Imperial Styles of Beer: What’s in a Name?

KippySipsWine - imperial beer
When you hear the term imperial, what comes to mind? Young Joffrey sitting atop his Iron Throne? Darth Vader walking through a blast hole with smoke surrounding him while the Imperial March Theme Song plays in the background? We think of all of the above- and we would like to add Imperial styles of beer to that mix!

Last week we explored the world of Porters, Stouts, and how they came to be with their various sub-styles. One particular style that we did not touch upon, was the Russian Imperial Stout. It’s as rich and compelling as its name. We will discuss how this style of beer acquired such a title, and how it has influenced other ‘imperial’ styles of beer. Time to pull out the history books, so grab yourselves an imperial style beer of choice and follow along! If you’re reading this before noon, you may want to hold off drinking imperial styles of beer until after lunch- they tend to pack an alcoholic punch!

Russian Imperial Stouts can be some of the strongest and richest styles of beer available. This is due to their alcoholic strength (usually around 10% abv) and their dark, roasty bitterness (think “Strong like Bull!’). And they don’t come without a history lesson!

In its early stages, the hefty stout was originally brewed as a stronger porter (also known as ‘extra stout’) by Henry Thrale at his late 18th Century London brewery. The boozy, roasty and bitter brew was made strong for exportation to Northern Europe (including Russia). It gained its popularity amongst the Russian Imperial Court and its Czarina Catherine the Great. The brewery was eventually bought by Barclay & Perkins in 1781. Under Barclay & Perkins ownership, the extra stout which was brewed specifically for The Empress of Russia and her minions thus eventually became known as Russian Imperial Stout. Thanks to these historical brewing events and the American craft beer revival of the 1980’s, we can find imperial strength beer on the market today.

So what does the modern day ‘imperial’ term mean stylistically for beer? Generally speaking, whether we are talking Pilsners, I.P.A’s, Stouts etc, if the brewmaster has labelled such beer as ‘imperial’, we can most likely expect a ‘stronger than usual’ version of that particular style. Sometimes it is referred to ‘double or triple’, such a ‘double or triple’ I.P.A. The strength of the alcohol is almost always boosted (twice as much for a double, three times as much for a triple style), along with double or triple the bitterness of the original version(s). One can only hope that the positive characteristics follow suite on both the nose and the palate of these imperial style brews.

You now have your homework cut out for you. Since it’s Halloween, we won’t judge if you want to dress up like Darth Vadar while exploring the world of Imperial styles of beer. (And of course the Imperial March theme song ought to be on loop to complete the task at hand!).

Written by Kristin Perrin
Originally posted for Brother Bistro Blog
References: The Oxford Companion to Beer
by: Garrett Oliver

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