The Russell Brewing Company is a strange dichotomy. On one side, under the Brewmaster Series, Russell produces some of the best local beer available in British Columbia. The popular Brewmaster Series includes IP’eh, Blood Alley Bitter, Black Death Porter, Angry Scotch Ale and a few other seasonal releases offered in 650 ml bomber bottles. Opposite to the Brewmaster Series, is the substandard Session Series, where mild beer is sold in a standard six or twelve pack format.
When Russell Brewing first opened, all that was available was a relatively tame offering of Cream Ale, Pale Ale and Light Lager. As the brewery grew a number of their original flagship products were placed under the Session Series category and have remained a Russell Brewing staple to this day. Aside from the the Session Series’ timid nature, quality and consistency has been a common problem – off flavours, including soured or stale beer are standard complaints. It has been a number of years since I last purchased anything from Russell’s Session Series, and I can’t say whether these problems have remained.
When Russell first released 650ml bottles of IPA, Porter and ESB, I was sceptical. Having had a number of disappointing experiences with other Russell products, my expectations were low. It turns out my scepticism was unwarranted – the Brewmaster Series has been a great success since its launch a number of years ago. Consistancy has not been a large problem and the flavour profile across the entire series is excellent.
Having achieved enough success with Blood Alley Bitter to justify a larger scale offering, Russell began selling their near IPA strength ESB in standard 341ml bottles. This is most likely a move to appeal to the much larger six-pack beer drinking segment. On my way home from the office this afternoon I picked up a six pack of the new Blood Alley Bitter. Having recently opened the first bottle, I am disappointed. The aroma is minimal, and the beer tastes mildly oxidized with an unpleasant sour finish. It is Friday, I’m tired from the work week, and perhaps I am just plain wrong, but I am quite certain the 341 ml offering is of a lower quality than the limited release bomber offering. Anyone else have a similar experience? It seems whoever is responsible for Russell’s larger scale brewing operations has not put the same level of work and care into the new large scale Blood Alley Bitter.
I’m hoping this is a rare one-off situation. However, I would not be surprised if corners have been cut in order to make the new Blood Alley Bitter a more large scale friendly product – lets hope this is not the case.