North Coast Old Rasputin XV
While I often make excuses for myself when it comes to reviewing stouts, which are not in my typical go-to beer wheel house, there are some key terms that I hone in on when it’s time to select one of those bottles for my cellar. Words like “imperial” and “bourbon” are both strong indicators that I may be more inclined to give a favorable review. With Old Rasputin, I get both of those, which means we’re off to a great start. These vertical tastings add another dimension that sometimes unfairly casts one bottle in a harsher light. With a Russian Imperial Stout you expect the older bottle to mellow, with the hops receding and the individual flavors all mingling together for a smoother, more consistent taste. That’s exactly what happened to last year’s Old Rasputin XIV. To really pick out what those original flavors were, you have to open up a fresh bottle.
Old Rasputin XV has an unexpectedly thinner mouthfeel and several uniquely complementary (if independently strong) flavors. The bourbon is the most noticeable taste – and strong on the nose as well. That’s followed by a subtle vanilla undercurrent and chocolate that alternates between creamy milk and bitter dark. The toffee and rich blend of malts form a baseline over which the bright hops shine through the pitch-black darkness. The biggest surprise is really how open and sparkling this beer is for a Russian Imperial Stout.
Which is better? That’s hard to say as I think you have to taste it fresh to really appreciate how well the one year bottle has aged. XV is probably a more interesting beer – but XIV is more all-around delicious and pleasing. This is an expensive purchase at over $20 per bottle plus aging time. However, if you’re looking for a vertical tasting with a big difference between bottles to explore the benefits of aging, Old Rasputin is a smart pick.