Last month, I wrote about brewingbeer at Springfield’s Hyperion Brewing Company. As you may recall, I developed a recipe and brewed a Russian Imperial Stout with molasses and cinnamon named Missile Crisis. I chose the name for several reasons. 1) The Cuban Missile Crisis was in 1962, the year of my birth. 2) Russia was involved in that crisis. 3) The beer includes molasses, a byproduct of refining sugar, which is a major crop in Cuba.
Now you know how I named my beer; let’s learn about the style.
Russian Imperial stouts evolved from dark beers called porters brewed in 18th-century England. Popular with baggage-handlers along waterways and streets, the name honors those hardworking men. Porter was a brown ale brewers began to more heavily hop and brew with stronger alcohol content. These stronger brews were known as ‘stout porter.’ Eventually, ‘porter’ was dropped and they were simply ‘stouts.’
Some accounts of the origins of Russian Imperial stouts say the beer was made stronger and hoppier to survive the arduous ocean trip from England to Tsarist Russia. They allege the higher alcohol content kept it from freezing and the higher hops helped preserve it. Both claims are technically true, but research disagrees. It’s most likely the beer was brewed stronger because folks wanted that. Just a happy coincidence that strength made it keep better.
As stouts became stronger, the Anchor Brewery in Southwark Parish, London gained notoriety for its Thrale’s Intire (now spelled Entire). Named for its developer, Henry Thrale, the quaff got the attention of beer lovers in the Russian Empire, most notably Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.
In The History and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, Matthew Concanen and Aaron Morgan note: The reputation and enjoyment of Porter is by no means confined to England. As proof of the truth of this assertion, this house exports annually very large quantities; so far extended are its commercial connections that Thrale’s Intire is well known, as a delicious beverage, from the frozen regions of Russia to the burning sands of Bengal and Sumatra. The Empress of All Russia is indeed so partial to Porter that she has ordered repeatedly very large quantities for her own drinking and that of her court.
Brewing was—and is—a highly competitive endeavor; Thrale seized upon Catherine’s endorsement and began saying his beer was an Imperial Extra Double stout. The Russian designation was likely added later by promoters to play up the connection to the glamorous Tsars.
According to Beer Judge Certification Program Guidelines, Russian Imperial stouts should produce rich, complex aromas reminiscent of coffee, dark fruits and dark chocolate, with flavors mimicking these same qualities. The color should be the darkest of browns to inky black with a tan, frothy head.
Now you know, so try a Russian Imperial Stout. Missile Crisis is on tap at Hyperion Brewing Company, ready for your palate. Come by, give it a try and let me know what you think.