As GABF parties hit full stride downtown, a small crowd gathered at Falling Rock Tap House on Friday afternoon last week, and everyone was buzzing with excitement for the main event: the reemergence of a once-iconic beer that hasn't been made since the early 1990s.
That beer was the Courage Imperial Russian Stout, which can trace its origins back to the 1800s, when Thrale's Anchor Brewery first started making the beer in London for Russian nobility, creating a recipe that would survive a long journey to the people who would drink it.
The Thrale's brewery was eventually bought by Barclay Perkins and subsequently sold to Courage in the 1950s. Each owner continued to make the beer, aging it for a year before bottling and releasing it. After the Courage brewery closed in London in 1982, Courage still made the stout under new ownership -- albeit with an abbreviated aging process -- until 1993, when production was discontinued altogether. In 2007, British-based Wells and Young acquired Courage, and Jim Robertson, one of the head brewers at Wells, had been one of the last to brew the stout in London in the early '80s. At the prompting of Melissa Cole, a beer journalist, Robertson decided to re-create it. It started aging in May and was finally uncapped for the first time on Friday.
At the re-premiere celebration, both Cole and Robertson gave a quick history of the beer, and just before pouring, Cole concluded with this sentiment: "It's like sex in a fucking glass."
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The beer was certainly sexy, with espresso and chocolate and a well-integrated fruity nectar element (the brewery's tasting notes suggest pear, and I can see why -- though the fruitiness wasn't quite as ambrosial as that sounds). Robertson mentioned he'd aimed for extraordinary smoothness, and he succeeded: The body and finish were like a mouthful of silk.
The beer will be made once a year, but the 2011 run is decidedly limited: Only 1,000 cases will make their way to the U.S., and it's not yet clear where, exactly, they'll show up. Falling Rock poured the beer after the celebration as a preview (and will continue to pour it until the bottles run out), but the bar won't have more on the list until at least early next year.
When it does reappear, we'll be stopping by for another glass. And if you do get your hands on one, the brewer says it should age in the bottle for at least thirteen years.