at Father's Office
I don’t recall my first North Coast Old Rasputin, but I certainly remember my first Barrel Aged version!
It was a dozen years ago, after a day spent exploring colorful Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California, that I made my first pilgrimage to the North Coast Taproom, which is but a blip on the map of the Mendocino Coast, 170 miles north of San Francisco. I drank brewery-fresh “Old Raspy” on nitro (among others), while enjoying a great conversation with the bartender. Admittedly, I remember him mostly because, as I was leaving, he appeared in the parking lot and handed me a corked and caged bottle of Old Rasputin X, already disappeared from the bar menu and the bottle shop. The X indicated a bourbon-aged rendition created to celebrate the iconic Imperial stout’s tenth anniversary.
A few weeks later, I popped the cork back at home and the experience was so profound that, three changes of abode later, I still have the empty bottle.
That 11.6% beer packed a wallop, but its non-barrel-aged version is no shrinking violet at 9%, a strength that, when it was first brewed in 1995, made it a tasty, roasty, feisty juggernaut unlike other ‘microbrews’ of the time.
North Coast Brewing opened its doors in 1988 with three beers: Scrimshaw Pilsner (long before the “craft lager revolution” of late), Red Seal (a hop-forward ale when hardly any of the existing microbrewers had yet to brew, or possibly learn about, IPA), and Old No. 38 Stout, which remains a personal favorite dry Irish stout. That stout would go on to earn the brewery back-to-back Great American Beer Festival medals, but it was just the warm-up to the stout that made North Coast royalty.
Brewery co-founder and brewer, Mark Ruedrich, who just retired last year, “came up with it in a dream,” I was told by Patrick Broderick, North Coast’s co-brewmaster who’s been with the company since 1992. “We’ve always been very traditional in the styles we brew. (Mark) always liked high alcohol. So he formulated the beer after this dream and, holding up a sample of wort, said, ‘Yes, this is exactly it!’”
Rasputin debuted in bottles in 1996 and, with minor tweaks to achieve the requisite alpha acids that pack this beer with 75 IBU, Broderick insists the formula hasn’t changed to this day. I personally feel like I love it more today than I did back then.
As noted, I don’t recall my first time drinking Old Rasputin, but there’s a chance it was at Father’s Office, the famous beer bar in Santa Monica. It’s notorious for its storied ‘The Office Burger,’ but even before that dish debuted circa 2000, the almost 50 year old bar had been transforming the L.A. beer scene – late to the craft beer table—since it transferred to its second ownership in 1986. Before the ‘80s were done, macros like Bud were banished and replaced by beers from Anchor, Sierra Nevada, and Widmer Brothers, and while there are three locations today, the original hole in the wall on Santa Monica’s posh Montana Avenue boasts over 50 taps and a curated bottle list that delights deep-pocketed beer enthusiasts.
I don’t make it back to Los Angeles, my hometown, as often as my parents would like, so don’t tell them I ditched them on my most recent visit in order to pop back into Father’s Office. Settling in at the bar, I quickly engaged in a lively discussion about politics, money, and religion—all the things you’re not supposed to discuss with strangers—eventually winding up rather unbelievably with my arm around a man who’ll be voting for Trump again.
And for this, I had Old Rasputin to thank, since as always happens in good bars, the conversation began with the beer.
The timing of my visit was extra fortuitous since I learned from the bartender that Old Rasp used to be one of the bar’s four permanent handles. And Father’s Office absolutely pays respect to flagships of yesteryear, but I was just grateful to find it in the rotation, tucked among other, bigger, flashier, barrel-aged and sexily flavored Imperial stouts like Fremont Dark Star and Epic Quadruple Baptist. I think it’s safe to say Old Rasputin helped pave the way for those.
(And kudos to North Coast for not feeling the need to make Old Rasputin Coconut-Vanilla-Chinchilla Aged in Absinthe Barrels, or what have you.)
So influential is Rasputin that Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo vowed never to brew an Imperial stout, largely because, why bother when we’ve got Old Rasputin? Another super-fun homage was paid by Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, whose Twitter avatar is a photo of him replicating Rasputin’s image and gesture that has made Old Rasputin stand out on shelves since 1996.
North Coast’s top-seller remains Scrimshaw, but Old Rasputin has been number two since its tenth year anniversary, now accounting for 22% of the brewer’s production. Both the carbonated bottled version and the original nitrogenated draft version are ideal beers for celebrating craft beer’s past, and to act as a reminder, if not a beacon, of what its future should taste like.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.