On a day when our first snow of 2017 hit, I was reminded of how well Stouts go with cold weather, but not for the reasons you think. You see, I recently celebrated the birth of my third little girl, and her two older sisters have been on a cartoon binge the past 10 days that would make Cartman proud. My wife and I were trying to think of movies we haven’t bought them, while at the same time in the back of my mind I was wondering what beer would go best with sub-freezing temperatures a Russian would be most at home in then. Just then I remembered, “Anastasia is alive! Please treat her kindly…”
If that sounds like the opening of another animated movie, you wouldn’t be far off. This is not some cartoon, though, even though South St. warns you that you may be inspired towards a “flight of fantasy” after sipping on this particularly beer. That cute little quip did remind me of my first experience. I was at taking in the nigh-mythically superb draught list at Barrel & Bushel when the bartender informed me they were out of a Bourbon Barrel Stout I was after…in response, I got a little taster of a Russian Imperial Stout which, initially, seemed an odd replacement. One sip in, though, and I was in love with Anastasia. She can be my Empress anytime.
Anastasia’s Chocolate Fantasy, South St. Brewery (Charlottesville, VA)
Russian Imperial Stout, 10.52% ABV, 50 IBU
Presentation: Bomber pour into snifter. Please, pace yourself on this one.
Appearance: Rustic, red-tinged head with a filthy lattice at warmer presentations. You do get about an extra half-inch once the beer warms towards room temperature, and rather than presenting the foam as a super-saturated gas, it’s more of a luscious cloud hovering a quarter-inch over the beer for as long as you darn well want it to sit there. See the bottom of the post for the difference.
Taste: Let’s start with the obvious cocoa nib infusion. You certainly get that on the nose, which is basic and full-bodied. In the background is an earthy element, though, which we’re going to leave unidentified for a moment. The finish is bittersweet like baking chocolate, with some residual silt. Those 50 IBUs are very well-masked by all the flavors present. So, back to that mystery flavor. You know you’ve been trying to surprise your wife with too many types of “gourmet” dark chocolate when you find yourself imagining added ingredients all the time. I swear this works, though… Go to your spice cabinet, and get out some nutmeg. Take off the top, and then take a whiff in turn both of this beer and the spice. Couldn’t be further apart, right? Now, take a sip of Anastasia and then immediately take another whiff of the nutmeg. And you get…nothing. Because the beer does in fact taste like there’s a little bit of nutmeg hiding out. Crazy party trick to try on your friends!
Mouth Feel: That silt effect from the finish coats the entire back half of the roof of your mouth and just clings on for dear life. You get a lot of the RIS elements across your tongue, but so much of this beer is what you get from above. If you’re not a fan of bittersweet chocolate, this may be the one thing about this beer which turns you off.
Overall: This is such a well-executed beer. No part of it is a miss. What’s there works, and it’s full-bodied and filling as the style demands. It’s almost loyal to a RIS to a fault, but then that dadgum Chocolate Fantasy part intervenes. If you may recall (or never bothered to learn in the first place), chocolate was a true delicacy over 100 years ago and more. What there was came mostly in bittersweet fashion, and found its way into all sorts of drinks and dishes as much as it was presented on its own. No really – Nestle helped invent “milk chocolate” in the 1870s, Hershey’s was founded in 1894, and M&Ms were created to help World War II pilots. Chocolate as we know it is a very young dessert. That makes the bittering elements at play here so fantastic. My wife cringed at this beer once the finish hit her, but at first she thought it smelled like brownies! That is craft beer at its finest, in its ability to surprise you and overwhelm your senses in the best of ways. Well done, South St.!