McCoy’s releases Ursa Major Russian imperial stout with a party Tuesday, December 23

Boxes of empty bottles sit outside the glassed-off brewhouse of McCoy’s Public House. Soon, those bottles will be filled with Ursa Major, the brewpub’s Russian Imperial Stout, named for the constellation and made to mark the winter solstice.

This year’s Ursa Major is astronomically on-target, arriving at 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 23, at McCoy’s (4057 Pennsylvania) and at the neighboring Foundry. Head brewer Morgan Fetters admits that he isn’t looking forward to filling eight cases of 750 ml bottles. That’s 12 bottles per case.

“The bottling is what I look forward to the least,” he says.

The work will be worth it. Ursa Major (10.1 percent ABV) is arguably McCoy’s most anticipated release of the year, and its bottling happens rarely. McCoy’s will sell those bottles for $15 apiece, and they’re likely to go fast.

“We only have 220 gallons, give or take,” Fetters says. “And we’ll save back three kegs for future tappings. It’ll be short-lived. A lot of people buy them for Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers and whatnot. Usually we don’t have very many cases left after that first night.”

Randyl Danner, Beer KC’s director of beer, says there’s no bottle limit yet for purchases.

In addition to bottles, McCoy’s will tap kegs of 2012, 2013 and 2014 Ursa Major, so drinkers can compare the three most recent releases (though they’ll do it a la carte rather than in flights, which won’t be offered). The 2014 version will be sold in commemorative tulip glasses for $12, with $7 refills. Six-ounce pours of each beer will be available for $3.50.

This is the last chance to taste Ursa Major ’12, and it shouldn’t be missed. “From my experience, they usually age very, very well,” Danner says.

The most recent Ursa Major was aged for about three months in Dark Horse Distillery rye and bourbon barrels. “This year, we did 100-percent barrel-aged after the primary fermentation,” Fetters says.

“You’ll pick up a little bit of the spicy characteristics from the rye barrels and definitely some bourbon-barrel characteristics,” Danner says. “And all of the barrels add a nice vanilla, oaky, toffeelike flavor.”

“It has that real strong boozy aroma,” Fetters adds. “But you don’t get a whole lot of that super-strong boozy heat because you have a lot of malt to back up all of that big alcohol.”

Don’t expect any changes in the Ursa Major recipe. The malts (Pale 2-Row, Vienna, roasted, chocolate, melanoidin, Biscuit, and Belgian candied sugar) and the hops (American Horizon and East Kent Golding, from England) remain the same.

“There’s nothing broken with this beer,” Danner says. “I know for me, a lot of the bitterness that I get from this beer is from the malt.”

Danner takes a whiff of the beer. “Lots of chocolate,” she says.

“For the big monster that it is, I think it only has 5 pounds of bittering hops,” Fetters says. “That’s exactly what we do for our IPA.

“It balances out the sweetness of the wort, pretty much,” Danner says. “It adds more body. It’s more of, like, a coffeelike bitterness with the malt bitterness than it is a citrusy, pine kind of hop bitterness.”

Like the solstice, Ursa Major won’t last long. “Once the bottles are gone, they’re gone,” Danner says.

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