Beer: White Russian Imperial Stout
Brewery: SunUp Brewing Co.
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.2 percent
Sometimes, there's a beer. I won't say a heroic beer, 'cause what's a heroic beer? But sometimes, there's a beer. And I'm talkin' about SunUp's White Russian here. Sometimes, there's a beer ... well, it's the beer for its time and place. It fits right in there. And that's SunUp White Russian, in Phoenix. And even if it's a coffee-flavored beer — and White Russian was most certainly that, quite possibly the best coffee beer in Maricopa County, which would place it high in the runnin' for best coffee beer worldwide. But sometimes there's a beer ... sometimes, there's a beer ... ah. I lost my train of thought here. But ... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough.
Brewed in north central Phoenix at SunUp Brewing Co., White Russian Imperial Stout is the creation of Brewmaster Uwe Boer — a brewer who, despite his German heritage, creates classic renditions of English ales. The beer's based on The Uvanator, an imperial stout SunUp has produced since 2006 with a recipe that goes back to Boer's homebrewing days in the 90s. The base recipe, Boer says, hasn't changed at all since then, but additions were definitely made when he premiered White Russian Imperial Stout last year.
Despite the name, no cream was used to make this White Russian. The moniker is rather a play on words — Russian Imperial Stout is a popular beer style that emerged in Britain in the late 1700s, so named because it was brewed for and favored by Catherine the Great and other members of the Russian imperial court; White Russians are coffee-flavored beverages. Boer just combined the names: White Russian Imperial Stout.
That's not to say extra ingredients weren't added to the ale. Boer calls it "A traditional beer made with specialty ingredients" but is impishly coy about what those adjuncts might be. "I do use a little vanilla," he says. "But that's all I'll tell you."
Boer did go into more detail about the coffee he uses, however. He gets his beans from Coffee AM, a Georgia-based roaster — the same company, incidentally, that supplied the beans Boer used to make Papago Brewing Co.'s coffee stouts, Ellie's and Coconut Joe, while he contract-brewed for them. For White Russian, he steeps whole coffee beans in the beer for 5-7 days before sending it off to be kegged.
The brew that emerges has a lot in common with a cup of joe, appearance-wise. Dark roast-hued, fading to amber at the edges, with the viscosity of coffee and a splash of cream. A silky head the color of latte foam radiates one of the better coffee beer aromas I've experienced. Espresso with a dollop of dulce le leche; vanilla; milk chocolate; hints of licorice and steak. It's almost a shame to drink a beer that smells this good.
Almost. Dip into the flavor and you'll find it's more bean-focused. Sharp coffee, toasted sourdough and earthy/ minty hops lead the front while smooth chocolate and vanilla appear in the finish to round out the bitter edges. The body, a creamy medium-light, displays prickly carbonation but very little of the heat you'd expect from a beer of this alcoholic strength. One of the best stouts in the state, it's as drinkable and lustrous as the cocktail it's named for.
If you want to grab some White Russian for yourself, you have to get it at SunUp and you have to do it quickly. Boer says he gets numerous calls asking about the beer and sells out in just a few days whenever it's tapped. This is one major indicator that Boer's created something special; another, he says, is that his fellow brewmasters like it.
"Other brewers have come by and picked up a growler to take to friends," Boer says. "That's kind of the best compliment a brewer can get, I think."
Go try it, dude.