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Beer Here: Charlatan Russian Imperial Stout from Red Eye Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

The beers of Red Eye Brewing Company make occasional appearances in Madison. Their limited availability lends the brewery a mystique, its creations among the most sought-after by local beer enthusiasts. Red Eye doesn't bottle, so when one is available locally, it's in well-known venues like the Malt House and The Old Fashioned. Because it's a small brewpub serving Wausau, its brews often go on tap unannounced around Madison. Until now, that is, with Red Eye's release of a Russian Imperial Stout named Charlatan.

What is it? Charlatan from Red Eye Brewing of Wausau.

Style: The Russian Imperial Stout originated in England as an export to the Baltic states and Russia, and takes its name from its popularity with the Romanov Imperial Court. This style is richer and bolder in maltiness than the more common stout. The Imperial Stout can be quite intense, with varying amounts of roastedness and sweetness. It is also characterized by a lingering malty finish that is warm with port-like qualities, and is a strong beer at 7-12% ABV.

Background: Charlatan was released on Tuesday, October 12, and interest was so great that it created a standing-room crowd in the Wausau brewpub. The beer is made with Chinook hops and three different malts that include roasted barley, chocolate and black. A smooth mouthfeel is created in part by additions of Golden Naked Oats that are unmalted and imported from England. It gets its distinctive bitter-sweet character from a pound of licorice root that is added to the boil of every five-barrel batch.

Red Eye co-owner and brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger is a former employee of the Great Dane in Madison. He moved to Wausau in 1999 to brew at Hereford and Hops, a brewpub that closed in 2008, which was reopened a year later as the fourth Great Dane, and the first outside of the Madison area. Eichelberger opened Red Eye Brewing in May 2008. One of his partners is Dana Wolle, of Madison.

Charlatan finishes at 7.5% ABV. The beer just went on tap at the Malt House, and The Old Fashioned plans to have it available by October 21. This is a hearty beer, and one that many local homebrewers will track down. So don't be surprised if it doesn't last long in Madison. Eichelberger often judges homebrew competitions and says such experiences influence his own recipes like in his use of licorice and Chinook Hops in Charlatan. His next specialty beer to watch for will be a Black India Pale Ale that also showcases Chinook hops.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Firm malty tones of roasted chocolate malt.
  • Appearance: Very dark black with a medium rocky brown head.
  • Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, with a round and soft mouthfeel.
  • Taste: Roasted chocolate malty in the beginning with added bitter-sweetness from a licorice background. The sweetness builds over the course of a glass.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Bitter-sweet with lots of chocolate and licorice.

Glassware: Charlatan is a beer to sip and savor in a brandy snifter, goblet, or small chalice. This beer deserves a glass that allows it to slowly warm for accentuating the malt and licorice sweetness.

Pairs well with: The Russian Imperial Stout goes well with robust and flavorful meaty entrees, and Charlatan works well with those. However, also try it as a dessert companion to chocolate cake, and you'll be amazed how well the sweet flavors complement one another.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: This beer has not been rated on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Charlatan lives up to its name. You might take some time to get to know the real beer that's different from first impressions. Although it's labeled a Russian Imperial Stout, it could easily pass as a lighter-bodied "roasted" porter. That doesn't make it bad, because this beer certainly has a lot of flavor. It shows multiple personalities in its sweet and bitter tones throughout its flavor profile, plus a deceptively modest 7.6% ABV.

Charlatan isn't a sweet stout, despite a robust chocolate malt body. What stands out is the roastedness of the malt and a mild yet firm bitterness from the licorice. Eventually that assertiveness softens as the beer warms and the licorice begins to coat the palate. Those first few sips almost dissuaded me with the level of roasted tones, but as the beer warmed, the inviting bitter-sweetness from the licorice took over. The beer dramatically changed, adding to the enjoyment of a goblet. Despite all those flavors and its dark color, don't be fooled into thinking this is a heavy beer. It's a medium-bodied, extremely black beer, well worth seeking out for its unique flavors. And that's not the "charlatan" talking!

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