DRAFT PICKS: A time for drinking, and a time for sipping

I’m a sipper.

There are drinkers, and there are sippers. I am definitely the latter.

Not just when talking about beer either. I sip almost everything.

If I buy a Bigbee coffee in Big Rapids, (Super quad Cappuccino — four shots of espresso), it lasts me until Grand Rapids.

By the way, did you know Cappuccino coffee gets its name from the hooded robe Capuchin monks chose as their “uniform” — inspired by robes worn by Francis of Assisi, but colored differently so as to differentiate between the monastic orders?

The name describes both the “hood” of creme and the color of the coffee. More important, did you know the name of the strong shot of coffee served up at coffee houses is “espresso” — emphasis on the “es.” It is NOT “expresso” with an “x.”

Whatever ... back to the brew column.

I’m a sipper, so I especially appreciate good, rich beers that can be sipped slowly and appreciated fully.

To wit, I love stouts, porters and even some dark lagers.

Most light lagers and pilsners (for example) are not designed to be sipped. They go down smooth and are crisply refreshing.

Stouts are meant to be pondered!

This time of year is especially well suited to pondering.

Fireplace and bonfire session are ever so comfortable when warming a glass of Russian Imperial in your palm.

And that, Dear Reader, is the point of this offering.

The following are all exceptional Russian Imperial Stouts ales: Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, (North Coast Brewing Co.), Ten FIDY, (Oskar Blues), Stone Imperial Russian Stout, (Stone Brewing Co.), Founders Imperial Stout, (Founders Brewing Company), Bell’s Expedition Stout, (Bell’s Brewery, Inc.), Narwhal Imperial Stout, (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.), Dark Lord Imperial Stout, (Three Floyds Brewing Co.), Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout, (Samuel Smith Old Brewery -Tadcaster.)

Grab one of them (or the RIS or your choice) and settle into a nice comfortable chair.

Take a sip and enjoy the deep, expressive maltiness of this style of brew.

Then wait ... a bit more ... wait for it!

Let the glass warm slowly in your hand. Palm it and let it change magically as you watch.

Take another sip, and notice the slight differences. Very subtle.

Let the glass warm a bit more. Swirl the brew and let it settle. Palm the beer, and wait a bit.

Take another sip. It has changed again ... ever so slightly. And it will continue to change.

You need to be open to, and ready for the experience.

Gently. Patiently.


The RIS you start out with will not necessarily be the RIS you end up with.

The experience will give you food for body and soul — and a new appreciation for a wonderful style of beer that too many avoid because it is “too thick” or “too ... whatever.”

Try sipping rather than drinking.

You will be introduced to a entirely new range of beers — all in one glass!

Alaskan Winter Ale Alaskan Brewing Co. Juneau, Alaska

Alaskan’s Winter Ale is a much lighter selection than the stout in today’s tasting.

While I expected more of a beefy ale, I was pleasantly surprised at a more hoppy, and less yeasty brew with just a very, light, subtle hint of spruce tips.

(If you’re expecting an overpowering dose of spruce, this isn’t going to scratch that itch!)

Winter Ale is well balanced, and could be a fine offering to most of your guests this holiday season.

Nothing too anything.

This beer pours a darkish yellow, almost gold color with tones of red and orange in the right light. There is a little head, but nothing substantial following an enthusiastic pour.

At first smell there is a good wash of mild malts. There are hints of sweetness in the scenting, but nothing that stands out.

There is a little outdoorsy wash in the first taste, along with touches of citrus and a little bit of maltiness (lighter malts, not the well roasted style).

Winter Ale is easy on the palate, and pretty neutral in the presentation which may be a good thing if you are planning a guest board with a variety of new beers.

There is a bit of a citrus aftertaste which leaves a pleasant feel in the mouth.

All in all, this is not necessarily the best brew being produced by the folks at Alaskan Brewing but it is certainly a beer that will sit well with the largest number of people who are being weaned off of more industrial brews.

A good entry level beer!

Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout Big Sky Brewing Company Missoula, Mont.

Ivan pours a very, Very, VERY dark brown with a deep beige/light brown head that lingers just enough to be put to good use in the scenting. There is a touch of lacing which adds to the artistic appearance of this brew.

The first sniff brings with it a rich blend of roasted malts and lots of chocolate and coffee scents. The aroma is simply wonderful everything a lover of hefty stouts could, or can, ask for. There are slight hints of dark fruits, and certainly a touch of the barrel aging smell in the background.

Still, this scenting is dominated by the maltiness. It is an honest brew.

Right off the bat, the maltiness continues in the tasting.

Ivan is absolutely luxurious.

The roasted malts themselves take a bit of a back seat to rich chocolate flavor a little charred, somewhat smoky.

There is the feeling of a high quality bittersweet chocolate with a rich, expressive coffee backup. The maltiness is supported well by a hint of dark fruitiness hanging just to the rear of the palate.

There is just a touch of the barrel tones a little of a bourbon background.

Gosh this is good. Rich and creamy in my view. Maybe a bit thick in mouthfeel, but creamy nevertheless.

Ivan is going to fit well in my Christmas holiday lineup.