It turns out Wells & Young did own the name. And eventually got around to brewing it. A reason to rejoice. But they should try getting somehow who knows what they're talking about to write their advertising copy:
"The birth of a style: In early 1700s the river porters of London developed a new style of beer that was dark, with intricate roasted brown malts and hints of caramel... the porter. During a long stay in England, Peter the Great fell captive to the power of the porter and requested the beer be sent to the Russian Imperial Courts. When the first batch spoiled on the long journey the London brewers quickly altered their recipe, brewing the beer with extra hops and increased the alcohol content to make a richer, hearty brew that is complex enough for royalty. By 1787 brewer, John Courage, had perfected the style that captivated Catherine the Great. It wasn't long before she demanded regular shipments of what was now known as Courage Russian Imperial Stout...
The resurrection for the masses: in October of 1977, Jim Robertson brewed some of the last batches of Courage, Russian Imperial Stout in London where it originated. Today, Jim has taken the original recipe and brought it to the Wells & Young's Brewery. The same complexity, fit for an Empress and brewed for the rest of us."
Peter the Great was clearly even greater than we imagined. Because he must have had a time machine to drink London Porter. He visited England in 1689. The first Porter was brewed several decades later, around 1720. He died in 1725, when Porter was still barely known, even in London.
God, these extra hops and extra strength for the long voyage stories. Did the writer look at a map? Standard Porter was regularly shipped to the American colonies, a journey more than double that to St. Petersburg. And in the 19th century normal strength Porter was shipped all the way to India. Why was Russian Stout so strong? Because it was made for the rich pissheads of the Russian court.
The last batches in 1977? No, the last batch was in 1993. Only 16 years out. Better than the 182 years out for Courage's involvement, but still pretty inaccurate.
Original recipe. What do they mean by that? The recipe from 1787 or 1977? Russian Stout had many incarnations over the years. The first version was probably 100% brown malt. In the 1850's, the grist was pale, amber, brown and black malt. In the 1920's it was SA, amber, brown and black malt plus No. 2 invert sugar. In 1940 it was mild, crystal and brown malt, roast barley, oats, flaked rice and several different sugars.
I suspect they mean the 1970's recipe, which was white, amber and black malt plus C.P.C. sugar (no idea what that is).
The history of Russian Stout is pretty well documented. Yet crap like this still gets written. I really do despair sometimes.