12 December 2008

Love in a cold climate

It has been mighty cold recently, something which is much harder to bear when one lives in a country where it's pretty much impossible to buy imperial stout. Fortunately I had the good sense to stock up on my travels over the summer, so I've been braving my chilly attic and bringing down rich dark bottles of winter comfort.

To the US first, and a small bottle of Old Rasputin -- a 9% ABV imperial stout by North Coast Brewing in California, featuring Boney M's favourite mad monk in mid-benediction on the label. From the bottle it is totally opaque with not even traces of ruby when held up to the light. The head quickly subsides to a thin tan skim. Texturewise it's quite wonderful, slipping down silkily and leaving a warming buzz as it goes. The big surprise for me, however, was in the taste. Since it's a Californian I was expecting citric hops in spades, à la Gonzo or Yeti, but they're not here. Instead it's all about a sweet Irish coffee aroma and a mild roasted bitterness on the palate. Sumptuous, and requiring very little effort to drink.

Amager's Imperial Stout was harder work. The Danish brewery haven't put quite as much effort into their label, and the half-litre bottle ends up looking like some supermarket's own brand of discount imperial stout. The head is thick and a light shade of beige, and the huge amount of sludge in the bottom of the bottle indicates that at least some of the 10-and-a-bit% ABV is a result of bottle conditioning. It is astonishingly bitter, but again not in a citric American hops way. Instead, the flavour is packed full of burning liquorice and the sort of coffee that's strong enough to stand a spoon in. The texture is incredibly full and quite greasy, but in a pleasant mouth-coating sort of way. Despite being the same style as Old Rasputin this is almost the diametric opposite. Yes it's still very tasty but it's a beer that forces you to take your time and lacks the hypnotic friendly warmth of the other.

Imperial stout, of whatever stripe, is such a rewarding beer. Why more (i.e. some) isn't made or imported into this stouty country of ours is really beyond me.

16 comments:

  1. Old Rasputin looks (and sounds) fantastic. One for the wish-list, definitely. Cheers!

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  2. Mighty cold? Looks like just a touch of frost to me. I need it colder before I roll out the truly strong stuff!

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  3. I did think I'd get a comment like that, but I figured it'd be more likely to be from someone living without the benefit of the Gulf Stream rather than one simply further north than humans are meant to be.

    So yes, I admit, I and my entire race are weather wusses who cannot survive in temperatures outside the 0-25°C range. Perhaps we deserve only beer as average as our climate.

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  4. Rasputin beer? Have you seen the polish supermarket with the same name? What is it with insane priests that make could trademarks? Is that guy who rugby tackles marathon runners and tries to get run over by F1 cars going to be the next marketing craze?

    Stupid question but what is an imperial stout? I think i could name it when i see it but don't know the definition. Is St peters cream stout one?

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  5. "You'll go mental for Neil Horan Pale Ale".

    Imperial stouts are strong heavy stouts, generally of 9% ABV and up. MM Imperial, at a mere 7, probably doesn't really count as one (and with the smokiness it's doing something else anyway), but Porterhouse Celebration, if you ever tried it, is a fairly typical imperial. St Peter's Cream isn't one, unless you distill it a bit. And that would be illegal. And silly.

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  6. Does having about 3 inches of snow so far today count? Could be teh ideal setting for the bottle of Celebration Stout to be imbibed.

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  7. Congrats for trying one of the classics from California...

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  8. A total random pick from the shelves of Ølbutikken. I think I bought it 'cos it was cheap. Well, Danish-cheap.

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  9. Is Ireland really a "stouty country?"

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  10. We drink more beer per head than anyone but the Czechs, and stout makes up 32% of all beer consumed in Ireland. So I surmise that we drink more stout per head than any other country, making us the stoutiest on earth.

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  11. That's it. I'm opening that bottle of Porterhouse Celebration you gve me as a parting gift, tonight. -4 here last night, and I have no hat (left it on a bus) so that's my excuse.

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  12. I have a number of imperial stouts lying about the place. Rasputin is one of them along with a Stone beer and one from Avery, and some Porter House Celebration too. I'm not gloating, honest. It occurred to me that this is the time of year to drink them.

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  13. I have to make do with a stash of doppelbocks it seems :(

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  14. I just remembered that I have a Sam Smith's Imperial Stout too.

    Problem is, all of them came from abroad. It is a sad state of affairs, as TBN noted.

    Except the Porter House Celebration of course.

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  15. Old Rasputin is my holy grail of imperial stouts! Where did you find it?

    Sorry I missed you while you were in London. December has just been a month of Bad Things. If you come to London in the new year the first round is on me.

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  16. Cheers, Impy. I'll give you a shout next time I'm heading over, though I've no idea when that is.

    The Old Rasputin I picked up in Copenhagen, at the wonderful Ølbutikken beer shop. It was just down the street from my hotel so it was a struggle not to go in and buy something every day I was there.

    I really had no idea it was such a prestigious beer when I bought it. I just liked the label.

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