Beer Review 0025: North Coast Old Rasputin

Old Rasputin Imperial Stout is brewed by North Coast Brewing Company, centered in Fort Bragg, California. The brewery opened up as a brewpub in 1988 under the leadership of Mark Reudrich, and he has taken North Coast from small town to big time. North Coast’s beers are now distributed in 47 states and are exported across the world.

Old Rasputin is a Russian Imperial Stout. A bit of history about this style: this beer was created in the 1800’s with the intent of winning over the Russian Czar. This style has a higher alcohol content, usually 8-12% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is typically aggressively malty. Old Rasputin has won several prestigious awards, including the World Beer Championship gold medal a total of seven times (1996-1999, 2004-2006).

The bottle itself is quite imposing; featuring a mysterious bearded man and some ancient writing, you just have a foreboding feeling you are about to open a bottle of trouble. Drinker beware? Never fear, I’ll take one for the team.

Old Rasputin poured with a gigantic tan head, very creamy in nature. I can’t emphasize how colossal the head was; check the picture at the top of this review, because it was massive. It pouched over top of the glass and lasted a long time before diminishing into a thicker than average cover over the liquid. The beer itself was very dark brown in color, almost black. The lacing was extraordinary, looking like Swiss cheese holes as it presented itself down the glass. I had to award this beer a perfect score in appearance. Just excellent.

The aromatics were a different story. Something odd happened — usually as a beer warms up, the scents it puts off get more pronounced. The exact opposite happened with Old Rasputin; initially, my nose was rewarded with some great caramel notes that were sweet and roasted, slightly smokey. I also detected some doughy yeast — but after about ten minutes in the glass, the smells were only a fraction of what they were at beginning, which was a disappointment to me.

Old Rasputin lives up to the intimidating bottle design on the palate. This is a huge full bodied and full flavored beer, almost overwhelming. I tasted sweet caramel at first, followed by a warming blast of dark chocolate and high-test coffee that gave way to a mildly sweet finish that gets continuously more bitter as it unfolds. It’s a long finish that starts malty and ends hoppy — I can safely say I have never experienced a beer with that quality before. The flavors are all very high quality and bold. This is a beer for experienced drinkers only; a novice will find Old Rasputin a rough go and will probably never try a Russian Imperial Stout again.

This is a sipping beer that is an exemplary example of the style and I would have no problems buying it again. Would be a great dessert beer, or a drink best paired with an extravagant and rich meal.

North Coast Old Rasputin, 92 points. Price: $7.99 US for four pack.

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