South African craft brewers are upping their game. Well, some of them are upping their game. And the rest certainly need to start. Rory Lancellas from Noordhoek-based brewery Aegir Project has just risen the bar so high that some other breweries might need a pole to get over it.
Vague Olympic references aside, I would like to present Rus, an imperial stout from Aegir Project. I know you shouldn’t judge books by covers and all that, but in this case you can judge the beer by the label. The label on the bottle is world-class. And the beer inside? Ditto.
Brewed in January and aged for six months in a French oak barrel previously used for pinot noir, Rus is a 9% ABV Russian imperial stout. It is beautifully balanced and quite the most quaffable 9% beer I have probably ever tasted.
Nose-wise it’s all dark fruits – blackberries, cherries and plums – backed up with equally dark chocolate. And I picked up just a touch of barnyard in the background. Not the funky barnyard of the brettanomyces beer but the subtle, plesantly poopy barnyard of a great pinot noir. I’m probably not explaining that well. It’s a good thing.
The beer has body but is not too thick, has plenty of flavour but is never heavy and while it packs an alcohol punch, you won’t notice it until you polish off the bottle and get up for a pee. It’s really remarkably drinkable, with no harsh alcohol warmth. There’s a certain sweetness when you first sip but at 85 IBUs, the bitter finish leaves you wanting more. And then more. We finished two bottles (750ml) without a second thought (there were four of us) and could have easily gone for a third and perhaps even a fourth.
Presented in champagne bottles with a label that cost as much as many beers do, it is a special occasion beer. And yes, at R250 a bottle it has a special occasion price, but it really is worth every rand. Treat it well; don’t expect big bubbles (Rory wanted to serve it flat but went for just a hint of carbonation) and for the love of Aegir (Norse god of the ocean, if you weren’t sure) do not put this beer anywhere near a fridge before you pop the cork – the recommended serving temperature is 16 degrees.
There’s a whole back story behind the name and the label, but I’m all out of space. So drop into Aegir’s taproom this weekend and ask Rory about that while you’re buying a bottle. And don’t take long – there are only 500 bottles of it to go around…