brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson
It is February!
February is the shortest month of the year.
It is Black History Month, the month of Valentine’s Day and
Presidents’ Day, and now the month of the Super Bowl. This year, as
every four years, February is the month of the Winter Olympics, this
time in Sochi, Russia.
An excellent Art of the Craft way to salute
and enjoy all of these February traits this year is with a
great Russian Imperial Stout.
I prefer to swim in the dark end of the
craft brewing pool. Porters and stouts are my preferred brews of
The earliest known use of the word stout to
describe a strong beer was in 1677.
The name porter was first used in London in
1721 to describe a dark brown beer made with roasted malts. Porter
had a string, distinctive flavor, tended to be less expensive than
other beers, and was not easily affected by heat. The beer was very
popular with porters, who were employed carrying luggage.
Because of the beer’s popularity, brewers
developed porters in a variety of strengths.
Stout is traditionally a generic term for
the strongest porter produced by a brewery. Stouts are typically 7%
or 8% alcohol by volume (ABV).
The best known stout today is brewed by
Guinness, of Dublin, Ireland.
There are several varieties of stout.
Milk stouts, also known as cream stouts or
sweet stouts, contain lactose, which is not fermentable by beer
yeast. The lactose adds sweetness and calories to the finished beer.
Milk stout was claimed to be nutritious, and was given to nursing
mothers. After the Second World War, when milk was rationed in
Britain, the British government required brewers to remove the word
“milk” from their labels and advertising.
Oatmeal stouts are stouts to which oats,
often around 30%, are added during the brewing process. Oats were
commonly used in ales in medieval Europe, and tended to make beer
taste bitter. The practice had mainly died out until the 19th
century, when the supposedly restorative qualities of oatmeal
Oatmeal stouts in the 20th century contained
only a minimal amount of oats. For some brewers, the only difference
between the stouts and the oatmeal stouts they produced were the
Contemporary oatmeal stouts do not generally
taste of oatmeal. They tend to be smoother and have more body than
Some oyster stouts are brewed using oysters
in the brewing process. Other brewers use the name to suggest that
their beer is an excellent companion to eating oysters.
Many craft breweries also produce chocolate
stouts, coffee stouts, and chipotle stouts by including ingredients
in the brewing process. There are plenty of opportunities for
Russian Imperial Stout is a very strong dark
beer that was first brewed in 18th century London for export to the
court of Catherine II of Russia. It is usually over 9% alcohol by
The story is that Peter the Great developed
a taste for the porters and stouts he discovered in England.
Unfortunately, the beers went bad on the long trip from England to
Russia. One London brewery added hops to its porter and increased
the alcohol content to allow the beer to survive the journey. The
hops acted as a preservative and added to the beer’s flavor.
It is also said that Catherine the Great,
like so many women of excellent taste, appreciated a good, strong
Russian Imperial stout, and shared pints with her court.
Russian Imperial stouts get a lot of
attention from craft brewers and craft beer drinkers. Their strong
flavors and serious alcohol content give brewers plenty of room for
creativity. They are also excellent beers for barrel aging, which
allows the flavors from the barrels to mellow and soften the strong
tastes in the beer.
Russian Imperial Stout may be the perfect
beer for February. It helps me survive long, dark winter nights. It
has the complex, rewarding combination of flavors that celebrate all
of the February holidays. It even pays tribute to the hosts of the
The Winter Olympics only come around every
four years. Settle in with a great Russian Imperial Stout and watch
an evening of curling. Enjoy!
Greg Richardson is a leadership and
organizational coach, and a spiritual life mentor, in Pasadena,
California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and
monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney, executive,
and university professor. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and
he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk.
You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com.