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Des de Moor
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Des de Moor


John Smith Courage Imperial Russian Stout (Imperial Stouts Part 7)

Originally published in BEER December 2003.

NOTE This review concludes what was originally published as a single longer article. See  previous posts for an introduction to Imperial stouts and some other reviews. Scroll down for a 2012 update.

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Origin: Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England
ABV: 10%

John Smith Courage Imperial Russian Stout

Courage Imperial Russian Stout

I couldn’t conclude this survey without opening one of my few precious remaining 170ml “nip” bottles of the last John Smith-brewed Courage Imperial Russian Stout (10%) from 1993. Also very dark brown, it had an intense sweet malt loaf, coffee and leather aroma, a shockingly full-bodied but not oversweet gravyish malt palate with hints of coffee, orange juice, soft fruit, red wine, black treacle and mincemeat, and a tangily fruity finish with liquorice, blackcurrant, a flourish of hops and a late smokiness. Though the fact that the 2000 Harveys will probably be as complex in 2010 is some consolation, it’s still a great shame the last real link to the Imperial Stouts of an earlier era has finally been broken.

Update February 2012. Having acquired the rights to the Courage brands from Heineken, Wells & Young’s of Bedford revived Courage Imperial Russian Stout in 2011, initially aimed mainly at the US market but with plans to expand distribution in the UK in 2012. You can read more background on this heritage beer and tasting notes on the 2011 version here.

Immediately after tasting the Wells & Young’s revival I dug out one of my few remaining bottles of the John Smith 1993 version for comparison. This very dark brown, near black, beer poured with almost no head and relatively little carbonation (a notable contrast to the new beer). The aroma had soy sauce and marmite notes — the telltale hint of dead, autolysed yeast – but also some raisiny fruit and liquorice.

There was some soy sauce too on a tannic, vinous, malt bread palate with an orange juice note. A lasting, complex and quite bitter tonic water-tinged finish developed herbal and citric flavours reminiscent of Martini Rosso, with a bit of mineral and mint chocolate. At 18 years old, it was still fascinating to drink but perhaps starting to go down, though the remaining bottles may yet surprise me in years to come.

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