I really love beers of all types and styles. I appreciate the innovation and creativity the brewers who are producing new styles and using interesting techniques and ingredients. I also appreciate and have a great respect for classic styles that are deeply rooted in tradition and have historical significance.
One such beer is the Courage Imperial Russian Stout. At the time that Peter the Great had opened Czarist Russia to the West in the early 18th century, Porters were all the rage in England. Thought to be named after the working class people that consumed them, and street and river Porter guides around the city of London, these beers were the first to be produced on a large scale using new technology like thermometers and kilns to dry the malt. This led to beers that were less smoky than those with malts dried over wood fires.
Peter the Great loved these beers and had them shipped to Russia, but embarrassingly, they spoiled along the way or froze while traveling the Baltic Sea. This created an opportunity, and The Barclay Brewery stepped up to the challenge by brewing a stronger, more heavily-hopped, and higher alcohol beer that became known as Stout Porter (later called just Stout). The specialty beers brewed for the Imperial Court of Russia became known as Russian Imperial Stout.
Catherine II Empress of Russia was especially fond of these Stout beers and ordered them in large quantities for herself (and her court) from Thrale’s Anchor Brewery and John Courage. The Courage brewery changed owners several times throughout the years and sadly ended their production in 1982. Happily, the Wells & Young’s brewery has purchased the rights to the Courage brewery name and recipes and in recent years, Brewmaster Jim Robertson revived the original recipe for the iconic Courage Imperial Stout.
So what does it taste like? This beer is pitch black in color, rich and complex with a big flavors of dark cocoa, espresso, dried fruit like raisins and prunes, carbon, soy sauce, smoke and licorice. The alcohol is noticeable at %10, but not overwhelming, with a subtle bitter hop balance that quickly gives way to the malt that powers through the finish.
I highly recommend this beer if you like stouts. It would be best served at 45-60 degrees in a tulip glass or snifter with foods like grilled steak or burgers, blue cheeses or chocolaty desserts.
Courage Imperial Russian Stout $6.99 275 ml at Wine World and Spirits
Courage Imperial Stout by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company