From the kettles and brite tanks of North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, California comes one of our favorite Russian Imperial Stouts, Old Rasputin. A staple in snifters across the country, this big, bold and robust stout really defines the RIS style for us. It’s widely available, fairly affordable, intensely complex and ages wonderfully. A serious winner in our books. This, you probably know.
What you might not know however, is that North Coast produces a rare and limited barrel aged version of this fine elixir. Released annually, this special offering was first produced in 2006 to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Old Rasputin. After a short hiatus (there was never a XIII vintage), fans are excited to hear that the beer has returned. Initially a very limited release, North Coast has expanded production of Barrel Aged Old Rasputin and it’s now popping up on shelves in various markets around the country.
At 11.5%, Barrel Aged Old Raspy is a slightly bigger version of the standard offering, which rings in a little lower at 9%. This years edition spent nine months in bourbon barrels, some up to 12 years old, before finding it’s way into a corked and caged 500ml bottle. A little detective work shows that Heaven Hill barrels are used, among others. We’ve seen bottle prices vary from $19-$24.
Appearance: 500ml bottle served in a 23oz brandy snifter. Pours a very dark, oily black with a thick viscous appearance. In contrast, the head is lighter khaki in color and suprisingly thick and rocky for a heavy beer like this. Retention is decent with quite a but of lacing going on, before receding to a nice ring that clings to the glass with every sip and savor.
Aroma: Initially, I get sweet chocolate on the nose with a lot of roast and biscuit following close behind. There is a definite presence of wood and bourbon as well and a nice scent of sharp black malt that alludes to the bold flavors I’m about to experience. Aromas of coffee and vanilla bring up the rear and keep me coming back for another whiff.
Flavor: Incredibly smooth is the first thing that comes to mind. A chocolate syrup sweetness is balanced perfectly against astringent roasted grains. Coffee and tobacco co-mingle with oak and mouth drying tannins. The bourbon here, with it’s soft vanilla character, does not dominate and isn’t overly boozy, yet is a constant note and sets the stage for the rest of the show to play out. Wood, toast and chocolate linger on the palate for ages, maintaining that perfect balance between bitter and sweet until the very end.
Mouthfeel: This is a thick one with viscosity like a fine drinking chocolate. Medium carbonation that slowly faded in the 45 minutes it took to drink my bottle. Very full-bodied with a satin-like mouthfeel that is extraordinarily creamy. I would kill to try this on nitro. A syrupy, mouth-coating texture enhances the perceived sweetness yet manages to avoid coming across as cloying.
Overall: Let’s make one thing clear. This is not simply Old Rasputin with bourbon. This is Old Rasputin perfected. Everything you like about Old Raspy is here, just bigger, bolder and better (and yes, with bourbon). One of the finest Russian Imperial Stouts we’ve tasted to date, Barrel Aged XIV is a rich and immensely satisfying experience for the tastebuds. It is absolutely ready to drink now but if past releases are any indication, it should age gracefully. If you’ve been known to enjoy a good RIS on occasion, then I highly suggest seeking this one out and treating yourself. You’d better get to it soon though. Even with a hefty price tag and expanded production, the cult following behind Old Rasputin will ensure that this beer flies off the shelves. Stock up now while you can!