North Coast Brewing ‘Old Rasputin’

November 2, 2011

I’ve discussed in columns past the history of Imperial Stout, also known as Russian Imperial, and how it originally was brewed in England for Catherine II. The deep freeze of Mother Russia in winter called for a rich, robust and highly alcoholic beverage to warm one’s bones. Whether Grigori Rasputin, the namesake of today’s beer, ever touched the stuff is unclear. However, there are a number of terrible and interesting parallels between the two.

The purported mystic was well-known as a philanderer and heavy consumer of alcohol. It was part of his belief that to find salvation, one must embrace temptation in all its forms to proceed to repentance and absolution. This was probably an excuse to do whatever he wanted. “Hey, I may get loaded and fool around … even have a hand in orchestrating the downfall of a family’s nobility and reign over their subjects, but I’m gonna repent over it later. I swear!”

I kid, but it does sound a mite convenient.

Nevertheless, the ends kind of justified the means in Rasputin’s life, and it began to ruffle the royal feathers of Orthodox Russian nobility. A former friend of his, also a religious mystic, convinced a “working girl” to stab Rasputin. It didn’t work.

Later, members of the Russian government attempted to poison him with cake laced with enough cyanide to bring down five men. The poison evaporated in the baking process. So they tried to shoot him. That didn’t work, either. So they beat him and shot him again, wrapped him in a carpet and threw him into the frozen Neva River.

Makes sense someone would name a strong stout after such an intriguing scenario. Turns out that one of the root origins of Rasputin’s name means “muddy road season,” which one may certainly associate with fall and winter precipitation and stout beer’s appearance.

North Coast’s Old Rasputin is visually as dark as its namesake and boasts a cult following much like the mysterious Russian holy man.

The dark brown head stays around longer than it took to kill Rasputin and leaves behind sheets of lacing in the glass. Scents and flavors represent bold dark chocolate, roasted espresso and charred grain while the taste side reveals a lot more: brown sugar, brandied cherries and mocha. The texture is melted milkshake-thick with abundant carbonation to provide balance.

Approach with caution: At 9 percent alcohol by volume, a few too many could have you seeing visions as well.

Dark, intense and thought-provoking, the Old Rasputin is a flavorful tribute to one of history’s most intriguing figuresNorth Coast Old Rasputin