A Little More On Russian Imperial Stout… from Four Peaks Brewing
It has often been stated that “history is written by the winners.” What happens when there are no winners and you have to rely on folklore? A huge mess of conflicting stories to say the least. As the brewers touched on last week, there is a long rich history that goes along with the advent of the Russian Imperial Stout, it’s just that no one can agree on any aspect. That’s right, you can’t spell ‘history’ without ‘story’ and I got plenty of them! Welcome to another installment of History 101 in an almost Choose Your Own Adventure style!
Trying to get to the bottom of the actual history of a Russian Imperial Stout is one of the more labor intensive tasks one could ever undertake. All I wanted to do is get a general history and explain to all of you why the implementation of a brandy snifter is so prevalent, but it wasn’t that simple. Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we.
Some people say Peter the Great ventured to England and enjoyed the “porter style” so much he sent a request to have a batch of it shipped to St. Petersburg. It arrived stale. So another batch was sent with a higher alcohol content to fortify it for the long journey.
Some people contest this, but it makes a good story. All that can really be agreed upon is that Catherine the Great was a big fan and ordered large quantities for herself and for that of her court. There are also people who claim she made love to her horse (not kidding), so if you want to believe that as well…
All we can say with any clarity is that the style had fallen to the wayside in Russia in the 1960’s and thought to be lost to oblivion until the 1970’s. That is when a group of intrepid divers happened upon the remains of a British ship in the Baltic Sea, found that it carried beer, sent it to Great Britain for examination, and a style was reintroduced.
It fell out of favor during the 20th Century with the rise of lagers and Large brewing conglomerates. Although a few small Petersburg in America and Europe continued to produce it. With the advent of the microbrew boom of the 1980’s and 1990’s the style came back into prominence.
You know what? It’s more trouble than it’s worth! It’s a damn good beer that should be served in a brandy snifter. Aside from allowing the aroma to get more focused towards your nose, this styles heavier body and warming characteristics (similar to that of a brandy) only get intensified as it warms in your hand. If you think about it, regardless of what the facts may or may not be, this style became popular well before modern refrigeration techniques and should be served closer to cellar temperature. If you doubt me, come in and try a Wobbler on cask this week in Tempe, it won’t last long.