Monday, 31 October 2011

Disinformation source

I think I've spotted one. A disinformation source.

Googling, I found plenty who had used it when writing about Russian Stout. Including that recent Courage Russian Stout ad.

"Russian Imperial Stout 

When Peter the Great opened Czarist Russia to the West in the early 18th century, dark ales called "Porter" were all the rage in England. Porters, named after the working class who devoured them, were relatively easy-drinking brews with a small percentage of highly roasted malt. The result was a dark brown, toffee-flavored libation fit for mass consumption. Arthur Guinness took the idea to Ireland, increased the dark, coffee-tinted profile and added “Extra Stout” to his label, thus creating another new beer style.

Peter the Great fell in love with stouts during his 1698 trip to England, and he requested that some be sent to the Imperial court in Russia. Much to the embarrassment of the English, the beer had spoiled somewhere along its tedious thousand-mile journey! Determined as always to save face, the Barclay brewery of London came to the rescue by rapidly increasing the amount of alcohol and hops for their second effort. The result was an inky black concoction with enough warmth and complexity to immediately become a sensation throughout Russia. The “Russian Imperial Stout” had been born and quickly became popular throughout European Russia.

Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796) was very much a fan of Imperial Stout. One notable supplier was Thrale’s Anchor Brewery in the parish [district] of Southwark, a mile or two up river from John Courage Brewery’s site. In 1796 Thrale’s supplied Imperial Stout "that would keep seven years" to the Empress of Russia. The author of The History and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Saviour, Southwark, said of Thrale’s beer at that time, "The reputation and enjoyment of Porter [Imperial Stout] is by no means confined to England. As proof of the truth of this assertion, this house exports annually very large quantities; so far extended are its commercial connections that Thrale’s Entire [a contemporary name for Imperial Stout] is well known, as a delicious beverage, from the frozen regions of Russia to the burning sands of Bengal and Sumatra. The Empress of All Russia is indeed so partial to Porter that she has ordered repeatedly very large quantities for her own drinking and that of her court." She also ordered some of her supply from The John Courage Brewery. The John Courage Brewery continued to brew its Imperial Stout, with the boast on its label that it was originally brewed by Imperial order of Catherine, up until the 1990s. While hugely popular through the 19th century, Porters had fallen away completely from consumer's tastes by the end of the 20th Century. The style may have disappeared altogether were it not for the newfound bravado and quirkiness of the emerging craft brewing scene in the U.S. Anxious to brew all things intense, extreme and obscure, many small batch American brewers began resurrecting and re-inventing the old Russian genre. Today’s versions are even bigger and bolder than the originals."
-by Greg D. Willis, Professional Beer Guy, for the Alexander Palace Time Machine.
http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/ImperialStout.html

Does anyone know who Greg D. Willis is?

It's scary how widely this, er, dodgy article has been copied or used as a source.

The article isn't dated, unfortunately. It could be itself a copy. Can you find an older version of the story? The Peter the Great drinking Porter in London story. Or the Courage brewing Russian Stout for Catherine the Great story. Any of the fantasies in the article will do.

There may be a prize in it. How far back can we trace the crap?

15 comments:

Barm said...

Greg D. Willis is a plumber from North Carolina. He is the son of TV weather presenter Wincey Willis. He escaped from Ireland when it was occupied by the Nazis and crossed the Pacific Ocean disguised as a Toblerone until he reached America.

Actually, I made all that up. But I don't see why anyone would care. It's a good story, isn't it?

Martyn Cornell said...

"the Barclay brewery of London came to the rescue …"

Jeez - it wasn't even Thrale owning the Anchor brewery at that time, but Edmund Halsey.

I've found a version from 2006 that incorporates part of that farrago, here, on an American homebrew site, but I started to lose the will to live and gave up looking any further …

Okobojicat said...

Ron,

I love reading your blog. Your travails through history are amazing. However, I've been kind of annoyed lately that you've been really short with some people who have the history of certain styles wrong. Now, I know the story of RIS that Willis presents in this article is wrong. Its to mythical to ever be taken seriously. But is there a shorter version of the history available? Can I understand the history and development of the the style without buying your book? Is there another writer out there somewhere that does have the correct history of RIS?

Thanks,
Matt

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, there's a reason why I've been hard on this article: because it has been copied so often. And it's so wildly wrong.

The real story isn't complicated. Russian Stout was first brewed by Thrale for the Russian Court around the 1760's, When Catherine the Great was Tsarina. It was strong best the Russian Court wanted the very best and were a bunch of pissheads.

In 1781 Thrale's brewery was bought by Barclay Perkins, who continued to brew Russian Stout until 1968, when their brewery on Park Street closed (except for the Lager plant) and production was moved to Courage's Horsleydown brewery. Courage and Barclay Perkins had merged in the mid 1950's. When Horsleydown in turn closed in 1982, production was moved to the John Smiths brewery in Tadcaster.

Ron Pattinson said...

That should have read:

"It was strong because the Russian Court wanted the very best and were a bunch of pissheads."

Rod said...

Matt
"I've been kind of annoyed lately that you've been really short with some people who have the history of certain styles wrong"

No disrespect mate, but if you can't understand Ron's righteous indignation at clowns who simply make beer history up, when he spends countless hours doing research from primary sources to get to the actual truth, I think you're reading the wrong blog. Perhaps try Ratebeer.......

StuartP said...

Did you ask the author of the website where this story originated? Of course, he might have to forward you to Mr Willis but at least that gets you a step closer.
It would be lovely to get to the actual person who says 'I just made it up.'

Okobojicat said...

Ron and Rod,

Thanks for answering my questions. The thing that annoys me is that I'm sure that Ron has done oodles of research and probably has written even oodles more history lesons. What I would like is a link to the "right" information when Ron or Martyn or whomever do have the correct history. If I didn't want to know the correct history of beer, I wouldn't read this blog.

jim kube said...

ron, i love your line, "It was strong because the Russian Court wanted the very best and were a bunch of pissheads."

factual and straight to the point. i have people coming into my store, asking me why we sell so much more strong craft beer v. session craft beer. i'm gonna steal your line, if you don't mind!

Rod said...

Matt

"The thing that annoys me is that I'm sure that Ron has done oodles of research and probably has written even oodles more history lesons. What I would like is a link to the "right" information when Ron or Martyn or whomever do have the correct history."

Firstly, that's not what you said before - you said you were annoyed because Ron gets short with people who invent history. You'll notice that Ron isn't apologising for that.
Secondly, Ron and Martyn both have "search" functions on their blogs - if you want to find out more about what they are saying, just do the search thing......

Would have thought that was obvious really

Martyn Cornell said...

"When Horsleydown in turn closed in 1982 …"

Whoop! Whoop! Incipient myth creation alert!

Martyn Cornell said...

Actually, delete that last comment. I have no idea what I'm on about. Does anybody else?

Phil said...

Anyone like to back (or shoot down) my intuition that the "Imperial" in "Imperial Stout" was simply a hyperbolic adjective in common use to mean "the very best Britain can offer, good enough for the Queen Herself"? In which case, of course, it referred to the British Empire, not the Russian one. The top end of the Russian Stout range might be called Imperial [Russian Stout], but that didn't make it [Imperial Russian] Stout.

BrianW said...

Martyn's account from this summer is a great place to start:

http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/imperial-stout-%e2%80%93-russian-or-irish/

Phil said...

Brian - yes, that's a great post. I commented similarly there:

I can’t see any evidence here of any connection with the Russian imperial court – I think it’s far more likely that that’s a modern misinterpretation. Bear in mind that Britain was an imperial nation itself – say “imperial” to a Victorian and they’d think of Britain long before they thought of Russia. It seems far more likely that “imperial” simply meant “biggest/best/strongest”, and that “Russian” stout was just one of the many beers that could come in an “imperial” style/strength.