A Russian Imperial Stout craft beer battle for the ages

If you enjoy stouts, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve tried either or both of the fan-favorites selected for this duel; Bell’s Brewery Expedition Stout and North Coast Brewing Co.’s Old Rasputin. Each of these stouts is classified in the sub-category of the stout family know as the Russian Imperial Stout. The term imperial generally means the beer is bigger/bolder than most and could be deemed a premium offering. In this process, the hops & malts used during brewing are doubled, or possibly tripled. This leads to a stronger beer, typically in the range of 8 to 13% ABV.

According to Americancraftbeer.com, the Russian Imperial Stout’s roots are debatable. Some say Russian Emperor Peter The Great’s visit to England in 1698 led to his fascination with the porter’s being brewed in London at the time. When he placed an order to be delivered to the Russian Imperial Court, the batch spoiled on the long journey to Russia. Subsequent batches were brewed with extra hops to create a higher alcohol content and complexity to help survive the trip and appeal to the Russian royals. With that, the porter’s stronger cousin, the Russian Imperial Stout, was born. Others have argued the timing of this is all off, insisting that the porter style hadn’t become popular in England until after Peter The Great’s death in 1725. As is often the case with origination stories, fact and fiction intertwine to create a compelling myth, while the real truth may never be known.

Now that we have some background on the category we’re exploring, let’s see how the duel went.

HopDuel Survey

Better labelNorth Coast Old Rasputin
Better aromaBell’s Expedition
Better tasteBell’s Expedition
Better finishNorth Coast Old Rasputin
WinnerBell’s Expedition

Tell us about it

As you may have expected from the results, this duel went back and forth the entire time. I chose Rasputin for the label category because the color palette and sketch on the front appealed to me more than the Expedition’s bland colors and compass design. From the first pour, it was evident each beer was going to be very rich. Both poured a beautifully creamy head, Old Rasputin’s biscuit tan, and Expedition’s a darker chocolate milk color. Perfect rings of lacing clung to the glass after each sip.

The aroma of each was sweet chocolate, roasted malt/coffee, nuts, and dark fruit. Where the Old Rasputin stood out was in its booziness, which wasn’t overwhelming, but a rather subtle reminder of what you are about to enjoy. In taste, the notes carried over for each but the Expedition stout presents a richer texture and is a bit sweeter. If you prefer a smooth stout, Old Rasputin would appeal to you, but in this category, I leaned heavily toward the Expedition. The finish is slightly bitter from Expedition, but Old Rasputin goes down smooth and easy. This is an important factor in choosing between the two beers. If you intend to have one or two, Expedition might be the better option. But if you’ll be drinking them all night, Old Rasputin may be the preferred choice.

Since we have to declare a winner, I settled on Bell’s Expedition Stout because it’s rich texture and flavors were just a little more complex than Old Rasputin’s. Both of these are excellent craft beers and you can’t go wrong with either of them.

We also asked our Twitter followers which of these two craft beers they prefer. The results of that poll are listed below, with the Old Rasputin faithful narrowly coming out ahead.

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