I thought it high time to break out the stouts and the darks that have been living in my understairs cupboard being horded for winter since the summer. Which is simply to say that I finally got round to actually drinking some of the beer I have stashed about the place. Tonight I shall be sampling the striking looking Old Rasputin Stout from Tollgate Brewery that I have had lurking about since September, when I bought it with the Duffield Amber (see here) so it's been waiting a while is what I'm saying.
Dark night, fire burning instead of having the heating on and free, for a moment, of the pressure of marking and planning. Time then to delve deep into a style of ale that is associated with Imperial Russia and likely is apocryphal. Not that I care, I like the modern style of Imperial Stouts and I feel that I haven't had nearly enough of them recently given that they regularly top my lists when I go out or spend time at a beer festival.
Would you like to know more?
The bottle promises darkness with a hint of cream with a reading between the lines suggesting the kind of roast porter style that I seem to like so much and some bitterness in the finish. And it opens well too, with a deep draught of white carbon dioxide in the next and no real noise or activity. The pour is lively, with soft fizzing and little in the way of head, until near the end when the thin head comes to life and fizzes up in fine bubbles and biscuit shade, all boding well for a roasted and dry bitterness reminiscent of some of the rather nice dark ales I have had recently. The aroma is actually the first surprise, rather than the dark and soft velvet of something like Black Christmas (click here) or the slightly dry Smog Rocket (click here) there's a sweetness and a hint of blackberry liqueur, almost syrupy and sweet on the nose. That thin head also looks as though it will stick around too, smooth and even to be sure but also persistent and fuller than I would have expected.
Onto the tongue and my first impression is that it is rather sweet. Not toffee and caramel, just sweet. Almost fruity and with the sort of tang that I usually associate with blackberry crumble from my youth - the bitterness is probably what would strike most people, what my family called 'tart', and then an overriding sense of sugar on the top of the mouth, as one would expect from breadcrumbs made from some form of cake pastry topped with liberal helpings of granulated sugar in a crumble. Even that bed of malt takes on a biscuit-like quality so that it feels not a little unlike drinking the sort of crumble that my grandmother used to make. Though, having said that, it lacks the tang and 'tart' that I used to like about those and runs into the sort of sweetness that I find in the fayre in pubs and restaurants who seem to worry about patrons not enjoying anything that isn't belted sideways by lashings of sugar. It's not a bad taste, and the stout cream qualities do come to the fore around the point it cascades across the tongue and into the back end of the taste. Here the alcohol makes a brief appearance before sinking back into the brew. At 4.9% ABV I did rather expect a bit more of a kick, I suppose, but it is quite weak for the stouts I've been having and eyeing up so I may be a little unfair in my expectations. A slight dryness of roast pitching up and then bashing down back into the swell. Bitter around the edges and then the liquid draws down the throat to leave naught but that slight bitter edge as a memory.
At this point the aftertaste kicks in, being the sort of feeling people report when they eat raw lemons (not me, I like raw lemons), and feeling to me as though it was aiming for the dry roast bitter effect of stout but not quite managing to make the mark for me. It is a decent stout and certainly I am enjoying it, but it lacks the quality and the nuance of some of the stouts that I've had the pleasure of having. It doesn't have that smooth and creamy edge that I recall from Mud City Stout (click here) nor the coffee and chocolate depth of the ever-lovely Mocha (click here) and, finally, it isn't either of the stouts that I had recently. In the end it's a decent brew that plays well in the cold and with the fire crackling and popping in the encroaching darkness. Worth picking up and having but not one for me to deliberately seek out at the cost of other, better, brews.
You might want to have this at the end of a meal with rich gravies and big home-roasted potatoes. Stuffing may be consumed and you'd have pickles. As you move to the dessert course, I'd suggest a deep chocolate fudge cake from the fridge and not warmed, you pour this and let it mingle with the thick and sticky chocolate coating and topping. Take luxurious sips between mouthfuls of chocolate infused cake and then use it to wash out the mouth at the end so that no chocolate can escape. It's a stout, sure, and it is tasty, but I have been spoiled by my drinks around Christmas.