Saturday, 18 June 2011

Imperial Stout

I am fascinated in a heady tale, brought to us by BBC News, about a group of British brewers endeavouring to re-introduce a kind of beer to the Russian market.

Not any old beer, mind you: The choice of the Tsars, Emperors of all the Russias.

It is Imperial Russian stout.

British brewers have sailed a beer-laden clipper to St Petersburg, retracing a centuries-old trade route. They hope to rekindle interest in imperial stout - once one of the British Empire's best-loved exports to Tsarist Russia.

It is a beer that 200 years ago we exported east in large quantities, particularly to the Russian imperial court - a trade that stuttered and then died more than 100 years ago due to war and revolution.

"It all started in 1698 when Peter the Great was on a tour of Europe and discovered a fondness for British beer in London," explains one of the crew, beer historian Pete Brown.

"When St Petersburg was built, British beer was served at banquets there and it was mandatory to drink it. Later on, Catherine the Great was enthusiastic for Imperial Russian stout. She was proud she could drink as much of this strong, sweet beer as any Englishman."

The stout needed to be strong. Beer with a lower alcohol content often froze on the journey over.

The brewers are hoping Russians will rediscover a taste for it. That could be good news for British business - and British diplomacy.

"We have lots of smaller brewers represented here," says project organiser Tim O'Rourke. "It may be really quite important for small brewers who are looking to expand and who are suffering a bit from sales in the UK.
"It's not an easy market for us to penetrate but I think this is engendering goodwill. It's almost like the ping pong diplomacy we had with the Chinese."

"Stout is synonymous with Guinness, but Imperial Russian stouts (and porters) are a different beast.
Mad Monk brewed by Wigan brewery All Gates is a modern take on the strong dark beers that travelled east in the 18th Century.

Guinness has a dry, bitter edge and less alcohol. These imperial beers are muscular heady brews, less bitter, many even darker than Guinness, and rich with the aromas of roasted coffee beans, milk chocolate, plums, currants and even leather. Some evoke childhood memories of tobacco boxes.
Mad Monk, at 7.1% alcohol, has a mocha-like quality to the nose allied with a wisp of citrus.

The luscious palate has coffee, chocolate, a burnt toast roastiness, plus a creamy and fat mouth-feel leading to a lingering finish.

Lucky St Petersburg".

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