Saturday, April 3, 2010

Matt's Addiction

Beer: St. Ambroise Stout Imperiale Russe
Brewery: Brasserie McAuslan (Montreal)
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.1%

After about a week-long hiatus due to being sick and not being able to drink, it's time to not be sick and to be able to drink. Um...yeah.... About the only good thing about taking time away from drinking is that, during your absence, the LCBO might have a few new brews waiting for you, tempting you with their flirty labelling and come-hither bottling. Fortunately, this was the case this weekend.

Beer hunting is like any other consumer addiction; it costs time and money and sometimes makes little practical sense to anyone else except the collector themselves and their like-minded cohorts. Think of someone with a shoe-shopping addiction; they go out of their way to buy the most expensive, rarest shoes, just because they can. It doesn't matter that they already have tons of shoes at home; they want the latest fashion, and they won't balk at dropping several hundred dollars to get the ones they want. (I actually have no idea how much womens' shoes cost (or do I?)). The same thing goes for beer. If there's a new brew out, no matter what the price, I have to have it. Fortunately, beer hunting has two advantages over the shoe-shoppers: 1) even the best, rarest, most unique brew is never going to be more than 20 bucks a bottle, and it's almost never over 10 bucks, and 2) shoes can't get you drunk.

I stand corrected. Confused, but corrected.

Thus, anytime the LCBO puts out a special, limited edition brew, I have to buy it. There isn't even really a question in my mind; if I see it, it's in the shopping cart. But considering how awesome limited edition brews are, how could I not? Take this sexy little number, for instance.

- It comes in its own keepsake tin.

- It's by McAuslan, a brewery whose awesome-ratio is ridiculously high. (Try their Oatmeal Stout; it's phenomenal)

- It has St. Basil's cathedral on the front, and kind of looks like it came from Khrushchev's personal stash.

- And finally, it's bourbon wood-aged. It's infused with more liquour.

If I ever pass up a reserve bottle such as this, I'm either dead or blind and my seeing-eye beer-hunting dog is out taking a whizz on the sidewalk to the chagrin of the bylaw officer.

Today, with my beer itches having gone unscratched for several days now, what better way to get back on the horse than with a special reserve Russian Imperial Stout? The answer is no, there isn't. A better way. To get back on the horse.

For this sampling, I chilled the bottle for the better part of the afternoon (thanks to the glorious weather, my basement is no longer cold enough to provide cellar temperatures). When it was time to indulge, I let the bottle sit out on the counter for a bit to warm up a few degrees. That's not just snobbery; that's good advice. This beer was a bit expensive, so it's important to serve it properly. Certain beers - dark ales especially - should be served a little warmer than lagers, pale ales and pilsners, which are normally served ice-cold. In order to unleash the complexities of the nose and body, a stout such as this needs to be served at a few degrees above refrigerator temperature (10 degrees C). If you drink it too cold, you'll miss out on a great deal; it's like over-chilling a red wine. They'll sometimes tell you the ideal temperature on the bottle, but if you want to be sure, check out sites like and, which will recommend proper serving methods.

After about seven minutes of warm-uppage, I poured it into a tulip glass. The colour was just about perfect for a RIS: near pitch-black with a touch of brown. Thanks to the curvature of the glassware, I got about an inch of tan head, which produced a terrific lacing pattern and retained itself well throughout the tasting. Off to a fantastic start.

The nose is potent and sweet, but very enjoyable. Dark chocolate, bourbon and brandy, marshmallow, caramel and roasted malt are the dominant flavours here. They weren't kidding about "bourbon wood-aged."

Wow; this is truly great stuff. The oak from the bourbon barrels does wonders for this brew, evening out the sweet caramel and chocolate and letting the hop bitterness provide a late kick. Similar flavours are found here as in the nose. Sweet, but not cloying. The alcohol is covered fairly well, but it is evident in the finish, coming in as a sharp whisky taste.

Mouthfeel is velvety and sticky, with the carbonation providing a good spritz on the back of the tongue. Had the carbonation been any lower, it might have created a sickly syrupy effect, but fortunately this was avoided.

After reviewing this brew online, I discovered that I had awarded it one of my top 5 scores, which for me is a pretty good argument to buy this beer. It's just under 6 bucks, but trust me, it's more than worth it. (And think about it, that's roughly what you'd pay for a draught pint anyways; why not get something unique?). If my review isn't enough to get you out to the LCBO to try this brew, keep this in mind: they only brewed it once. It might never be back again! Aaaaughhh!!! (Grade: A+)

By the way, for those keeping score, here are Matt's top 10 so far (as seen on
1. Maudite (Unibroue)
2. Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock (Schneider und Sohn)
3. Duvel (Duvel Moortgaat)
4. La Fin du Monde (Unibroue)
5. St. Ambroise RIS (McAuslan)
6. Fuller's London Porter (Fuller's)
7. Gouden Carolus Classic (Brouwerij Het Anker)
8. Affligem Blond (Brouwerij de Smedt)
9. Margriet (Brouwerij Het Anker)
10. Young's Double Chocolate Stout (Wells and Young's)

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