Friday 7 October 2011

Courage Russian Stout

Great news that Courage Russian Stout has been brewed again. "Why did it take so long?" seems a reasonable question to ask. But at least it's back.

I'd wondered where the rights to the name had gone. When Wells & Young bought the rights to Courage brands, a list of them was published - Courage Best, Courage Directors, Courage Light Ale, etc. But no mention of Russian Stout. I even contemplated trying to buy the name myself, but, as you're probablyy aware, I'm a lazy git. I never got any further than thinking,

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.

John Courage perfected the recipe by 1787? What? That date is almost 200 years wrong. Courage only brewed Russian Stout after the closure of Barclay Perkins Park Street brewery in 1969. The last brew in Horsleydown was in 1982, at the very latest. So it only made there for around a dozen years.

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.


StuartP said...

Wells has bought a brace of Scottish brewery names too: McEwen's and Wm Younger's. Stand by for more marketing bollocks!

Martyn Cornell said...

And, of course, John Courage wasn't a porter brewer anyway, but an ale brewer, so would never have been brewing anything like IRS in the 18th century.

Ron Pattinson said...

Stuart, it's already started - there's a beer called Younger's 1749.

And several hundred pages of Papazian Cup entries have just been published.

Gary Gillman said...

This story is huge for beer. Now we can see if the feisty American progeny can outdo old grandad, or will it be the reverse!? There are some fine examples of RIS here, but all owe a large debt IMO to the exemplar, Courage's Imperial Russian Stout.

Harvey's Le Coq deserves mention too for bringing visibility to the style in England in the last 12 years, and recent years' brewings are a fine example - maybe the best I've had of RIS anywhere.

I think by '77 they meant that was the first year Robertson brewed the beer (not the last), because he said he joined the company in that year. Also, as I read the copy, it said last batches were brewed in London in 1982, still correct because leaving the implication that it was brewed elsewhere after. Indeed this was the case, since it was made after at John Smith's in Tadcaster until 1993.

I would hope they will send some in cask form to the Anchor in Bankside when it is launched finally in England.

Finally, one of the beer journalists should interview Mr. Robertson for a big story in a mainstream English paper or magazine. So many questions, e.g., OG and FG, hops per barrel, conditioning, further mashbill details, future plans, etc.


johnk said...

It’s a bit disappointing that they could not get the story right, also as far as I know, its not going to be generally available in the UK until next year. That being said, I am very pleased that a version will eventually be available again; I am down to my last half dozen bottles.

There are a lot of us out there who brew our own beers and would love to have the authentic grists and quantities/percentages available to steer us in the right direction. I have gathered bits of information over the years, but as you say, it’s not fixed over its history. As a follow on post, it would be very much appreciated if you would make one of your tables to show how the grist type and quantities have evolved over the years. The ones I want to brew are the 100+ gravity versions, but you could also include the weaker war year versions for comparison.

Go on Ron, make a lot of people happy.

Oblivious said...

Ron you a beacon of light in the darkness of ignorance

i fee like a sharltation as i used N03 invert in my clone and not NO2 ;)

Dominic, Thornbridge Brewery said...

Does this mark the end of Scottish month?

At least the beer didn't freeze on the way...

Kristen England said...

I've made a few different versions of the Courage and they most certainly are not all equal.


Harvey's Le Coq is now in crown cap least I think it is...thought I saw it. Can anyone verify?

Kristen England said...


Oh lord no, we've just started to crack the shilling ales!!! Then just you wait until you see the Table ass hoppy sessiony goodness

Ron Pattinson said...

Dominic, Scottish season continues. I just couldn't ignore the resurrection of Russian Stout.

Arctic Alchemy said...

Kristen, the last few runs of LeCoq where indeed crowns , but there have been a huge run of the 2000 and 2001 vintages about, at least here in the East coast , and I would say that nearly every other bottle of those are in very poor shape, paper/mold/high oxidized and flat= soy sauce. This may have been discovered and why they are now in crowns, but I love the older bottle style, classic English mallets.

Ron Pattinson said...

Dominic, loads more to come about Scotland.

Anonymous said...


Thornbridge Brewery

Adrian Avgerinos said...

"Harvey's Le Coq is now in crown cap least I think it is...thought I saw it. Can anyone verify?"

Yup. I enjoyed a bottle last year that was 3 or 4 years old (forget the vintage offhand). Very tasty.

Widge said...

I believe that all of the Harvey's RIS is now crown capped. They used to do their corking at the Gales Brewery. The same machine that was used for Gales Prize Old Ale (and others). The corking machine was sold off after Fullers took over.

I also heard from someone who worked at harvey's that the Harvey's RIS is sometimes bottle conditioned and sometimes not (i.e. pasteurised). Apparently it depends on how 'lively' the beer is when they come to bottle it. They once had to throw away a whole batch of bottles as they were so over carbonated.

Ironman said...

Why was Russian Stout so strong? For the rich pissheads of the Russian court. I'd like to see that on the label.

Gary Gillman said...

That's interesting, one would think the beer could be vented to adjust the resultant carbonation but maybe it has to do more with how much yeast is left in the brew before bottling.

I think what some breweries have done is centrifuge and bottle as such, this was done (at one time anyway) for Gold Label barley wine.

Pasteurization is another and probably surer route. I don't mind it for porter and stout - indeed for beer in general the process seems less objectionable than in past years - since you can't really caramelize or "cook" the beer due to its roasty character to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I have a bottle of Imperial Russian Stout brewed by Courage in 1977. It has been in my family since then and is in excellent condition (Obviously unopened !) ... Do you know who might be interested in acquiring this collectable ?
You could reply by posting a comment I guess ... How do I contact you ?
Bottoms up !

Valerie Alford said...

Dear JSB
I need some for my Christmas pudding.
Nana and Mum have done it for 60 years, and now its my turn.
Must have this stout in the recipe.
Please could you tell me how I can buy it, or where I can buy some of the new brew.
Best wishes.

Ron Pattinson said...

Valerie, it is being brewed again, but I've no idea where you can get it. I've not seen it myself.

Curious said...

I've heard that the higher alcohol content was not to help survive the trip but to keep the beer from freezing when ships passed through the Baltic Sea; any idea if this is accurate?

Ron Pattinson said...


it's total and utter boolocks. If it was cold enough to freeze beer in the hold, the sea would be frozen solid.

Anonymous said...

The 1993 brew of Courage Imperial Russian Stout was actually carried out at John Smith's Brewery Tadcaster when I worked there. JSTB was owned by Courage at that time.
It was a single brew length of 720 hectolitres and was kept in maturation for over a year until all the brew had been sent for bottling.
I have 3 bottles of this brew in my garage.
It was once reviewed for St Patrick's day back in the late 90's by the Sun newspaper and was slated as a stout ...... "tasted like medicine" but to compare this stout with an Irish stout is clearly unfair.

I have found that it's best use is in Christmas cakes (as mentioned above) or for making a 'black & tan'.

Tuopillinen (Jouni Koskinen) said...

I'm not so sold on that the sea would be frozen solid. Around -5C is enough to freeze wine (and imperial stout), but it takes weeks for the baltic sea to freeze at that temperature. In fact it's -5C right now here and I can assure you that the Gulf of Finland is quite liquid (I can see it from my window), but I wouldn't leave a bottle outside.

Anonymous said...

I had a bottle from 1993, but it was knocked off a shelf in my basement a few weeks ago and shattered. Do you still have any? And would you be willing to part with one??

Ron Pattinson said...


sorry, no.