The air is right for a rich, strong, warming beer. This is the perfect time of year for a hearty Russian Imperial Stout.
The Brits loved to name beer after its destination. India Pale Ale was their aggressively-hopped beer intended for troops in far-away Bharat while Russian Imperial Stout was basically a mail-order for Empress Catharine II in frigid St. Petersburg. The much-beloved ruler of Russia asked English brewers to craft a beer for her that could combat the bitterness of the Baltic’s harsh winter conditions. The first to do so was Thrale’s before the brewery ownership changed and the beer was re-branded under Barclay Perkins in the 18th century.
A quick side-bar on cold weather: Why are people surprised when it gets cold every winter? This may be the Florida Panhandle but we are in the hemisphere of the planet currently tilted away from the Sun. It’s January. It gets cold here. People who’ve lived their entire lives here can’t believe it when it happens! Deal with it. Low temperatures are commonly in the 20s and 30s. Buy a scarf and quit moping.
Or, buy a nice Russian Imperial Stout and warm up from within! Just why do these beers work so well on a cold day? Deep, roasty, toasty flavors make the brain think of coffee drinks while the thicker-than-average texture really coats going down letting the stronger alcohol content remain in contact to the esophagus longer giving that glowing feeling. As Russian Imperials have a bigger grain bill than most beers, they are very rich and filling. When the stomach is full, the body feels more content. When the body is content, it can more easily face obstacles like cold weather.
At least that’s what I’ve personally discovered in my years. I’m not a scientist, just a guy who writes about his drinking habit. Professors please yield on letters of correction to my editor.
One brewery that inexplicably flies under most folks’ radars around here is Two Brothers Brewing out of Warrenville, IL. Their Northwind Russian Imperial Stout is as black as a moon-less Siberian night with a tightly-packed tan head that dissolves into a thin, ever-present ring leaving behind whole sheets of lacing. Deep scents of dark roast coffee present with 66% dark chocolate, brandied cherry and smoke. The partially-viscous body delivers a surprising hit of carbonation keeping things from getting too rich. A little boozy, Northwind hits heavy with the chocolate, dried dark fruit, toffee and sweet malt.
If it’s good enough for the longest-ruling female of Prussian descent who rose to power after she had her unpopular husband arrested whilst corresponding with Voltaire and dabbling in opera librettos… in winter… then it’s good enough for me! Northwind can fend off its namesake. Nostrovia, Two Brothers!