Russian Imperial Stout

by kmosullivan

Russian Imperial Stout

Ah, winter: The time for drinking big, bold, dark beers. Chewable beers. The kind of beers you can cut with a steak knife.

I recently found myself drinking the Old Rasputin XV Barrel-Aged Stout from North Coast Brewing Company, and decided this was the year I would brew my first stout. The standard Old Rasputin is consistently one of my favorite beers, and these special releases are always worth picking up. As far as recipes go, it seemed the logical place to start. What’s more, having recently come into a freshly-dumped 3.5 gallon bourbon barrel, I was eager to brew something with which to fill it. Unfortunately, I ran into some complications with the barrel-prep (which I will save for a later post) that precluded me from oaking the beer. Nevertheless, I still ended up with a great stout — not a bad problem to have. So, in keeping with the practices of North Coast, I decided to drink this beer fresh (Though, of course, it would lend itself to prolonged conditioning).

Here is the recipe, which was based on the BYO clone of Old Rasputin. For a four-gallon batch:

12 lbs. Maris Otter
1 lb. Crystal 120
1 lb. Carastan
8 oz. Brown malt
8 oz. Chocolate malt
4 oz. Roasted Barley

3 oz. Cluster (6.8%AA) – 75min
1 oz. Norther Brewer (9.6%AA) – 2min
1 oz. Chinook (11.1%AA) – 2min

WLP007 – Dry English Ale

Mashed at 152F

OG: 1.084
FG: 1.019
ABV: 8.5%

Appearance: Pours an inky, viscous, opaque black — I like my Russian Imperial Stouts to look like used motor oil, and this one proves no different. Topped with a creamy, off-white head; Lots of lacing down the glass.

Aroma: A bit of traditional English-ester yeast character on the nose, complemented by the roasted grains.

Flavor: This beer slaps you in the face with a dry, complex roast character, which is followed up by the rest of the malt bill and a very pleasant fruity, English yeast character. It finishes with a bitterness that lasts for days — almost as long as the roast character. The latter is not of a sharp, acrid nature; but rather, comes across as very dry (if a little dominant). One does taste a bit of alcohol — you know you are drinking a big beer — but it is not “hot” at all. The high finishing gravity provides enough sweetness to balance out some of the bitterness. This, in conjunction with the amount of crystal/caramel malts, provides a full, silky mouthfeel that is just beautiful.

Notes: I had terrible efficiency on this brewday, so the bitterness and the roast character are out of balance. The WLP007 performed beautifully, as it always does with high-gravity styles. I should really use this yeast more often, as I am consistently impressed with the beers it produces. If I were to rebrew this recipe (which I suspect I shall), I would try adding the roasted grains in the final 20 minutes of the mash or so — long enough to gain color and a bit of roast character, but short enough to reduce the dominance of the roasted grains on the palate. Alternatively, I have also heard of folks simply cold-steeping the specialty grains (a la extract brewing) and adding them to boil.

As for what to pair with this beer: I would only say that it goes exceedingly well with good company and a warm fire. Perhaps toasted marshmallows as well.