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Brewing a Russian Imperial Stout

Previously in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? we covered Brewing an American Barleywine, this time the Beer Style comes from the ‘American Porter and Stout’ category in the BJCP 2015 Guidelines and is the style of a Russian Imperial Stout (RIS).

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


Grains part 1: Maris Otter malt, Crystal 60L malt, Chocolate malt, Roasted Barley malt
Grains part 1:
– Maris Otter malt
– Crystal 60L malt
– Chocolate malt
– Roasted Barley malt

According to the BJCP Guidelines this is a style with a long, although not necessarily continuous, heritage. It traces its roots to strong English porters brewed for export in the 1700s, and said to have been popular with the Russian Imperial Court. After the Napoleonic wars interrupted trade, these beers were increasingly sold in England. The style eventually all but died out, until being popularly embraced in the modern craft beer era, both in England as a revival and in the United States as a reinterpretation or reimagination by extending the style with American characteristics.

Commercial examples of this style include:

  • American – North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout.
  • English – Courage Imperial Russian Stout, Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout, and Samuel Smith Imperial Stout.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines the Russian Imperial Stout was part of the Stout category but in the 2015 guidelines this category was split up and Russian Imperial Stout ended up in the ‘American Porter and Stout’ category with the American Porter and American Stout styles:

BJCP 2015 BJCP 2008
Category 20: American Porter and Stout
13: Stout
Styles 13A: Dry Stout
13B: Sweet Stout
13C: Oatmeal Stout
13D: Foreign Extra Stout
20A: American Porter
20B: American Stout 13E: American Stout
20C: Russian Imperial Stout 13F: Russian Imperial Stout

In the new guidelines the vital statistics of the Russian Imperial Stout are as follows:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.075 – 1.115
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.018 – 1.030
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 8 – 12%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 50 – 90
  • Color (SRM) = 30 – 40

These remain unchanged from the 2008 guidelines.


Grains part 2: Black malt, cane sugar, Blackstrap Mollasses
Grains part 2:
– Black malt
– cane sugar
– Blackstrap Mollasses

According to the BJCP 2015 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of a Russian Imperial Stout:

  • Malts: Well-modified pale malt, with generous quantities of roasted malts and/or grain. May have a complex grain bill using virtually any variety of malt.
  • Hops: Any type of hops may be used.
  • Yeast: American or English ale yeast.
  • Water: Not specified.
  • Additions: Not specified.


Below are some recipes for 5 gallon batches of a Russian Imperial Stout from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines:

– Courage Russian Imperial Stout –

Source: Clone Brews
Author: Tess & Mark Szamatulski

Rice hulls for avoiding a stuck mash
Rice hulls for avoiding a stuck mash


  • 16 Lb British 2-row Pale malt
  • 12 oz British Crystal 55L malt
  • 10 oz British Chocolate malt
  • 3 oz Roasted Barley malt
  • 3 oz British Black malt
  • 1 Lb cane sugar
  • 5.3 oz Black Treacle
  • 1.6 oz Target hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Target hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Target hops (aroma – 5 mins)
  • Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale or Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale yeast
  • 0.25 oz steamed light toasted oak chips (secondary)


  • Mash @ 152 deg F (66 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 90 mins
  • Ferment @ 68 deg F (20 deg C)
Target hops for bittering, flavoring & aroma
Target hops for bittering, flavoring & aroma


  • OG: 1.103 – 1.104
  • FG: 1.022 – 1.024
  • ABV: 10.3%
  • IBU: 61


  • Malts: A range of British base and specialty malts which is within style and the addition of simple sugars to help with color, flavor and boosting the alcohol content that are not specified within the style guidelines.
  • Hops: Use of a UK hop that was bred from Northern Brewer and Eastwell Golding varieties.
  • Yeast: An English yeast would be typical and inline with the style guidelines but not the use of an Irish yeast.
  • Statistics: Starting and Finishing Gravities are towards the top of their respective ranges though the alcohol content is middle of the range. Bitterness is towards the lower end of the range and is most likely due to being a more English rather than American recipe.

– Imperial Stout –

Source: Wisdom for Home Brewers
Author: Ted Bruning & Nigel Sadler

London ESB Ale yeast
London ESB Ale yeast


  • 15 Lb Pale malt
  • 1.5 Lb Crystal malt
  • 7 oz Roasted Barley malt
  • 5.25 oz Chocolate malt
  • 2 oz Challenger hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 2 oz Golding hops (bittering – 45 mins)


  • Mash @ 149 deg F (65 deg C) for 60 mins
  • Boil for 75 mins
Starter for pitching healthy & active yeast
Starter for pitching healthy & active yeast


  • OG: 1.080
  • FG: 1.018
  • ABV: 8.2%


  • Malts: A simple and typically British base and specialty malt profile which is within style.
  • Hops: A simple bittering-only hop regime.
  • Yeast: No yeast is specified but would expect an English Ale yeast.
  • Statistics: Both the Starting and Finishing Gravities are towards the lower end of the respective ranges giving an alcohol content at the bottom of the style.

– The Czar’s Revenge –

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff & John J. Palmer

Toasted cacao nibs
Toasted cacao nibs


  • 19 Lb British Pale malt
  • 1.5 Lb Black Roasted Barley malt (500L)
  • 1 Lb Special B malt
  • 0.5 Lb CaraMunich malt (60L)
  • 0.5 Lb Chocolate malt (350L)
  • 0.5 Lb Pale Chocolate malt (200L)
  • 1.5 oz Horizon hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 2 oz Kent Goldings hops (flavoring – 10 mins)
  • 2 oz Kent Goldings hops (aroma – 1 min)
  • White Labs California Ale (WLP001) or Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 154 deg F (67 deg C)
  • Boil for 60 mins
  • Ferment @ 67 deg F (19 deg C)
  • Carbonate to 2-2.5 volumes
Recirculating mash
Recirculating mash


  • OG: 1.098
  • FG: 1.030
  • ABV: 9.2%
  • IBU: 77
  • SRM: 57


  • Malts: A varied and complex malt bill that is within style.
  • Hops: Use of American hop variety for bittering then English hop variety for flavoring and aroma.
  • Yeast: Use of American yeast varieties so aiming at a clean ester profile.
  • Statistics: Starting Gravity is in the middle of the range whilst the Finishing Gravity is right at the top of the range yet both remain within style. The alcohol content is in the middle of the range as is the bitterness. The color is above the range and is probably due to the use of Chocolate malt.


Measuring pH of mash
Measuring pH of mash

The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of Russian Imperial Stout is the Courage clone with the main reasons being:

  • Getting hold of English versions of this style in the USA is difficult.
  • The original beer is highly rated.
  • I have never tasted the original.

Below is the actual recipe that I went with:

  • 17 Lb 14oz Maris Otter Pale malt
  • 12 oz Crystal 60L malt
  • 8 oz Chocolate malt
  • 3 oz Roasted Barley malt
  • 3 oz Black malt
  • 1 Lb 11 oz cane sugar
  • 5.9 oz Blackstrap Molasses
  • 2.4 oz Target hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Target hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Target hops (aroma – 5 mins)
  • Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale yeast
  • 1 oz of toasted cacao nibs (secondary)

The recipe was modified by the amount of base malt and sugar being raised to boost the Starting Gravity with my system yet retaining an attenuative wort from the use of simple sugars. The closest I could get to Black Treacle in the USA was Blackstrap Molasses. The bittering hops were upped by 50% to obtain the desired IBUs. The toasted cacao nibs were added to the secondary to add a slight bitter chocolate flavor and aroma instead of ageing the beer on oak chips.

Hydrometer for reading Original Gravity (OG)
Hydrometer for reading Original Gravity (OG)

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed following these steps:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and Irish Moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 154 deg F before mashing-in.
  • Mashing for 90 mins at 152 deg F for the Saccharification rest so the starches convert into sugars (pH 5.4).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out for 10 mins to stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Removing the grain bag.
  • Boiling for 10 mins to allow time for the hot break to clear.
  • Continue boiling for 45 mins with the bittering hop addition.
  • Add flavoring hop addition and Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • Add aroma hop addition at flame-out.
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one packet of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen (60 secs) via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 68 deg F for 10 days in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and 1 oz of toasted cacao nibs that had been blanched in boiling water were added then the beer was held at 68 deg F for six weeks before cold crashing.
  • Beer will be force carbonated to 2.3 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


According to the style guidelines a Russian Imperial Stout should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Color may range from very dark reddish-brown to jet black. Opaque. Deep tan to dark brown head. Generally has a well-formed head, although head retention may be low to moderate. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in “legs” when beer is swirled in a glass.
  • Aroma: Rich and complex, with variable amounts of roasted grains, maltiness, fruity esters, hops, and alcohol. The roasted malt character can take on coffee, dark chocolate, or slightly burnt tones and can be light to moderately strong. The malt aroma can be subtle to rich and barleywine-like. May optionally show a slight specialty malt character (e.g., caramel), but this should only add complexity and not dominate. Fruity esters may be low to moderately strong, and may take on a complex, dark fruit (e.g., plums, prunes, raisins) character. Hop aroma can be very low to quite aggressive, and may contain any hop variety. An alcohol character may be present, but shouldn’t be sharp, hot or solventy. Aged versions may have a slight vinous or port-like quality, but shouldn’t be sour. The balance can vary with any of the aroma elements taking center stage. Not all possible aromas described need be present; many interpretations are possible. Aging affects the intensity, balance and smoothness of aromatics.
  • Flavor: Rich, deep, complex and frequently quite intense, with variable amounts of roasted malt/grains, maltiness, fruity esters, hop bitterness and flavor, and alcohol. Medium to aggressively high bitterness. Medium-low to high hop flavor (any variety). Moderate to aggressively high roasted malt/grain flavors can suggest bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and/or strong coffee. A slightly burnt grain, burnt currant or tarry character may be evident. Fruity esters may be low to intense, and can take on a dark fruit character (raisins, plums, or prunes). Malt backbone can be balanced and supportive to rich and barleywine-like, and may optionally show some supporting caramel, bready or toasty flavors. The palate and finish can vary from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness, hop bitterness and warming character. The balance and intensity of flavors can be affected by aging, with some flavors becoming more subdued over time and some aged, vinous or port-like qualities developing.
  • Mouth-feel: Full to very full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). Gentle smooth warmth from alcohol should be present and noticeable, but not a primary characteristic; in well-conditioned versions, the alcohol can be deceptive. Should not be syrupy and under-attenuated. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.
  • Overall: An intensely-flavored, big, dark ale with a wide range of flavor balances and regional interpretations. Roasty-burnt malt with deep dark or dried fruit flavors, and a warming, bittersweet finish. Despite the intense flavors, the components need to meld together to create a complex, harmonious beer, not a hot mess.

How did my batch of Russian Imperial Stout turn out?

The target Starting Gravity was 1.094 but unfortunately my efficiency fell short by some 19 points! The reason for this I am unsure of – perhaps the mash needed stirring more often during the 90 minutes to help release the sugars? Luckily 3 extra points were made up by fermenting down to 1.016 rather than 1.019 leaving an alcohol content of just under 8% which is close to the bottom of the style.

Steps in brewing process
Steps in brewing process

On the positive side the flavor when moving the beer from primary to secondary was amazing so I am hopeful for a great tasting beer once the ageing is complete.

Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.075
  • IG: 1.016**
  • FG: n/a
  • ABV: 7.75%+
  • Bitterness: 69.7 IBUs*
  • Color: 36.8 SRM*

* calculated via BeerSmith software.
** Intermediate or Interim Gravity reading after Primary fermentation.

The tasting notes are as follows:

Black in color with a tan head and a fine foam head. A roasty and chocolate aroma. Flavor is roasty, chocolate and bitter. Low carbonation with a slick mouthfeel.

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing an American Brown Ale which is in the ‘Dark American Beer’ category so please check back for that article to be published.

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