If you ever find a brewery that not only creates great beer, but also connects its brews to the community, hold them close.
Left Nut Brewing Co. in Gainesville has done just that with several of its tasty concoctions, including its Bridge to Nowhere IPA, and more recently its Engine 209 Russian imperial stout aged in Bourbon barrels.
This train-inspired beer is named after the city’s famous landmark, Engine 209, and pays homage to the locomotive’s backstory with its style.
According to whispers surrounding the train, it may have ties to Russia. Rick Foote, Left Nut’s brewmaster, said Engine 209 was made for Russian Tsar Nicolas II. However, because of the Russian Revolution, he believes the locomotive couldn’t be delivered and remained in Gainesville.
If you’re an origins story junky like myself, check out this article about Engine 209 that one of my old favorite red-headed co-workers wrote a few years ago. In it, David French, museum services manager with the Northeast Georgia History Center, told us that's a popular rumor but Engine 209 was built in 1930. It is Engine 206, now on display in North Carolina, that was built for the Russian empire.
In any case, when naming the brewery’s new Russian imperial brew, Foote said tying it to the city’s beloved engine proved a “no-brainer.” A bit of its origin is even included on the back of the can, and the front design displays the train with famous Russian architecture in the background.
“We would like people to know the history behind the engine,” Foote said. “Many don’t know why it’s here.”
Every time I look into the inception story of the Russian imperial stout, I discover something new. The backstory is pretty convoluted, but I’ll give you my “too long, didn’t read” version. I’m no historian, so take this with a grain of salt.
Apparently, the brew was first made by the English who shipped these strong ales to southeastern Europe and even those in Russia’s Imperial court. I’ve read that one of the style’s biggest fans was Catherine the Great. Because of the long trip to Russia, legend has it that the beer was brewed stronger to survive the journey. Eventually it was dubbed “Russian imperial stout” due to its correlation with the Russian Imperial court.
Enough about history, though — how does Engine 209 taste?
I’ve never been a huge fan of the style’s heftiness, but Left Nut managed to create a brew that’s not only bold and high in alcohol by volume (10% to be exact), but shockingly easy-drinking. The beer is neither thick nor heavily malty and maintains a smooth-as-silk balance between bitterness and sweetness.
I detected no distinguishable notes like coffee or chocolate, which are often found in dark brews. The flavors all sort of melded together to provide a toasty and downright lovely drink. Be warned, this beer is insidiously strong. Yes, it goes down easily, but please don’t forget its hefty 10% nature.
Left Nut Brewing Co. heavy trio:
Alcohol by volume: 10%
Style: Bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout
Bottom line: An easy-drinking beer that will sneak up on you if you’re not careful
Alcohol by volume: 12%
Style: Rum barrel-aged quadrupel
Bottom line: A bold brew that packs a rum punch
Alcohol by volume: 9%
Style: Belgian strong ale brewed with apricots and ginger
Bottom line: A vibrant and scrumptious beer
Left Nut’s Engine 209 is one of a high alcohol-by-volume trio released this year by the brewery. The other two include Magnifique, a 12% Belgian quadrupel, and Exotique, a 9% Belgian golden strong ale.
Exotique will be released on tap this March. Brewed with apricots and ginger, this beer offers a pleasantly acidic and vibrant experience. I also picked up notes of bubblegum and banana, like you’d find in other Belgian-styles and Hefeweizen beer.
As for Magnifique, it’s the booziest brew I’ve ever tried. It smells like rum, and surprise surprise, it takes like it too. Foote said he aged the beer for around four months in rum barrels to impart the sharp flavor and aroma.
Don’t get me wrong, the beer is tasty, but it’s the sort I’d prefer to sip like whiskey.
Those interested in giving one of these brews a shot can either pick up a pack or drink them on tap at Left Nut, located at 2100 Atlanta Highway in Gainesville. For more information about this brewery and its delicious beer, visit leftnutbrewing.com.