February 18, 2013

North Coast Old Rasputin Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout XV

Brewed By: North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California
Purchased: 500ml (16.9oz) bottle purchased at Binny's in IL; 2013
Style/ABV: Russian Imperial Stout, 11.9%
Reported IBUs: 38

Tonight's beer review is the result of an interesting paradox. North Coast Brewing's Old Rasputin is one of the most infamous, if not the most infamous, Russian Imperial Stouts. Sure, it's not hyped up like Dark Lord, or whatever barrel aged cocoa chili rare beer you can't get unless you have a golden ticket. BUT, it is available just about everywhere, and it's a really good beer. It's surprisingly complex, and to be honest, I'm always surprised at how much new beer drinkers claim to like the beer. 

The aforementioned paradox has little to do with Old Rasputin's popularity, and everything to do with its price. A 4-pack of Old Rasputin can be had for around $8.99 (at least in my area), making it one of the best bargain Imperial Stouts on shelves. It's no slouch either, coming in at 9.0% ABV, and packing more than enough complexity to even keep veteran drinkers engaged. On the other side of the equation is tonight's beer, the once-a-year, Anniversary release, Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin. This beer was only available at the brewery prior to 2010, but is now available to a wider distribution audience. Unlike Old Rasputin, the Barrel-Aged stuff is not cheap (the paradox), with a 500ml bottle commanding over 20 dollars. That's a bit over a dollar per ounce. 

So given the affordability and availability of the regular Old Rasputin, I figured I'd see how it compares to its Barrel-Aged big brother. It's not like this is a compelling baseline comparison. Everyone and their dog has had Old Rasputin, but nevertheless. And a quick word on North Coast:
The North Coast Brewing Company was founded in 1988 as a local brewpub in Fort Bragg, on California's Mendocino Coast. The brewery was founded by brewmaster Mark Ruedrich, president and brewmaster. Under his leadership, the brewery has won over 70 national and international awards, and has carved a definitive niche in American craft beer. For more information, check out their website here.
In case there is any confusion...the Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin is going in the Maudite Glass, and the regular Old Rasputin is going into the Stone RIS snifter.

Apperance
Barrel-Aged on the left
Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: Both beers pour a dark black color, with a coffee brown head. The beers look nearly identical, but the Barrel-Aged version has a little bit less head, and the head doesn't hang around for nearly as long. Bright light doesn't betray this beer's darkness...but as time passes, the regular Rasputin has more foam on the head, where the Barrel-Aged version is less foamy. You get a nice cauldron effect on the Barrel-Aged version. Swirling the beer yields big alcohol legs.

Regular Old Rasputin: As noted above, the regular Rasputin pours with 3-finger's worth of foamy, tan/brown-colored head. Really nice stuff, and the head is hanging around nicely. Both beers are leaving impressive lacing. Swirling this beer leaves alcohol legs, but not as big as the Barrel-Aged version.

Aroma

And here is where we see huge differences between these two beers...

Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: You get hit with Bourbon up front, with a ton of chocolate, brownie, cocoa, and sweet Bourbon. I'm getting some caramel, coconut, creme brulee, and some shades of raisins and other elusive dark fruits.

Regular Old Rasputin: Big roast, grain, campfire, hints of coffee and dark chocolate, an earthy tobacco/cigarette thing, and some elusive dark fruits. This smells smooth and slightly vinous. Overall, big roast, earth, and dark, dark chocolate/cacao.

The differences here are huge, with the Barrel-Aged version coming in much more sweet, bringing brownie, sweet cocoa, and coconut to the table. 

Taste

Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: The bourbon really comes into play here, with lots of big bourbon kick up front. I'm getting some vanilla, wood, and big cocoa, chocolate brownie, and delicious coconut sweetness. It's a bit like the Bourbon County, just dialed down a notch. The back end kicks into regular Old Rasputin, with big roast, hints of wood, coffee, and complex underlying booziness. This is a complex beer, if not a bit bourbon-forward at the moment.

Anniversary XV
Regular Old Rasputin: Old reliable, right here. This is a fantastic beer, with complex roast; grain, campfire, hints of wood, earthy, tobacco; you get some nice kicks of coffee, bitter baker's chocolate, earthy cacao; and then there's some nice molasses, and hints of dark fruits ala raisins, plums, and even a dash of cherry. There's an underlying hint of boozy complexity, with some hints at strong spirits.

Mouthfeel/Complexity/Palate Depth

Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: Full-bodied, but just by a hair, this one is smooth, boozy, and big on the Bourbon. Complexity is huge here. I cannot stress this enough. The regular Rasputin is a fairly complex beer, and adding a layer of Bourbon only adds to this complexity. You get malt sweetness, and big Bourbon up front, with coconut, baker's chocolate, vanilla, wood; the middle rolls into more bourbon, sweetness, coconut, and burgeoning roast; the back end is roast, coffee, dark fruits, earthy campfire, and big base beer. The finish is sticky and dry. Palate depth is outstanding, with each sip lasting 15-30+ seconds. The carbonation is thin, light, and smooth.

Regular Old Rasputin: This is medium-full to full-bodied, with big complexity, moderate palate depth for the style, and a really smooth mouthfeel supported by light, non-aggressive carbonation. This really is a smooth beer, and the finish is roasty and dry. There's a lot of roast in this, with dashes of cacao and coffee. Up front is some roast, molasses, caramel; the middle rolls into coffee, cacao, hints of vanilla, wood, earthy tobacco; the back end is lingering roast, coffee, and fade to dry and roasty. I haven't commented on the hops or bitterness. I remember back many years ago when I first had this beer, and I thought it was the most bitter thing in the world. This is definitely a bitter beer, both in terms of the hop kick you get mid and back palate, and in terms of the bitter, bitter roast. Really nice stuff.

Drinkability/Final Thoughts

Not a bad evening.
Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: At 11.9% ABV, this one is big...but I still maintain it's a touch lighter than the 2012 Bourbon County, which makes sense, since that dialed things up to 15.0% ABV. I bring up the Bourbon County, because I feel like that's a solid comparison. All things considered, this drinks pretty damn well for 11.9%. This is a sipping beer, for sure, but yeah. I like this a lot.

Regular Old Rasputin: At 9.0% ABV, this is a reasonable Russian Imperial. Make no mistake, this is still a huge beer. Still...this is a fairly smooth and drinkable beer, and is lovely with a scoop of ice cream, a cigar, dry chocolate cake, or many other foods.

Rating

Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin: Light Divine Brew

Regular Old Rasputin: Strong Above-Average

So there you have it folks. I'm feeling a Light Divine Brew on the Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin, XV Anniversary. All things considered, this is a really solid beer, and it reminds me quite a bit of the Bourbon County. It's amazing how aging this beer in bourbon barrels takes the strong, earthy roast, and turns it into bright, sweet, chocolate/brulee/coconut. My only gripe is the price...for 16.9oz, the price of $20+ per bottle is a bit high. Nevertheless, this is drinking great now, and will probably age well. I have another bottle I plan to bust out in a couple of years, so we will see how that goes. Food pairings...with this, I would go with dry chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, a cigar, or a decadent burger with super raunchy cheese, or a big ol' medium rare steak with some garlic butter. This is a beer to savor, especially at this price. I do recommend it though, at least once.

Random Thought: Three day weekends kick ass. That's all I have to say, and fuck Mondays. Bleh.

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