Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

An imperial beer, which republicans will enjoy

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Harveys Stour


This week my beer travels will take me to Russia, which is probably why my thoughts turn to St Petersburg and Imperial Stout. 

In era when we so often celebrate the new, it’s is great to revisit a beer from brewery, which can trace its roots back to 1790 and realise that many of the new wave of craft brewers still have much to learn.

In the ancient town of Lewes, on the banks of the river Ouse, is one of the most picturesque breweries in England, Harveys, which was designed by one of the world’s greatest brewery architects William Bradford.

The “new” brewery was built in 1881 to a design which was a classic of Victorian ingenuity. Dubbed Lewes’ cathedral, gravity is important in this tower brewery as the fundamental, elemental force is used to move the raw material around the site.

In 1998 brewer Miles Jenner was asked by an American importer to recreate a beer last brewed in 1921 in the province of Livonia, now Estonia, which was then part of the Russian Federation.

The beer was Albert Le Coq’s legendary Imperial Extra Double Stout. Since the early 19th century a Belgian entrepreneur Albert Le Coq had been buying Extra Stout from the London brewer Barclay Perkins and bottling it and exporting it to the Baltic regions. A gift of five thousand bottles to the Russian military hospitals of Catherine the Great was rewarded with an Imperial Warrant of Appointment, and Imperial Extra Double Stout was born.

On given the challenge of recreating the beer Miles contacted brewers who had worked for Barclay Perkins and brewed a Russian Stout in the 1950s. A recipe was compiled, a beer was brewed and it was stored for nine months before being readied export to America – where it should have been sold in corked bottles – just like the original beer.

However, disaster struck and an as before undetected Brettanomyces yeast strain sprang into life and the beer had a “dramatic” secondary fermentation which forced the corks from the bottles.

Miles said now he knew why the original Georgian brewers and indeed Barclay Perkins stored the beer for 12 months before releasing it. Today when the beer is brewed, a metal crown cap replaces the cork, and it is conditioned for 12 months before bottling to avoid explosions.

But that doesn’t inhibit Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout creating incendiary explosions on the palate.

The bottle conditioned beer, at 9 % ABV, is as black as the darkest night, its aroma is an ecstasy of vinous flavours. The roasted malts interlay with dark fruit flavours, a hint of wild yeast sourness and even some tantalising traces of blue cheese. There are overlays of coffee, prunes and liquorice.

Some beers really are liquid bread and can be drunk on their own, but why not try drizzling a spoonful over a plate of homemade, creamy vanilla ice cream. It’s what Sunday afternoons are for.




Wharf Brewery, 6 Cliffe High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2AH




Written by timhampson

August 31, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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