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Classic Beer of the Month June 2010: Harveys IEDS

Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout, 9% (UK)

In 1993, the John Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, produced a brew of Courage Imperial Russian Stout. It was the latest incarnation of a beer with a history that dates back three centuries.

Harveys Imperial StoutOriginally created at Thrale’s brewery in London, it was later brewed by Thrale’s successor, Barclay Perkins, a company that eventually fell prey to Courage.

The historic brewery in London long gone, Imperial Stout was eventually sent north to Tadcaster.

The 1993 brew was well received, but sadly it was also the last. Courage decided this really was small beer: the numbers were too low for a company that size to be bothered about and the history of imperial Russian stout production in the UK came to an end.

Or so we thought. True, there were one or two strong stouts still on the market – one also produced in Tadcaster, by Samuel Smith – but none had the true characteristics of a beer that was brewed to withstand the perils of the icy Baltic Sea and the travails of a frozen Russian winter.

None was big enough, strong enough, complex enough to don the mantle of the beer that the Russian court once took to its heart.

Subsequently, some of the new small breweries were brave enough to make an attempt on the style – and with no little success – meaning imperial stout had a promising future as well as a glorious past, but arguably the most authentic re-creation has come through Harveys brewery in Sussex.

Genuine and True

In 1998 head brewer Miles Jenner was approached by a US importer keen to not only bring back the style but also to offer a beer that was as genuine and true to the original as possible.

The story of Albert Le Coq was discussed, the man who at first marketed Barclay Perkins’s beer to Russia and whose company later opened its own brewery in Tartu (now in Estonia), to brew the product nearer its favoured market.

The Tartu brewery, although it no longer produced such a beer of its own, was happy to contribute to the project, as long as it was brewed by a small, independent brewery versed in the techniques of brewing porter. Harveys, already known for its 1859 Porter, was an ideal match.

Information about the recipe was provided by Tartu, but the exact ingredients and processes remained vague. Miles supplemented this basic knowledge through discussions with brewers who recalled brewing the beer at Barclay Perkins in the 1950s.

In the end, the recipe looked like this: pale ale malt 62.5%; coloured malts (a mix of amber, brown and black) 37.5%. Invert sugar, added to the copper, boosted the fermentability.

Fuggle and Goldings were selected as the hops and added to the copper at a rate of 6 lbs per barrel – seven times the hop rate enjoyed by Harveys Sussex Best Bitter.

After maturing for nine months, the 9% ABV beer was packaged in 330 ml, corked bottles by Gale’s in Horndean. Initial reaction was hugely positive, the American importer being delighted with the product.

A few months later, however, something odd started to happen. The corks in the bottles began to rise and put pressure on the foil seals. When these were released, the result was explosive.

Miles looked again at the maturation period. Perhaps nine months had not been long enough. After all, records showed that beers like this were often kept for a year or more before sale.

With the next brew already in tank, he decided to mature it for longer and monitor the impact. This proved to be remarkable. After nine months, the beer suddenly came to life, creating huge amounts of carbon dioxide that needed venting off on a daily basis.

The reason was tracked down to a wild yeast that resembled Harveys’ own yeast in many respects, albeit a little smaller. When the main yeast had given up the ghost, the wild yeast took it upon itself to carry on the fermentation.

By allowing this interloper to have its say and then quietly retreat, Harveys was able to bottle the beer without fear of nasty surprises.

Intense and Challenging

The most recent brew was produced in April 2008. With the closure of Gale’s brewery, a new bottling regime was required and Miles decided to bring it in house. The beer is still bottle-conditioned as before, but now it is packaged in a 275 ml bottle with a crown cap. It has certainly not diminished the product.

My tasting notes for the Good Bottled Beer Guide hopefully sum up the complexity. Opening a bottle that had been aged for five years, I described it as ‘an intense and challenging beer, from the deep, dark brown colour to the gum-tingling finish.’

I characterised the aroma as ‘smoky with oaky liquorice, polished leather and winey fruit’, and found smooth malt ‘in the mostly bitter taste, but with a vinous sharpness at all times’. I went on to point out other attributes, from chocolate to leather, liquorice and even ‘a raspberry-like fruitiness’.

As for the afterpalate, I noted that ‘tangy hops join vinous fruit in a bitter finish that offers more chocolate, leather and liquorice.’

It’s certainly not for all tastes, and you definitely cannot drink huge amounts, but there are few beers of such provenance, quality and character as this little piece of re-created history.

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