22 December 2009

Russian Imperial Stouts

The first beer I ever enjoyed was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Russian Imperial Stout. One night I found myself at a great burgers 'n brew joint called Prime 16 and saw "Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout" written up on the chalk board-- me being me, I had to order it, as a joke if nothing else. It was amazing, and I've been a die hard stout drinker ever since.

Apparently Peter I and I finally agree about something:
When Peter the Great opened Czarist Russia to the West in the early 18th century, dark ales called "Porter" were all the rage in England. Porters, named after the working class who devoured them, were relatively easy-drinking brews with a small percentage of highly roasted malt. The result was a dark brown, toffee-flavored libation fit for mass consumption. Arthur Guinness took the idea to Ireland, increased the dark, coffee-tinted profile and added “Extra Stout” to his label, thus creating another new beer style.

Peter the Great fell in love with stouts during his 1698 trip to England, and he requested that some be sent to the Imperial court in Russia. Much to the embarrassment of the English, the beer had spoiled somewhere along its tedious thousand-mile journey! Determined as always to save face, the Barclay brewery of London came to the rescue by rapidly increasing the amount of alcohol and hops for their second effort. The result was an inky black concoction with enough warmth and complexity to immediately become a sensation throughout Russia. The “Russian Imperial Stout” had been born and quickly became popular throughout European Russia.
That's about as good a back story as something called a Russian Imperial Stout could hope to have. On to the fun part: I went beer shopping today.


You never forget your first! This stuff makes Guinness taste like a cheap rum soaked mockolate bar. You taste and feel the 9% ABV, but it's fully integrated into the flavor profile of the beer itself- I can't imagine this beer with a different alcohol ratio. I can't stand overly chocolatey stouts- Old Rasputin is nutty, fruity, and reminiscent of chocolate in ways that remind you why some people take their chocolate as seriously as their wine.

The packaging and marketing is equally brilliant. The first thing you see after Rasputin's dubious blessing are the words "NEVER SAY DIE!" written along the top of the four-pack. The Russian proverb printed beneath the portrait, "Сердечный друг не родится вдруг," means roughly "One does not become an intimate friend quickly." Style and substance- what more could anyone want?


A stout so goddamn intense they only sell it by the pint (1 pint, 6 oz, technically). 11.73% ABV. Part of Avery Brewing Co's "Dictator Series": The Czar (Imperial Stout), the Kaiser (Imperial Lager), and the Maharaja (Imperial IPA). I haven't tried this yet- I'm saving it for a really special occasion- but y'all need to know it exists, and honestly, doesn't have to taste that good to kick ass, but I bet it does.


Haven't tried this one yet either, but it looks promising. 9.7% ABV, looks just as dark as the Old Rasputin (the Czar has an interesting reddish tint to it even in the bottle)- also definitely cheaper than both the Czar and OR, so as long as it tastes better than your average Guinness it's a win in my book. I'll be reviewing all these sometime in the near future.

Other beers I bought and will be reviewing soon:
  • Peche Mortel Imperial Coffee Stout
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne Belgian Ale
  • Augustijn Belgian Ale
  • Kostritzer Schwarzbier (German Black Lager)
  • Staropramen Czech Lager
If you have any suggestions, let me know! There's a giant beer distributor around here that lets you create your own six packs.