Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Courage in the Face of Ruthlessness

I'm not the kind of beer geek who waits on pins and needles for certain beers to come out. Usually, I'm a bit behind on all the release dates and I'm generally playing catch-up when it comes to the latest and greatest. When I go to the beer store, if there's something new, I get it. That's the extent of my beery anticipation. However, this January into February has been a little different. I can't remember that last time I was more excited about a beer release, or should I say beer releases—or, maybe its re-releases.

With a chin like that, he's got to be courageous.
Sierra Nevada has decided to shake things up, by replacing its popular Maibock, Glissade, with a rye-spiked IPA, dubbed Ruthless Rye. I enjoyed the Glissade whenever I've had it, but apparently sales slipped in its second year of production, so Sierra Nevada chose to go with a completely different direction for their spring 2012 offering. That's quite all right with me, I enjoy a Maibock as much as the next guy, but there's just nothing like the combination of peppery, malted rye and bright, American hops—both of those ingredients make for a great beer. I received a Facebook update about Ruthless in early January, and I've been waiting for it to reach this market ever since.

While Ruthless Rye is great, the beer that I've truly anticipated is Courage Imperial Russian Stout. In fact, I've waited two decades for it—I just didn't realize I was waiting. Earlier in the year, I began to hear rumors that Wells & Young's were planing on revamping their Courage line of beer. Well's & Young's purchased the Courage brand from Scottish & Newcastle (a.k.a Heineken), back in 2007, but even with that change, sales of the Courage brand have continued to slump. What better way to reinvigorate a brand than to re-release a beer that hasn't been brewed since the 1990s, and during that hiatus, garnered quite the reputation for itself? Wells & Young's is only releasing it in the U.S., for now, and in limited quantities—a mere 1,000 cases for the entire U.S. Needless to say, when I saw it at Oliver's, I was a little excited.

I do have one gripe with Well's & Young's (In full disclosure, they are my favorite brewery). Yes, Courage Imperial Russian Stout, hasn't been brewed since the early 90s, and yes, it has its roots in the Anglo-Russo Porter trade of the 18th-century; but it's not the same beer that was shipped to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great. This incarnation is more likely based on the recipe from when Kate Jackson was on Charlie's Angels. I know I'm being a little pedantic here, but I'm sure Ron wouldn't want me to perpetuate any myths. Either way, it's still fun to imagine the Czarina and her infamous horse,* quaffing goblets of the black stuff, long into the frigid, St. Petersburg night.

These two beers couldn't be further apart, stylistically, if they were made on opposite polar ice caps. On one hand you have the sharp, and decidedly biting, rye adjuncted, IPA. Ruthless is copper-red, with an earthy, tropical fruit hoppy-ness—like a cumin seed studded mango—and a great, feel-it-in-your nose bitterness. Its grassy, cracked black pepper notes are tempered by a light, brown sugar and toffee sweetness. On the other hand, you've got a titan-esque, 10% ABV Imperial Stout. The Courage is black as pitch, and tastes like a tobacco-leaf wrapped plum slice, dipped in espresso-infused dark chocolate. It's smokey, leathery-sweet and drinks like a beer half its strength. These beers do share one thing in common—their complexity. They're like a Jackson Pollock painting, at first glance you might think them to be simple and easily shrugged off as fads. Once your into theses brews, however, you begin getting the layers—the depth of flavor. These beers run the gambit from funky to fruity and nearly every other flavor in between.

The only problem with finally having both these beers is, what do I look forward to next?

*I've decided to perpetuate this myth. 


  1. I've actually been meaning to pick up the Courage for some of the very same reasons.

    1. It's a bit on the pricey side—$8 for 9.3 fl.oz.—but well worth the scratch.