In Pursuit of Kate the Great

Can Portsmouth Brewery's sought-after brew really be THAT good? We decided to find out.

Kate the Great

Kate the Great from New Hampshire's Portsmouth Brewery is worth all of the hype.

For years, I’ve been trying to get a taste of Kate the Great, the Russian Imperial Stout released once a year by New Hampshire’s Portsmouth Brewery. But ever since it was named “The Best Beer in America” by BeerAdvocate in 2007, getting a glass of Kate has been like embarking on a quest for a holy, beer-filled grail.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but it isn’t easy. If you want some, you have two options: 1) buy a bunch of $2 scratch tickets and try to win a chance to buy a bottle for $8, or 2) wait in line with hundreds of people on Kate Day in the freezing cold on a weekday to try to get a glass.

Until this year, I hadn’t put a lot of effort into procuring any Kate. The way I figured it, I was better off spending $20 on some Rogue Imperial Stout or another pretty darn good beer instead of blowing it on 10 losing scratch tickets that would leave me empty-handed. Plus, I have a job, so waiting in line to drink beer at lunchtime was never a real option unless I wanted to blow a vacation day.

After all, the beer couldn’t be that good. And I could live with knowing that I hadn’t tried it. I mean, it’s not like you get a Kate the Great patch for your Beer Scout sash when you try it. Usually, I’m happy to drink very good beer, even if it’s not “The Best Beer in America.”

I was wrong. Kate the Great is that good. This year, as fortune would have it, I happened to be free on Kate Day, Monday, March 5. So I visited the Portsmouth Brewery and sampled some. It’s similar to any good stout, with a bit of a chocolatey flavor, and it’s incredibly potent (10% ABV). But what sets it apart in my mind is its smoothness. It goes down incredibly easily for a heavier beer.

Is it “The Best Beer in America”? I couldn’t tell you. Even brewer Tod Mott isn’t sure why Kate the Great Day has taken off the way it has, or if it’s any better than other top shelf Russian Imperial Stouts like Three Floyds’ Dark Lord or Surly Brewing’s Darkness. All I can tell you is that it’s damn good.

Mr. X is a contributor to the Beer Drinking Report. If you want to try Kate the Great, but don’t want to wait until next year, don’t worry. Some of the beer was set aside and will be put on tap at random times throughout the year. The only way to find out when it’s available is to follow the Portsmouth Brewery on Facebook — they’ll post it when it goes on tap.