Friday, February 11, 2011

Russian Beer Review

I suppose it was inevitable that the nationwide inferno of enthusiasm Soviet Roulette has sparked over the Russian past would make its way to the brewing industry. Nonetheless, I've been surprised to find such different aspects of that past emphasized in two recent appearances in the Portland, OR area.

Bridgeport's "Hop Czar" is incongruently labeled an "Imperial India Pale Ale". Apparently "Hop Moghul" didn't have the same ring, or maybe they couldn't find appropriate graphics. As it is, the label bears an Ivan-esque, ermine-draped figure, dagger tucked under the arm, carrying a stately bottle and a green sceptre. It's slogan is "All Hail the King", which again seems like a clunky translation of Czar, but Bridgeport is now owned by a big beer conglomerate and they must not have time to worry about the details. I've been drinking Hop Czar for a few months, mainly because it has been selling for Budweiser prices.

Today I was in the grocery store and found Widmer Bros. KGB Russian Imperial Stout. What's interesting here is the kitchy quotes attributed to the brewmasters: "KGB, so good we can't talk about it"; and "KGB: The beer that single-handedly won the Cold War." This minimizing of the brutality of the police state makes me a little uncomfortable.

But brutality in fact is a good word to describe the flavor of these beers as well. Hop Czar assaults the palette with a wave of hops, while KGB has a thick, malty, musky aspect that is equally unsubtle. Both beers push the envelope on alcohol content too. For bottled beer that sells in the $7-$8 range, it is kind of unusual to find alcohol levels of 7.5% (Hop Czar) and a whopping 9.3% (KGB). But then that has always been an unmistakable aspect of Soviet and Cold War nostalgia: the world is a rough place, and you might as well just seek obliteration.

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