Name: Wigram Czar
Style: Imperial Russian Stout*
Brewer: Wigram Brewing co. (Christchurch, New Zealand)
Alc: 8.5% abv.
Price: $9/500ml bottle at Thorndon New World
It has been mentioned that I should stop treating this blog like a red headed stepchild and actually pay some attention to it, which I had every intention of doing yesterday until circumstances conspired against me. No, you don’t need to know. Thankfully I did get the most important job done which was to sample, and savour, the Wigram Czar Imperial Russian Stout and though the pedants might point out that it is actually Friday, and has been for some considerable time now, this beer was a perfect candidate for Redemption Thursday.
There are two things I need to point out straight off the bat. First of all, I had originally sampled this almost two years ago while I was still probably detoxing from Speights and frankly didn’t know squat about good beer. So while what I noted at the time (“bitter, methsy aftertaste, kind of nasty and cheap”) might possibly be interpreted as being a tad harsh, it’s fair to say at least some of the blame should lie with a palate more accustomed to rancid, sugary dishwater. Secondly, this is one of those bottle conditioned beers where you pays your money and you takes your choice, and as such it is entirely possible that I just stumbled upon a bad batch. This is what Redemption Thursday is all about then because these are the beers that keep life interesting and I maintain (now I’ve grown out of my dishwater drinking days) deserve a second chance. What I will say, though, to the good people at Wigram Brewing, is that if you insist on producing a jet-black, utterly opaque brew, I would suggest not printing the best before date in black on the bottle (not the label), in unraised lettering, below the level of the beer. There is, perhaps, a slight possibility that the spotty work experience kids in charge of the liquor section of the local supermarket might let a couple of bottles rest on the shelf for longer than is desired, and this could reflect less than ideally on the brewer. Particularly if there’s a chance the customer, as alluded to earlier, is a right pillock.
It is also fair to say I consider this one redeemed. With a creamy tan head on top of a thick, oily looking and black as sin body, it looks threatening but is lighter and tinglier in the mouth than you’d be led to expect, and there is a lot of flavour carried with a deft, light touch. Sweet toffee and molasses malt (more of the latter, probably) and dark fruit aromas combine with a gentle alcoholic warmth, burnt sugars, light roastiness and additional odd-but-interesting hints of vegemite (perhaps? I have no idea, really) to create something rich and complex. The aftertaste is long, bitter, and interestingly reminiscent of lightly burnt toast. Also a bit sticky, which I like. There’s a small, yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle, but as I’ve said before if you grow up drinking Coopers, it ain’t no thang. It’s marketed as intense, and in some ways it is, but it’s not an ordeal by any means. One of these days I’ll get on to the topic of appropriate serving sizes which is something this one gets right, just – suffice to say though that like a bagpipe solo certain things can only ever work if you know when enough is enough. Advice on the label is to serve chilled. I would ignore this; it’s a fine beer with a flavour that should be enjoyed to the utmost.
So it’s dark, yes, but not as massive as other big imperial stouts, nor as roasty, nor as heavy. What it has is unexpected complexity and depth. So as musical accompaniment I’m thinking something proggy and darkly rocky along the lines of Battle Circus or Decortica, neither of which, unfortunately, you can find enough of on youtube but they both have websites (“battlecircus” or “decortica” in your search bar will get you there; Decortica have a new single which is a bit much for my current argument but it kicks ass anyway). But fair warning: a little prog is great, yah, but as with the beer, you have to know when enough is enough. A second bottle? Hm, leave it to cellar for a bit.
* Hey, I thought it should be the other way around too but no, that’s what it says on the label and a quick google search confirms the existence of both Russian Imperial Stouts and Imperial Russian Stouts. Who knew?
Verdict: A fine and interesting beer. Still not quite my cup of tea but I can see now why this thing wins a good many awards. Bonus points for a label with a contact address, website, and a gleefully irresponsible attitude to aviation safety. Redeemed and recommended. 77/100.