View Full Version : Return of a Legendary Beer: Courage Russian Imperial Stout
Wells Young in England, which bought the Courage beer labels in the 1990's, has just announced the re-launch of Courage Russian Imperial Stout. This legendary beer has roots in 1700's London and the export trade to Russia at the time, when the strongest and best porters were prized by royalty in cold countries.
The beer endured until 1992, when Courage stopped its production, and then sold its brands.
Wells Young decided to restore it to the shelves, and a stroke of luck is that its head brewer, Jim Robertson, worked at Courage decades ago and brewed the beer back when. No one is better placed to re-introduce it to beer lovers everywhere.
The beer was previewed at the recent Great American Beer festival in Denver, and will shortly be available nation-wide (in America) in selected outlets. In about a year, it will be available in England, where it is brewed.
This beer is the grandaddy of the Imperial Stout style and the current fashion for these beers in North American craft brewing is largely due to its influence and to the way Michael Jackson had written about it.
It will be interesting to see if its progeny trump the ancestor, somehow I doubt it but in these matters, it's all good.
More info from Wells Young's site:
Can't wait to see the Courage RIS again. I had it many moons ago while living in England and really enjoyed it.
When you mention Russian Imperial Stout it made me think that I have never heard of Russian beer...only Vodka. So, a little trip to Wiki shows:
"Unlike the Germanic language speaking peoples (i.e. English, Dutch and German Speakers), Russians (like Spanish speakers) categorize beer by color, and not by fermentation process: Light, Red or Semi-Dark, and Dark. Light is a more or less equivalent to Lager and the last two are close to Ales. There are also strong beers (6-10% of alcohol) which are very popular in Russia. There are a lot of brands of Russian beer. The most prominent are Baltika and Stary Melnik, however almost every region of Russia is proud to have its own brewery."
Binny's does carry some to my surprise:
This one gets high marks: Baltika #6 Porter
Beer and beer-like beverages, e.g., kvass, are very old in Russia. Even the fact of vodka distillation shows that a cereal beer of some kind was available first. The Baltika porter is very good, intermediate in alcohol between say a regular Guinness and a double or extra-strong stout.
The porter-style beers in Russia and the eastern lands derive however from English exports to the region starting in the later 1700's. The imports were so popular that local brewers started making the style. So "Baltic Porter" is an adaptation of London Porter.
Based on research I've read by beer historian Martyn Cornell, it appears "Imperial" was a term used in British brewing in the 1800's to mean top quality. It doesn't refer apparently to the Russian Court in the term Imperial Russian Stout although that connotation has been helpful no doubt to producers. Rather, the term Russian in the phrase is the link to the export market, i.e., the Russians and other eastern countries bought the strongest and best grade of porter from the London brewers, hence the association. It remains true though that Catherine The Great apparently was a fan of the beer, at the time it was indeed a drink of aristocracy in eastern Europe.
It is one of the great styles of beer and the U.S. in particular makes numerous fine examples, having been inspired to do so initially by Courage's version when it was available until 1992 and also Samuel Smith's (somewhat lower alcohol) version, which has been around since the 1980's I believe. There are a handful of other modern English examples, i.e., post-dating the disappearance of Courage's version in 1992, and now the original so to speak returns.
Any Denver-ites on the board may be able to find the beer locally given it was re-launched there recently and I'd be interested in any taste notes, especially comparing it to some modern U.S. examples.
Very exciting! I can't wait to try it. Thanks for the background too, Gary.
As for Russian beer, like just about all things made in Russia, production is spotty. I remember drinking Baltika almost 10 years ago and it was pretty good... then quality started sliding downhill. The porter was slightly more consistent as I recall, though. I see it's now part of Carlsberg Group so maybe the quality control's gotten better. Not that I particularly like Carlsberg, but any western influence is good for Russia. I mean that only when it comes to beer, of course. ;)
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