Like all planets in the Russian Imperial Stout universe, this one, this Ralphius, a bourbon barrel-aged giant by Free Will Brewing Company out of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, pours mostly black, or black-brown if you’re the type of astronaut that squints at your beers. And just like the giant planets of our solar system, Ralpius has a ring – clinging to the edges of the glass, thin and mocha-colored.
Independent of squints and not squints, rings and not rings, the universe that you and I exist in is currently expanding. Exactly how fast is something that’s yet to be determined.
Some people struggle with the idea that something might already be infinitely big, like our universe, could possibly get bigger. Those folks are most likely unfamiliar with the work of German mathematician Georg Cantor and the idea that infinity can show up in different sizes. And that’s okay. The cardinality of the continuum isn’t for everybody.
(An infinite amount of real numbers exist between 0 and 1, and then another infinite amount of real numbers between 1 and 2, and so on. It follows then that the infinity, or the cardinality, of the real numbers is greater than the infinity of the set of whole numbers.)
Regardless, the universe that this Ralphius exists in, this space in my glass, is currently static. Not for long though, because as soon as I’m done smelling it and recording my findings, that universe will immediately begin shrinking. Exactly how fast has yet to be determined.
Lifting it to my nose, I smell char – that astringent sting of burnt wood – and the heat of the alcohol, but at 15.1% alcohol by volume, I’m pleasantly surprised by the subtleness of it. Past that, there are fantastic notes of bourbon – woody, slightly herbal, slightly fruity bourbon, but sweeter, like dark chocolate melting in a double boiler on the the stovetop.
The first taste ends up being more chocolate than the aroma, but that could be because I just thought so damn hard for that dark chocolate melting in the kitchen analogy. So I smelled it again to see if that dry, semi-sweet chocolate aroma was more prevalent and WHAM! it smelled so hot I forgot where I was. And so I set it down, took a short break to write those last few sentences, and now here we are.
Just so we’re clear, the Russian Imperial Stout is the pillow case here, and the barrel aging is the down feathers.”
Another sip and it’s coming together nicely – this beer, not this review – as I seem to have lost the astronomical/cosmological angle I started out with, but this beer, this Ralphius, gives you the flavor of the bourbon, vibrating as a loop around the edges. Not overwhelming or too hot, but definitely moving.
Actually, what I’m tasting is more like these concentric loops of different frequencies, like different sized, delicious, jangly rubber bands (in form, not in flavor), presenting some of the same slightly fruity wood and bourbon notes the aroma hinted at, easily moving from the glass to my mouth. Then as they slowly collapse and close in on themselves, a small orb of something slightly berry, but mostly dry and roasted chocolate seems to expand outward and unfold and roll out over the the ripples of that bourbon barrel flavor until the aftertaste is just different specs floating and pinging all around my tongue, some of them sharp like barbs and other soft like dust.
Okay, take a breath.
Changing gears and analogies, this beer is an epic feel and flavor pillow fight. And in a pillow fight, unless you have one of those crazy pillows like my Grandma – those feel like a bag of Quickcrete, or is that buckwheat? – the down pillow tends to win, which is crazy when you think about it, that all those near weightless feathers can compact into something so heavy and thick.
But that is what we have here, something that highlights all those subtle, fantastic notes of the bourbon barrel and yet still manages to compact into something that feels so wonderfully full when it hits you in the mouth.
Just so we’re clear, the Russian Imperial Stout is the pillow case here, and the barrel aging is the down feathers.
You might be thinking, “So which is it?” Is this beer a pillow fight? Or a planet? Or a bunch of rubber bands that expand and shrink, creating a dark chocolate orb with the tiniest of berry centers that dissolves into floating specs of this and that?
I don’t know man. Does it matter? It’s both? It’s all that and more? What I do know is if you have the chance, you should drink one.