Jan. 30, 2013 - Issue #902: Come cry with Daniel Romano
Tall, dark and Russian
Let's just say, for a moment, that you are a famous Russian emperor with a strong penchant for their tipple. And along your path comes this novel new beer, deep black, roasty and highly alcoholic. You love the stuff so much that you are determined to ensure yourself a constant supply of it. What would you do?
Well, if you were Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, you would likely commission a brewery to make the beer for you. Which is exactly what she did; and she ordered lots of it, as she was a well-known sot. To her credit, she also instructed that large portions of the beer be sent to Russian soldiers fighting in Crimea.
The beer of which I speak is Russian Imperial Stout—the bigger, nastier sister of stout. Regular-strength stout had been brewed since the mid-1700s. British breweries intent on expanding their market across the Baltic Sea attempted to find something that would appeal. One brewery, Thrale's, shipped a batch of a double strength stout—with more of everything—that made its way into Catherine's mug. She loved it, and history was made.
I tell you this story because Alberta is a recent recipient to Courage Imperial Russian Stout (as the style was originally called). Courage can claim direct lineage to Thrale's, which became Barclay Perkins, who merged with Courage in the mid-1900s. We can't guarantee it is the same recipe, but it has legitimate links to the beer that so enamoured Catherine the Great.
So how is it? It pours dense, opaque black with a moderate dark tan head. It looks deep, rich and substantial. The aroma rises with dark fruit, molasses, raisin, touches of coffee and dark chocolate. It presents rich and complex.
The taste confirms this impression. It begins with dark sugar sweetness, rich chocolate, intense plum and raisin fruitiness, a bit of sherry accent and a rich malt. In the middle it begins to sharpen, as some coffee roast and dark chocolate bitterness come to the fore. A brandy-like edge also moves forward. The beer finishes with light roast, lots of fruity esters and sherry richness. It has an attractive alcohol warming, pleasant and not at all giving away the beer's 10 percent alcohol by volume content.
I have no idea if this is the same beer that Catherine the Great knocked back, but if it is, I can see why she became so besotted with it. This is a classic beer. V
Courage Imperial Russian Stout
Well's and Young's Brewing Company, Bedford, UK
$5.70 for 275 ml bottle
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.
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