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My fascination with Old Rasputin is more than the fact I really like a good stout ale. It doesn't matter that it steadily won awards as the best beer in the world for years. It just tastes so damn good... and, in a way, it's part of my history.
Not because Iím Russian... Iím not. Iím a Northern Californian ex-Pat living in Oregon. Old Rasputin is brewed on the North Coast of California -- and while Fort Bragg isnít exactly the most picturesque town, itís smack dab in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in the world. I grew up with summers in Mendocino County in a place I can never go back to because some very rich people turned it into a place that you have to have the right car, the right clothes, the right hair plugs and the right a tan go visit.
But just north of Ft Bragg is the Lost Coast which is a part of the world that is so hard to get to that I believe it may still be sheep and starfish. Sure the brewery is on the main drag of asphalt and dying industrial buildings, but my fantasy is that this beer comes from a pristine, unspoiled world.
And what a beer it is... It clocks in at 9% alcohol... I know wines that have less, and are never served in a pint glass. It has this flavor that hits you like a toke from a bottle of soy sauce... heavily fermented, smooth, and intoxicating soy sauce, that is. Like its namesake, it's crazy, complicated, and it will be the ruin of you... but somehow you don't care.
The Muddy Rudder, our local pub, has it on Nitro right now. "Nitro" is to say that rather than using carbon dioxide to give the beer bubbles, the beer is pushed out of the keg, through the lines, into the glass, across my pallet and into my belly with nitrous oxide. The gas itself, the same gas that keeps you giggling while the dentist pulls your impacted molar, doesn't change the uptake of alcohol, but it does make the heavy beer... lighter.
The bar manager joked more than once that nitrous makes this heavy beer into a "session beer." I had to look it up to be sure, but a "session beer" dates back to WWI when men making explosive shells in England could only drink during limited "sessions." A session beer was something you could have seven or eight of and still go back to the factory and not blow up the whole works.
Old Rasputin on nitro may be so smooth to be drinkable over four hours, but I would not trust myself with anything explosive, except maybe my upper intestinal tract. Itís not just the 9% alcohol by volume, itís the lack of volume. Two 9% beers is not anywhere near four 4.5% beers, although mathematically it would seem to be the same thing. Nope, two Old Rasputins is like a train running into a brick wall -- or rather, my head running into an oncoming train.
And so I drink. I drink briefly to the fall of the Tsars. Then, I drink to the Sea Lions and the crashing surf. I drink to the wild irises and the white crowned sparrows. I drink my overly strong ale and think about a time that never happened where I lived happily between the woods and the sea.
But even if Old Rasputin is brewed in a dying logging town on the rotting pilings of a long gone fishing community... to me, in my northwest urban life, itís bottled happiness, and bottled nostalgia.
And itís a damn good ale no matter what.