In this week’s Vue Weekly, I review a beer that kind of sneaked into the Alberta market recently, Courage Imperial Russian Stout, or Russian Imperial Stout if you prefer (depends on how you read the label and an online search didn’t resolve the question). You can read the review here.
It actually is a good example of my thinking when I pick beer to review. First, I quite like its dark fruit, coffee roast and dark chocolate bitterness. It also has a brandy-like finish which is appealing to me. However as there are hundreds of delicious beer out there, this one made it to the surface because of its intriguing back story. It can legitimately trace its roots to the original Thrale’s Imperial Stout commissioned by Catherine the Great. Of course a couple of corporate changes and mergers occurred in between – and I am highly doubtful it is even remotely the same recipe – but a legitimate link all the same, thereby giving me something to talk about.
Russian Imperial Stout, along with being one of my favourites, is a funny style to judge. The flavour package is so intense – roast, chocolate, dark fruits, malt, bitterness, alcohol, sherry, raisin – that simply unpacking it all can be challenging. I also find the key to a great RIS is walking that fine line between over-doing one or all aspects of the flavour and losing some of the complexity. I find many examples put too much of one thing in, be it roast or chocolate or bitterness, and it knocks the whole beer out of balance. It can be a delicate bit of business, both from the brewing side and the judging side.
Courage, I believe, does a nice job of maintaining that balance. It is a bit pricey, five and change for a teeny 275-ml bottle, but worth picking up a bottle or two. Plus once you have tried it you can say you are within six degrees of separation of Catherine the Great.