First Draft columnist Rob Neal says Old Rasputin is rich and creamy on the palate with a long, roasty finish.

Dating back to the 18th century, imperial stouts were originally brewed in England as gifts to Catherine the Great and her court. These brews were higher in alcohol than typical stouts and were cherished as the ultimate beer for surviving the long, unrelenting Russian winters. Now that the leaves have fallen and the skies are gray, it is officially imperial stout season.

Hailing from the picturesque coastline of Mendocino County in California is Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing Co.

Old Rasputin pours an opaque jet black and has a beige, frothy head. Aromas of dark chocolate, espresso and burnt caramel waft out of the glass. The flavor profile consists of mocha, toffee, roasted malt and campfire. Old Rasputin is thick, rich and creamy on the palate with a long, roasty finish. Liberal additions of hops allow the initial sweetness to be balanced out and help give it a substantial dryness.

Winter is just around the corner and Old Rasputin is the perfect accompaniment to a roaring fire on a frosty evening. It clocks in at a robust 9 percent alcohol by volume, so it is certainly not a "session beer" by any means. It would pair well with roasted duck, smoked Gouda or chocolate mousse. Old Rasputin is available in 4-packs and retails for around $9.

Rob Neal is a home-brewing consultant at Gentile's, the Wine Sellers. Check out his blog at brewski-bros.blogspot.com.