I purposely picked a stout to try this week, rather than leaving it up to chance – which is what I usually do, just grab a few bottles that look interesting and run with them – because I have only ever drank ONE stout in my entire life previous to this one, Nimbus Oatmeal Stout, and we’ve only ever reviewed two others (of which only one really counts), Sand Creek Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout and Sleepy Dog Wet Snout Milk Stout (which I really need to revisit to be fair). I had no idea there were so many different kinds of beer coming into this delicious endeavor a month and a half ago, and I still don’t have any idea how many different types of styles of beer there are out there, as I’m pretty sure any of the myriad of creative combinations of brewing ingredients available can account for another myriad of styles. The possibilities are endless! It’s a good thing I like choices.
The funny thing with the North Coast Brewing Company‘s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout though, is that just like Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, I didn’t mean to be the last person on earth to try it. I am still so wet behind the ears when it comes to popular brews, that anything I haven’t tried is basically brand new to me. Until I physically buy a beer, I usually haven’t heard of it, or at least haven’t read anything about it. I guess it’s sort of nice that way because I’m not being overloaded with information all at once – I mean, I could be on the internet 24/7 for years just playing the six degrees of separation game with beer, going from style to style and brewery to brewery, but it would be utter madness and I would probably end up single and homeless within a month. Right now, I’m perfectly content to pick out the bottles with the coolest labels, anything that says “limited” on it, or some style I realize I haven’t tried…like tonight.
I’m really glad I tried the Nimbus Oatmeal Stout last month so I had some idea of what to expect when pouring this one, because my perfect reflection in that murky, soulless black still scares me a little. Luckily, this Russian Imperial stout seemed to be just a tiny bit lighter than the Oatmeal, as while it poured a dark, deep mahogany black, it allowed hints of what I can only describe as a russet-chestnut color to peek through just under the head when placed in the light. It quickly built a finger thick toasted tan head of creamy froth with fairly good retention right out of the bottle, which gradually dissipated to a medium collar and a large, thin patch of foam blanketing the middle. It left nice thin sheets of beige lace that lasted through the drink, as well.
While I wanted to imagine that it smelled like soy sauce again, I can proudly say that I overcame my first ever stout impression and boldly immersed my nose in the rich aromas of this brew. I was initially confronted with lots of lightly sweet oats, burnt rye, and bittersweet dark chocolate – nothing really out of the ordinary from what I understand. But beneath those, I had to dig a little to find hints of espresso hanging on heavily roasted caramel malts, toffee, and something dark and ripe, reminiscent of grapes/raisins or plums/prunes. Doing the research I so love to do, I came across a term to describe these kinds of fruits: vinous. Vinous is probably pretty easy to figure out for people who drink wine or know a lot about fermentation, but for those of us who need a little help with the craft beer descriptive words, it is used to describe anything that resembles, or can be associated with, wine. Now, I didn’t find the smell to be vinous, as it hardly resembles wine in my book, but the fruits I found can definitely be associated with wine. To finish my massive aromatic discoveries, there was one last thing hiding way in the back that I was just barely able to get a grasp of, something bitter and hoppy. A warning, perhaps, of what I was really going to put in my mouth.
I seem to be easy to catch off guard when it comes to craft beer flavors versus their smells, because having this one exploding in my mouth was a completely different experience than just holding my nose over the glass. It took all of half a second; the first half of that half a second was me rolling the tip of my tongue in a roast coffee, the second half was me reeling at the ridiculous bitterness pinching the inside of my cheeks, back of my tongue, and roof of my mouth. It was way more bitter than I expected (when is this news, though?) with some sort of super hop that added a tart lemony bitterness, minus the sweetness, that pummeled my taste buds nearly to an exhilarating death. I say exhilarating because I am a huge fan of Imperial IPAs and the more bitter, the better, but I was not ready for a drink that was supposed to taste like chocolate and coffee to be that KAPOW. So as I revitalized my mouth with each electrocuting sip, I was able to focus more on what was really behind all of the things going on in this complex stout. Other than the immediate roast coffee, there was the bittersweet chocolate, burnt caramel, dark sweet malts, and a faint yeast mixed with the ripe plums/prunes I found in the nose.
Like I said, complex. Holding that crazy punchy bitterness helped to give the beer a medium to full body mouthfeel and it felt like a heavy cream on my tongue. I’m guessing here, but I think this is what they call “chewy?” Someone help me out here, as I’ve never really come across a liquid that was chewy…unless you count jello. Even with a hopped up spicy carbonation, it managed to stay smooth throughout the drink and made plenty of room for a very dry finish. There was a lasting aftertaste, but it was a warm aftertaste filled by a 9%ABV. Quite a hearty beer and thus not for the faint of heart. I’m actually quite proud of myself for being able to jump right into this with very little stout experience and for enjoying it as much as I did (and I did! a lot!). Not two months ago I was a Corona girl (I know, I know, I KNOW), and now here I am drinking one of the darkest beers around. If I’m not adaptable, at least I’m a whole lot smarter.