Yeah, I’ve been there. If you’re reading this, you probably have been there too. You wake up feeling like death slightly warmed over after a long night of drinking imperial stouts, because for some reason it sounded like a good idea at the time. In reality, hangovers are biology’s reminder that you’re stupid. Occasionally stupid good. Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout by brewing veterans Left Hand Brewing based in Longmont, Colorado is 10.2% ABV stupid good.
BEER NERD ALERT! According to English lore, English brewers made the first porter around 1721 and then the Stout or Stout Porter soon after. Apparently, the Anchor Brewery of London first shipped strong ales to the Baltic states and even the Imperial court in Czarist Russia. The first shipment of strong porter to Russia, however, is claimed to have not survived the ~1,500 mile voyage. Around 1781, Barclay Perkins Brewery (formerly Anchor Brewery) began exporting its stout to the Baltic region. By this time, the stout was brewed with higher alcohol and hop bitterness, which both act as preservatives, so it would easily withstand the voyage. Thus the Russian Imperial Stout was born. Lore of the imperial stout was cemented when Russian Empress Catherine The Great (alleged horse-fucker) made repeated orders from England to supply her court.
Wake Up Dead’s metal connection is obvious but tenuous. It would seem obvious Left Hand brewed it—at least originally—as a tribute to Megadeth’s song "Wake Up Dead" from their 1986 sophomore album Peace Sells . . .but Who’s Buying? Left Hand also brews a Metallica tribute beer called Fade to Black. However, the Megadeth connection is more tenuous because aside from the beer name being the same as the song title, there’s not much there. The official description for the beer on the brewery’s website describes the beer as such:
Good Morning. You’ve woken up dead. You’re in ruins. But don’t be discouraged. Here’s a black ale to brighten your day. Wake Up Dead lurks in our cellars for over 4 months before being unleashed. Hints of raisins, black licorice, coffee and dark chocolate are followed by earthy, herbal hop notes. Any apprehensions about the rest of your day are quickly forgotten, for whatever the mind expects, it finds.
I reached out to Left Hand Brewing to get some answers about Wake Up Dead’s metal beer credentials. A brewery representative, Emily Armstrong, was kind enough to provide this insight to the beer’s origins.
Emily Armstrong: “The backstory on Wake Up Dead comes from a keg collision story, late at night in a bar, where a stack of empties were waiting to be picked up by the distributor. Apparently one of the shells fell and hit someone on the head, and out came, "that guy is going to wake up dead!" And it was just one of those "That's it! That's what we should name our imperial stout!" type of epiphany moments. And the rest is history.”
Since Emily did not mention Megadeth at all, I followed up to directly to ask if the beer was a tribute to the band. I didn’t receive a reply. Radio silence.
Trust me, I get it. There are loads of metalhead brewers out there who love the big metal acts and brew tributes to them. But they also don’t want to receive a soul-crushing cease and desist order or a court summons in the mail from those same acts. Yet, Left Hand’s Fade to Black foreign export stout is a clear-cut mad raving tribute to Metallica. So why the discrepancy in the overt fandom? We may never know. Well I’m not going to dwell on it because I’m so far behind on these Brewheads columns. I literally have more than ten Brewheads half-written.
Left Hands makes three versions of Wake Up Dead: the original, barrel-aged, and nitro. I’ve drank them all—often. The beer appears regularly at the Metalheads Podcast year-end episode. We even drank one in the middle of the scorching Baltimore heat at Maryland Deathfest (see above). I shared a 2012 barrel-aged version at my friend Metal Chris’ Super Bowl party (when the Falcons epically collapsed against the Patriots) with fellow metalheads. That’s how much I like this beer. Thanks goes out to my buddy Lou for gifting me the bottle of the 2012 barrel-aged version. Cheers!
Below are the super official tasting notes by my metalhead friends of the 2012 Barrel-Aged Wake Up Dead:
Mark S.: It’s smooth, creamy, sweet and sugary – like a clean cane sugar sweet. It’s woody but not smoky. Wake Up Dead definitely stays on your palette.
Metal Chris: It’s delicious but the carbonation is mostly gone. It held up well and I don't taste the booze. Very malty, sweet and rich, but not too chocolate. The malt sort of washes away the sweetness and then I taste the barrel.
Me: Wake Up Dead has a slight roast and strong toffee flavor. Very smooth. It aged very well aside from the carbonation fading.
I think Left Hand releases the beer around February every year so it should be out now. Go get some . . . and try not to Wake Up Dead. Oh, and while imbibing, read The Brewtal Truth Guide To Extreme Beers (AKA The Bible), watch old-school Megadeth’s video for Wake Up Dead, and this very relevant clip from Scary Movie 3.
“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let sip the Brewheads” - Quote attributed to William Makesbeere