Celebrating Russian Imperial Stout, on May 16, 2011 British beer icon and brewer Tim O’Rourke and rotating crew set sail on an epic journey from London to St. Petersburg, Russia in good order to deliver 14 casks of Russian Imperial Stout on a fabled trade route which journeyed many barrels of British Ale in past centuries. It was a journey that had not been made for 200 years. His crews made several stops along the way in celebration of this epic journey; a mini beer festival in Copenhagen and Stockholm, a beer festival in Helsinki with Le Coq Brewery and finally arriving in St. Petersburg on June 15.
From the Blog 7 on The Great Baltic Beer Adventure website, it’s proclaimed “…beer judging day with all 14 casks tapped and assembled in the Dickens Pub & Restaurant [St. Petersburg].. This is without doubt the largest assembly of different [cask] Imperial Russian Stout ever and gave the judges a daunting task in selecting a supreme champion.”
A brief history of stout reveals the development in London of a new type of dark ale called Porter. With growth in popularity stronger versions were brewed, called stout porter. Later the name “porter” was dropped and the stronger version was simply called stout. Stout became popular in the court of Queen Catherine the Great of Russia and brewers developed an even stronger version then and now called Imperial Russian Stout. It was also referred to as Imperial Extra Double Stout in the original Russian brewed version by A. Le Coq in the early 1900’s. Le Coq had been importing imperial stout from London to St. Petersburg in casks and bottling it in Russia before he finally set up shop in the then Russian , in Tartu (now Estonia).
According the Brewers Association 2011 Beer Style Guidelines, British-Style Imperial Stout is a dark copper to very dark brown ale. Alcohol content ranges from 7 – 12 percent alcohol by volume. The extremely rich malty flavor (often characterized as toffee-like or caramel-like) and aroma are balanced with medium hopping and fruity-ester characteristics developed by yeast’s warm fermentation temperatures. Hop bitterness is moderate and balanced with sweet malt character, though, hop bitterness may be higher in the darker versions. Roasted malt character is smooth and not astringent. Hop aroma can be subtle to moderately hop-floral, -citrus or -herbal.
For homebrewers and brewers the following guidelines help formulate individual recipes:
Original Gravity (Plato) 1.080-1.100 (19.5-23 Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (Plato) 1.020-1.030 (4-7.5 Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5.5-9.5% (7-12%) • Bitterness (IBU) 45-65 • Color SRM (EBC) 20-40+ (40-80+ EBC)
The British-style of Imperial Stout is quite different than the America-style, which is usually black, strong and very hoppy, with bitterness, flavor and floral character.
The 60-foot sailing clipper, Thermopylae Clipper is featured in a short video at Great Baltic Beer Adventure. A summary of Imperial Russian Stout history is found on Great Baltic Adventures website. Fourteen British brewers participated with special brewed Imperial Stout for the journey: Meantime, St Austell, Wadworth, Shepherd Neame, Elgoods, Fullers, William Worthington’s, Harveys, Black Sheep, Bartram, Thornbridge, AllGates, Wye Valley and Dark Star breweries.
I’m a fan of both British Imperial Stouts smooth, velvety and toffee-like and American-style Imperials smooth, moderate bitterness, black as moonless nights, no roast malt astringency, balanced with cocoa roast malt cocoa character, moderate floral hop character and complex strong alcohol.