Russian Imperial stout has been brewed by craft brewers for some time. It’s a heavily flavored brew, with a high alcohol content. The brew originated in London and got its name because it was imported to Russia. The high alcohol content was a necessity, rather than a creative option. It was needed to protect the beer from spoiling on the long journey and to protect it from freezing, as well. The original recipe, once used to brew beer that was shipped to the court of Catherine the Great II, has been born anew thanks to the inventiveness and labor of several brewers in the UK and a competition called, The Great Baltic Adventure.
The brewers recreating the recipe included the oldest existing brewery in England – Kent’s Shepherd Neame, which was founded in 1698. Other companies include Meantime Brewing Company and London Brewery. The goal of the competition was to create as close to the original recipe as possible and then sail with the brew to Saint Petersburg for the vaunted Magerfest beer festival there.
The voyage takes five weeks and requires that teams land in several ports, including Helsinki and Cuxhaven before moving on to Saint Petersburg. Once there, the brews will be opened and tasted. The winner may be able to ink a deal with Russian breweries to revive the original Russian beer brand and corner the niche market for dark beer in Russia (where beer is becoming more and more popular as alcohol comes under heavier fire from government sources).
There will be a panel of judges to judge the 11 different entrants and choose the best option. The panel is made up of international judges, and does include several Russian brew masters, as well. If successful, the contest could result in the recreation of a brand not seen in a very long time.
For those of us not lucky enough to attend the festival in Saint Petersburg and who will likely never get to taste the fruits of those brewers’ labors, there are options available. As mentioned, Russian Imperial stout is brewed around the world and there are tons of excellent options right here in the United States. North Coast Brewing Co. offers Old Rasputin, while Victory Brewing offers Storm King. You will also find Brooklyn Black Ops, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Bell’s Expedition Stout and quite a few other options on the market, too. While these recipes might not have graced the lips of Catherine the Great, they’re good enough for us!