Beer Fact Friday: Russian Imperial Stout

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First brewed in Great Britain in the nineteenth century, the Russian Imperial Stout was originally a strong or “extra-stout” version of porter brewed for shipment to Russia and the Baltic states. After it became popular with Czarina Catherine the Great and her imperial court, the beer became known as Russian Imperial Stout. Today, most versions of this style are simply known as “imperial stout,” though many—like North Coast’s Old Rasputin and Avery’s The Czar—still hint at their Russian history.

The style is one of the most popular among American craft brewers, and the U.S. produces more of it than any other country. Most versions are at least 8% ABV (though some can reach well into the teens) and are made with large amounts of dark roasted malts, which make the beer inky-black, thick as Alaskan crude, and loaded with rich flavors of chocolate, molasses, espresso, dark fruits, and smoke.

Thanks to its high alcohol content and complementary flavors, Imperial Stouts are a popular choice among brewers for barrel-aging. Brewers will often rest their stouts inside used barrels for years to allow the beer to absorb rich flavors from the wood and whatever spirit was once held within.

Though it was initially associated only with stouts, the word “imperial” has since sneaked into other beer styles, and is now commonly used to designate a version of a beer that’s stronger and more intensely flavored than usual. Imperial Hefeweizen, anyone?

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