Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Advent Beer 14: Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Russian Stout

As previously mentioned, I am already a big fan of stouts, from big players like Guinness to Alberta Crude from Calgary. Imperial Russian Stouts, extra dark, extra boozy renditions originally crafted in Britain for export to the court of Catherine the Great, are a nice departure from your more commonplace varieties, and are one of my favourite styles, especially in the depths of winter.

Bolshevik Bastard, from Burlington's Nickel Brook breweries, keeps a lot of balls in the air with this 8.5% beer. It pours an oily black, one of the darkest I've ever encountered, with a modest caramel-brown head that quickly shrinks to a perimeter around the edge of the glass. A lot of IRSs have strong coffee aromas, but this one is a bit more malty, with maybe a hint of chocolate.

The taste has the coffee notes you would normally expect, but perhaps not as prevalent as you might anticipate. Like a lot of high-alcohol beers, there is no small degree of sweetness in the taste, but it is not cloying, more of a caramelized sugar or toffee. Part of the balance comes from what Nickel Brook describes as "aggressive" hopping of 70 IBUs, but you would never know it from the taste; there is no tartness or bitter aftertaste, just one of the smoothest finishing Imperial Russian Stouts I've ever had.

Bolshevik Bastard can take its place proudly next to Alley Kat's KGB and Howe Sound's Imperial Megadestroyer (which has become so hard to find I may have to put out a bounty on it...). If you are looking for a distinctive way to cap off an evening, or the perfect brew to have a protracted after-dinner chat over, I can recommend Bolshevik Bastard without reservation, and since it is a seasonal, will be looking for a six-pack or two of this to squirrel away over the winter for guests.

Plus, antiquated looking Russian stuff with Cyrillic or pseudo-Cyrillic lettering has always played well in our household...

In the nativity, the donkey has vacated the stable in order to make room for the Holy Mother, Mary herself.

Despite reservations I may have about the way she is venerated by other denominations, I have a lot of love and respect for Mary, but I have to say, I take considerable exception to the way she is portrayed in this particular set.

First, a gentle reminder that the Christmas story (and the Easter story, for that matter) takes place in the Middle East of nigh on two thousand years ago, and not the Nebraska of three decades ago. Seeing Mary done up as a thirty something Midwesterner soccer mom instead of someone with darker skin and hair seems to bother me more and more the older I get. I've made my peace with it, saying that the nativity is not documenting history, but an interpretation of history. Perhaps a school pageant of yesteryear; yeah, that works...

Mary was a frightened girl, probably no more than 14 years old (don't look so shocked, this was more than a thousand years before Romeo & Juliet, and they were teenagers too) with no real rights or power, who was told about the honor of carrying the Son of God after he was conceived. Like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, she is primarily a passive player in the larger drama.

Presenting herself to Joseph in an arranged marriage when she was already pregnant is about as risky a proposition at that time as playing blindfolded pick-up-sticks in an aquarium full of scorpions. Joseph was was not only able to send her back to her family, but was probably expected to, at which point, having shamed the clan, she ran a very good chance of being stoned to death. Remember, these Bible families had way more in common with the Taliban than they do with you or I, and years of seeing cute kids dressed up with teatowels on their heads this time of year has done a great job of glossing that over.

But like I said when Joseph arrived, he is a stand up guy, and he takes Mary as his wife, and Jesus as his son. How much of that was his choice, versus Mary's influence, versus the will of the Almighty, I don't want to get into. In the end, I'm glad Mary made it to Bethlehem and history's most famous improvised birthing suite.

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