There’s no doubt that we already make a strongish stout. Do you remember? It’s called Babayaga after the witch-like folk character for eastern Europe. Not to be confusing or anything, but we’ve made another strongish stout and it’s called Barbapapa. Do you know why? I’ll tell you.
Every year some time around late September Martha and I brew a very strong ale, a celebration of barley known as “Our Finest Regards“. For this beer we use a method of double-mashing whereby we mash in, run the wort off and then mash into that wort again. It’s an almighty pain to do. Martha mills in 8,000 pounds of barley and I watch over two lauter tuns that aren’t happy to let it all go without at least one major scare. Anyway, the result is one of the deepest, maltiest, most complex ales I’ve ever tasted. Mind you this is without any fancy brettanomyces, wood aging, spices, sugars or any of the other tools commonly used by craft brewers. We’re not patting ourselves on the back – we’re patting barley on the back! This shows us all that this grain, despite everything else people like to chuck in their beers these days, is still a vastly underestimated ingredient.
On to the new: Martha and I adapted this process to make our own version of the legendary Imperial Russian Stout.
So what’s an Imperial Stout? The original stouts were brewed in London specifically for the courts of Catherine the Great of Russia. She reigned from 1762 to her death in 1796. Her character was all over the place: maybe she helped overthrow and kill her husband Peter III, she hung out with Voltaire and Diderot, promoted education and the arts, tried her hand at writing opera and at the same time managed to lessen the “power” of serfs.
Apparently she also had a strange taste for a strong black ale made for her in London. Insert many fantastical stories here. While so much written about Russian Stout is myth, the same can be said of many stories surrounding Catherine the Great herself. But the legend of Russian Imperial Stout still captures the hearts of beer fanatics two centuries later.
Like the beer of ages past, our Russian Stout is specifically brewed for a high strength. 12% alcohol by volume. Rather than there being a technical excuse for a higher alcohol volume – this was color and alcohol as an extravagance. Obscuro Luxuria. As our good friend Ron Pattinson says : “why was Russian Stout so strong? Because it was made for the rich pissheads of the Russian court.”
Unlike Babayaga, there’s no myth or story to this beer. Barbapapa is “Barbe a Papa” as in the French name for cotton-candy: “Father’s Beard”. Our “father” has an appropriately thick black beard adorned with mementos of Pretty Things past (and future?).
Well pissheads, we hope you enjoy this beer! For those of you predisposed to want to know everything, here is the grist:
Pale Ale malt, Maris Otter malt, Amber malt, Brown malt, Black malt, Flaked Barley, German roasted malt, Roasted Barley and some Wheat malt. In approximately that order. Hops are the all-American “Chinook”.
Martha and I really enjoyed brewing this beer. As usual, the aroma that filled the brewery during this double-mash brew day was divine. The fermentation was lovely and smooth. Cheers to you all. Dann
Martha and I have had a couple of chances to sit down with this beer now. What a lovely beer it has turned out to be. Considering its high terminal gravity (meaning the amount of unfermented sugar left after fermentation), it comes across as being quite dry.
Appearance: Mocha colored head, massive and unreceding
Aroma: coffee, marzipan, nuts, alcohol and cocktail cherries. But not overly aromatic.
Flavour: A massive, kind of luscious mouthfeel. Light custard actually. Coffee, a tad of yeast bitterness and a hint of grapefruit from the hops. Malted milt with marzipan, wrapped in crispy roasted nuts.