. The final few sips left me underwhelmed, which ruined the overall experience. I guess the Russian royalty drank their imperial stouts faster, or perhaps stouts don’t like cold air conditioning blowing on them. Either way, this is another beer that will be re-visited, on the coldest winter night that Australia can produce – no more air conditioning.