Brew Roundup: Russian Imperial Stout

There’s no middle-ground with a Russian imperial stout – you either love them or hate them. Pitch-black in colour with a rich, bitter flavour, these brews are most commonly found and best enjoyed during the depths of winter.

800px-Alexander_II_of_Russia_photo
Czar Alexander II

Despite the name, this style was created by the English. In the 18th Century, they created this style to be exported to Russia, to be enjoyed by czars and their families. To ensure that the beer would make the trip without going bad, these stouts were brewed with double the alcoholic volume of a typical stout, and loaded up with hops.

The Russian royals enjoyed the beer despite the changes to the brew, and Russian imperial stout has a small-ish but dedicated following today, including us at Hoppily Ever after – Josh in particular.

Choosing your brew

Like many specific styles in the craft beer community today, Russian imperial stout has a surprising amount of variance. In our very scientific description, the brews range from “kinda-heavy” to “super-heavy”. What we mean by that they typically start at 8% ABV, but can easily drive right on up to 15%, or even higher.

A deep, dark stout*

Because these beers have to be aged for several months to develop properly, breweries often create uniqueness in their products by aging their brews with added ingredients like fruit or roasted coffee beans, or in specialized containers such as wine or whiskey barrels.

Let’s start with some basics

To get a taste of what Russian imperial stout is, here’s a list to try that follow the basic style guidelines.

Grand River Brewing – Russian Gun

This is probably the best to start with, as it’s among the lightest and least bitter. A dark, malty taste and only light roastiness. It’s named after the cannon in downtown Galt (Cambridge), where Grand River brews from, and in commemoration of a tragic story surrounding the cannon itself.

Russian Gun Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Wellington Brewery – Imperial Russian Stout

That’s not a mistake – they just reversed the name. Rich and bold,  with notes of coffee and chocolate.

Sawdust City – Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus

Great name for a great beer. For a high-alcohol beer, it has a surprisingly dry finish (think Guinness), but still a rich flavour and refreshing bitterness – if you find bitterness refreshing, of course.

Sawdust city Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Nickel Brook Brewery – Bolshevik Bastard

It’s another big, bold brew (not surprising with Russian imperial stouts). On the roast-ier side, Bolshevik Bastard is brewed with a flavour reminiscent of dark chocolate.

And now for something a little different…

Some interesting offerings from Ontario craft breweries that play with the style description a bit.

Nickel Brook Brewery – Winey Bastard & Kentucky Bastard

Nickelbrook Imperial Stouts - Hoppily Ever After

Both of these are simple alterations on their Bolshevik Bastard. The first is aged in local Pinot Noir barrels, giving it a subtle red wine taste. The second is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, blending a sweet bourbon oakiness and a warming feeling throughout.

Beau’s All Natural – The Bottle Imp

Many Russian imperials are brewed to resemble roasted coffee – here’s one that’s actually brewed with roasted coffee. It has a maltier finish, probably to offset the added bitterness from the coffee, and a subtle anise taste. This one definitely stands out from the pack.

 

*Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10413717@N08/15933479008

Wellington Brewery – Guelph Brewery Crawl Part 2/3

Part two of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl. 

Our second stop on our Guelph craft brewery crawl was Wellington Brewery. It’s  basically the old standard in local craft brewing – currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, it’s the oldest independently owned microbrewery in Canada.

And with age comes experience. They’ve got the full package, from the Welly brand itself to the location to the full roster of good beers.

 

Wellington Brewery Ivy

The Place

Wellington is in an ivy-bedecked building with one little tower. We found out that its style is an homage to the traditional oast house (not to be confused with the brewery by the same name), or hop kiln,  the farm building where hops were taken to be dried.

Half of the public area is a retail store with all their beer and merch on display. The other half is for tasting. It has an English country club vibe,  and was bustling on the Saturday afternoon we visited.

Wellington Brewery Interior

The Beer

Wellington’s brews are well distributed throughout Ontario. You’ve probably seen them in every LCBO or in craft beer-friendly restaurants across the province. However, unlike some beer you see everywhere (I think you know what we mean), with Wellington, it’s entirely justified. The folks there know how to make damn good beer.

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In the sampling room, you get little wooden coins for $1 to get samples of whichever size you’d prefer. Here’s a little sampling of some of our standouts:

  • 30th Anniversary Ale – a unique brew for this year. It’s got a lot going on- but it all works. It’s strong (8.2%) with floral/fruity notes. It’s malty ale brewed with elderberries, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, mixed with dry-hopped imperial golden ale infused with heather tips. Wow!
  • County Dark Ale – The ideal English style brown ale. It’s malty, it’s smooth, but it has just enough zing to stop it from being boring. We’re both big fans.
  • Imperial Russian Stout – Despite the name reversal, this is your quintessential Russian imperial stout – as black as Putin’s heart, and as bitter as the man himself. Josh is a big fan of Russian imperial stouts, and particularly this one.
  • Special Pale Ale (S.P.A.) – Jess first described this as “coppery, super drinkable, with no overt flavour other than good beer”.
  • Trailhead Lager – A surprising complex amber lager, but still light enough for the easy beer drinker.

Wellington Brew

The Extras

Some of the vines on the building are actually… hop bines! We like that sort of touch.

Hops at Wellington

And they’ve got some great merchandise. Josh couldn’t bear to leave without buying a big glass beer drinking boot. They also have a fridge in the retail store which on our trip included one of their ‘Welly One-Offs’, that wasn’t in the tasting room – Fresh Off the Wire, a wet-hopped pale ale made with local ingredients.

Wellington Brewery Merch

 

Visit date: Oct 9, 2015

See also: Post 1 in the Guelph Brewery Crawl – Royal City Brewing: http://hoppily-ever-after.com/2015/11/03/royal-city-brewing-guelph/

Best Fruit Beers You Can Find Locally

We’ve been drinking all the faux-juice beers so you don’t have to. Instead, here’s our top picks for great-tasting fruit beers you can find throughout Ontario – fruit by fruit.

Grapefruit

Our three grapefruit hits were all radlers. The word “radler”, if you’re not familiar, is generally used interchangeably with “shandy” (the British word). It’s a half juice / half beer combo, with the low alcohol percentage to match. The word “Radler” is actually German for cyclist – so yep, it’s the beer where you can still drink and bike (not that we recommend it).

The winners, which can all be found at Southern Ontario LCBOs:

  • Stiegl Radler – this Austrian brew has to be the king of grapefruit Radlers today – tangy, hazy, sparkling grapefruit juice mixed with crisp pale beer.
  • Waterloo Grapefruit Radler – very similar to Stiegl, with the same fizz, tang, and flavour profile, but brewed locally.
  • Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Hefeweizen – not actually billed as a Radler, this one has more of a wheat beer profile that the others, but still the grapefruit is strong with this one.

Blueberry

Pump House Blueberry Ale

Jess in particular went into this one with reservations, since she loves fresh blueberries, but generally hates anything “blueberry” flavoured. But no worries! Pump House Blueberry Ale out of Moncton, NB is far from fake. Instead, this full flavour ale has a tart blueberry bite to it. Mixed with the hop overtone, Josh even described it as tasting almost “imperial” (one of his favourite styles).

Watermelon

There’s some scary-fake watermelon beer and coolers hanging around out there. We’d love to see more good offerings, but so far our sole winner is Kensington Brewery’s Fruit Stand Watermelon Wheat. It’s a wheat beer first, with that soft, sweetly clean watermelon flavour creeping in as you drink it. It’s a seasonal, so it’s gotten to the point where Jess starts asking our local pub (Hamilton’s Winking Judge) in the spring if they have it in yet. And it turns out we aren’t the only ones that ask.

Red Berry

Liefmans Fruitesse

Yes, “red berry”, because there’s some excellent combos out there. Both of our winners in this category come out of Belgium, but can be found in LCBOs and pubs around Ontario.

Liefmans Fruitesse bills itself as an appetizer beer. It’s a deep red, cranberry juice colour, sparkling, and oh-so-juicy. It also tastes something like cranberry juice,  with a bit more sweetness, and a nice alcoholic kick. Like how you (or at least Jess) wish wine would taste. There’s no cranberry involved though; it’s actually cherry, raspberry, elderberry, strawberry, and bilberry.

Lindemans is another Belgian brewery, family owned since the 19th Century. They specialize in lambics, a style of sour beer, often brewed with fruit, made using spontaneous fermentation with local wild yeasts. Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic is a real punch of sweet and sour raspberry, with a sparkling dessert beer feel. It rings in at only 2.5% alcohol, so it’s more guilt-free.

Apricot

St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

Apricot seems like a strange flavour to combine with beer, but St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale is one you shouldn’t miss. If you were to juice a fresh apricot, it would likely taste a lot like this brew – pleasantly sweet with a familiar tartness to finish it off. It’s worth noting that Josh, who is less excited about fruit beers, is a big fan of this one.

Rhubarb & Friends

There’s a few local winners in the rhubarb field (pun intended). Two of our offerings come paired with strawberry, and the other is a saison.

  • Wellington Brewery’s Farmer’s Market Rhubarb Saison – It’s a bit sour, lambic-style, with the rhubarb coming in as a light second note. The rhubarb itself is locally sourced from the Aberfoyle Farmer’s Market. However, this beer was a 2014 “Welly One-Off”, and is currently out of production. It’s still pouring here and there  though, so get it if you see it!
  • Oast House’s Gramma’s Strawberry Rhubarb – Hazy and wonderful. You get the strawberry. You get the rhubarb. You get the caramel undertones of the beer. It’s the whole kit and caboodle, as gramma might say.
  • Church Key’s That’s My Jam Strawberry Rhubarb – Another fruity delight, with the rhubarb and strawberry flavours coming in on top. It’s not overly sweet, and even a bit dry, but it has that definite jam feel.
That's My Jam
Yes, we often drink on patios at night.

So the verdict is in: there’s a lot more to easy-accessible fruit beers than faux-juice flavours. And there’s more we still need to find! What else are we missing out on?