Friday, 12 February 2010

1992 Courage Russian Imperial Stout and Three Floyds Dark Lord

This is a bit of an unfair comparison. One of these beers is an icon, a classic that has spent the last 18 years settling down in the bottle, slowly maturing, integrating, ageing gracefully. The other bottle is almost alarmingly fresh, still full of the fire of the brew kettle, and the bright spiky edges of the copious amount of ingredients (conventional and otherwise) that have been crammed into the bottle.

If that sounds a tad flowery, it's because I'm skirting round the issue of trying to compare the two. The reason they are both in the same video is that Rob from (@BGRTRob on Twitter) very generously shared them with me, and obviously I wanted to document both of them. So rather than making a ludicrous comparison, lets address them separately.

The Courage Imperial Stout (I think this one was brewed by John Smith, hence the rather clumsy "Courage Smiths" in the video) isn't a beer I've had before. I've seen it eBay many times, and on the showing of this bottle, I'm sad that I haven't scooped a few more of them up. Although I'm not a huge fan of really old beers, this imperial stout was in a good place, balancing the intense, empyreumatic character of a proper imperial stout with the gentle attrition of time. All the rough edges have been smoothed off, leaving a core of dark fruit, undergrowth, rich dark tobacco and a little meaty, soy-sauce character. It also has some port wine notes, some old sweet sherry character, and these are all characteristics that you only get in older beers. You can't fake it, or cheat it, it's just the effects of old age.

The Three Floyds Dark Lord is a modern icon. We have a regular customer at the shop, an American beer geek named Geoff (he'd be proud to be known as such, I'm sure), and when I told him that I'd hard a bottle of Dark Lord, he excitedly asked "Oh my god, did you cream? That's supposed to be amaaazing!". I have to say that I didn't achieve a peak of sexual excitement from drinking the Dark Lord, but it is an exhilarating beer. Just the sheer volume of flavour is one thing, and the intensity of the separate flavours is another - espresso, bitter chocolate, honey, black treacle (molasses), pepper, and some winter spice notes. It's a huge bruiser of a beer compared to the faded glory of the Courage Imperial, but not doubt over time it will achieve the same grace and elegance.

At the time of writing, the thrill of drinking such an exalted beer as Dark Lord is still with me, but it's the incredible soft, voluptuous range of flavours in the Courage Imperial that springs most easily to mind.


  1. Had both of them. *Sniff*

    Dark Lord is nice.

  2. I gave away a bottle of Courage’s Imperial in the late 1990s when I won it at some CAMRA bazaar, wasn’t that hot on dark beers then. Now where’s that dunce’s hat?
    Dark Lord you won’t be surprised to hear is in 1001, written by the peerless Don Russell.

  3. I've got a bottle of Courage Imperial Stout somewhere. Still lost in our move. It dates from about 1991/1992. I really should drink it when I find it.

  4. I love old beers. When I bought my 1979 Thomas Hardy's I tried to get a bottle Courage RIS but the chap selling them had run out.
    I know which beer I would be more excited to try. American Imperial Stouts always just miss the mark a little in my opinion. I find they are often heavily hopped with new world variety's late in the boil (or dry hopped), overly neutral in fermentation character and often to light in body. A high alcohol hoppy stout is fine but its not the same as what I like a RIS to be i.e. a mature slick viscous fruity, bitter, fortified Cuban cigar of a beer.

  5. I've got 50-odd bottles of 1992 and 1993 Courage Russian Stout. The best beer I've tried by a considerable distance was one of the 1993's.

    Great to see the word empyreumatic used for the first time in 100 years to describe a beer.

  6. Beer Nut - are you damning Dark Lord with faint praise?

    Adrian - hey, don't feel bad - pointy hats look good on you

    Paul - a great way of ageing beer, although I hope it isn't behind a radiator or something

    Kieran - I was surprised (and a bit pleased) that Dark Lord didn't have a brighter hop character, to be honest. I've no doubt it will get better as it ages, but whether it's good for the long haul remains to be seen.

    Ron - is this a stash that you bought on release, or a recent purchase? And as for empyreumatic, I'm sure your blog was the place I saw it last.

  7. I bought them straight after S & N announced they would no longer brew it.

  8. Much like my Thomas Hardy buying spree post the announcement that O'Hanlon's were giving up the contract. I think I have about 60 in the cellar now.

  9. Ron - I'm curious to know how much you bought, and how much you've drunk - have you been trying a couple of bottles a year?

    Kieran - I visited a UK brewer recently who was saying that they would love to produce THA again, so I'm sure it won't be out of production for long. Are they all of one vintage, or did you manage to sprread your purchases a bit?

  10. Yet to have a three floyds beer - my US buddies rave about thier Alpha King. Love the label too, 80's heavy metal, but in a good way. Like a Budgie album cover!

  11. I'm glad the beer has stood the test of time. I am down to my last seven bottles and I haven't opened one for a while. Cheers, Steve

  12. Yeah, so what, I drank Pliny the Younger last week ;)

    I kind of love the hype that surrounds Dark Lord and am fascinated that one beer can have such a huge following to allow a whole day to be dedicated to it. On the flip side I hate that on this day people will queue up, buy their stash and then sell half of it or use half of it in trades. I don't like that. But I do wish that a brewery and a beer could have that kind of hype in the UK - it adds some build up and excitement to the beer scene rather than simply releasing it into the market.

  13. I have 1 x 99, 1 x 2003 and a pretty good spread of every vintage since.

  14. There is no higher praise for a beer than to be nice. I mean, who'd drink a beer that wasn't nice, eh?

    I should credit Ron's stash here as the source of my Courage Russian Imperial.

    Ron is nice.


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.