Spasibo for joining us on a trip to Russia, my druzya. Yes, Louisville is the newest outer province of Russia, if new Louisville brewery Crystal Springs Brewing is any indication. Crystal Springs brews a Russian imperial stout, Black Saddle, along with about a dozen other beers at any given time.
It’s not an obscure style — “imperial stout,” Russian or not, had 59 entries at this year’s Great American Beer Festival — but it’s not the most popular in Boulder County. Avery has its Czar and Mephistopheles, which should be coming out soon, but both are seasonal; Boulder Beer puts out Obovoid in the winter; Mountain Sun makes Megatron and Oatimus Prime on that inimitable Mountain Sun schedule. Other breweries have done one-offs as well.
For year-round stout dobrota (that’s Russian for “goodness”), head to Longmont and Louisville. That beautifully black sheep of the Oskar Blues family, Ten Fidy, goes in cans every fall but can be found much of the year, while Left Hand turns out its Wake Up Dead year-round.
In Louisville, two in the new wave of breweries — two out of three total brewers in Louisville, in fact — make Catherine II’s favorite beer. Months ago, we tried Gravity Brewing’s amazing Tsar Bomba, and now Crystal Springs brings its equally awesome Black Saddle into the mix. Neither has been open long enough to tell whether the beers will be available year-round, but we’re starting the campaign right now: Give us Black Saddle always.
What’s so great about Russian imperial stouts? Crystal Springs, owned by head brewer and Boulder High School music teacher Tom Horst, presents a great way to find out for yourself.
Horst also makes a dry stout, BS2R, so named because it’s a second run of Black Saddle using all the same ingredients. It’s perfect for a side-by-side comparison: BS2R is 5.5 percent ABV; Black Saddle is 10.3. BS2R is malty, a little woody and moderate; Black Saddle is thick, super-smooth, velvety and sweet. BS2R is a good beer; Black Saddle is a badass beer.
Breweries don’t always call imperial stouts Russian, by the way, but there’s no official difference between Russian and American imperials. The beer isn’t Russian, either; like India Pale Ale, it’s a name British brewers gave a style of beer destined for elsewhere in the world.
At Crystal Springs’ official opening on Oct. 28, Black Saddle and BS2R were joined by nine other beers in mostly British styles, including a sessionable English mild ale and the deliciously roasty and malty Doc’s American Porter.
“Tom can be pretty traditional,” Crystal Springs brewer Colin Woods tells me. Then again, Horst can be experimental, too, with great results. Take the Solano chile beer, brewed with Hatch chiles, that tastes exactly like Hatch peppers with no painful burn at the end. Some drinkers like the burn, of course, but Solano is all about the flavor.
Boulder beer lovers most likely already know Crystal Springs for its canned and bottled beers, predominantly the Summertime Kolsch, South Ridge Amber and Butch Pale Ale. One trip to the taproom shows just how impressive the Springs’ variety is.