In July of 2009 I was in Vermont for the Vermont Brewers Festival with some buds, and of course we took advantage of the opportunity to buy some amazing beer. Naturally we found the biggest beer store we could find, Beverage Warehouse, and filled our shopping cart to the brim! Although we did buy a lot of great beer, we each had one bottle which we were exceptionally excited for; the North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin II Imperial Stout.
It came in a very handsome 500ml corked bottle and was $25, which was relatively hefty. However now after trying the beer, I would easily buy it again, and probably by five or more! This is a barrel aged version of North Coast’s original Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, which has been brewed in the traditional way the 18th century brewers would have in order to supply the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great. This beer is 9% abv, but barrel ageing in Oak Whiskey Casks has brought the XII anniversary up to 11.2% abv.
In past years it has only been brewed in very limited quantities and not sold outside the brewery. However, because of such high demand for the beer, for this anniversary North Coast produced enough for distribution – thank you!
Enough intro, lets talk about this beer. It poured exceptionally smooth with a very viscous oil like quality. It settles gently into the glass and was black as night lifting a very dense light brown head just about half an inch off the surface. So far it is very alluring; creamy and smooth, pitch black, a rich brown head, and a pronounced stance in the glass. Even when held up to the light only a tiny glimpse of golden brown peers though. This beer seems to be holding all its cards up its sleeves.
In for the nose, and no surprise; its filled to the brim with aromas. Chocolate, roast, oak, vanilla, bourbon, molasses, caramel, butterscotch, rum, nuts, dry roasted coffee, and a slight dry hop. Its not attacking your senses, but rather filling them. Although there is a lot here all the aromas play nicely amongst each other. No one is battling the other for flavor supremacy. Not yet at least.
Once I got into this beer, it was both a severe pleasure to drink, and also a difficult challenge finish – because I never wanted it to end! I was trying so hard to savor every roasty sweet sip. Wow this beer impressed all of us to a huge extent. It fills your palate gently with creamy roast chocolate, smooth molasses and bourbon, roasted coffee beans, light caramel, star anise for that slight black liquorice flavor, vanilla, oak, back to bourbon and bakers dark chocolate, toasted nuts and finished lightly with fresh hops.
Um… Wow! I have to go over that again. As the Old Rasputin glides, and I mean, gllliiiddddeeessss gently over your palate, smooth dark chocolate and roasted coffee simply relax over your tongue. The whiskey and bourbon sweet spice then wash in to caress the sides of your tongue, your cheeks, and the top of your mouth. Lightly, caramel and nuts emerge everywhere and vanilla and oak also fade in creating a gentle and supremely delicious atmosphere. Light and earthy hops show a touch at the finish to clean your palate nicely.
There is a ton going on in this beer, but its pulls it off to magnificently. The dry and bitter coffee balances the sweetness from the whiskey and vanilla. The dark chocolate balances the spice from the bourbon and oak. The nuts and hops bring a much needed refreshing characteristic to the beer to prepare you for the next sip. The finish is just perfect; it cleans your palate but also leaves you with a fresh chocolate, bourbon oak flavor. And beyond that, the mouthfeel is sublime. Creamy with slight carbonation to gently stimulate your taste buds. Its much lighter than you may expect from 11.2%, but there is a light warm note of alcohol hiding in the oak flavor.
I wish that this beer would never end! If I do get the opportunity to buy more I will certainly be buying a few to enjoy and several to age. Over time the Old Rasputin should mature nicely rounding out the slight edges into an even smoother more impressive Imperial Stout. Please don’t pair this with food, even desert. It deserves to be enjoyed on its own.
I still debate it with myself, but it very well may be the best Imperial Stout I have ever had, and quite possibly the best beer I have ever had. If you have one, please send it to me!