Last Saturday saw 2011’s reenactment of a now annual ritual in the household of my esteemed friend Dr Tristan Robinson. This is the time of year when the Imp is born. Tristan is an adventurous home-brewer, and for some years now has produced an annual Imperial Russian Stout. The first Imperial Russian Stouts (or ‘Imps’, for ease of typing) were produced by Thrale’s brewery of London, for export to the court of the Tsarina Catherine II of Russia. In 1781, Thrale’s Brewery was taken over by Barclay Perkins, and later by Courage. Tristan uses the recipe for the original Courage Imperial Russian Stout when preparing his own Ephemerale Imp.
Imps are very dark, very rich beers with high ABV, typically in the range 8 – 12%. The malts used in the Ephemerale brew are Pale, Crystal, Chocolate and Black. Whilst Tristan has just invested in a half-barrel plant, this is still stacked somewhat haphazardly in his garage on a windy Lancashire hilltop, so for now, the old plastic buckets would have to do. The 40 pint plastic boiler has a stretchable bag in which the malt (and later the hops) can be placed in the boiling liquor and which allows the solid ingredients to be removed without fuss in due time. This simple system effectively converts the boiler into a working mash tun. After the mashing, the malt is lifted clear of the liquor (now technically wort) and can then be sparged (rinsed) with clean water to wash the sugars out of the malt and into the hot wort.
Once the wort has stood for a while, hops are added for flavour. The hops are introduced into the wort in the bag, the used malt grains being emptied out and given to the chickens to eat (they go mad for it).
The hops used in this brew were an aromatic mix of Fuggles, Hallertau and Nelson Sauvin.
The brewing vessel was placed outside for this hour-long rolling boil. Once this boil is over, the hops are removed and the wort is boiled again to reduce it. This has the effect of thickening and concentrating the liquid. It took about an hour and a half to reduce the wort to the desired level.
The wort is then passed into a fermenting vessel and left to cool to about 25C. Here the cold windy hilltop comes into its own. Once the correct temperature is achieved, yeast is added to the wort, and fermentation begins. The beer can then be racked into demijohns to complete the fermentation process. It takes several months to complete the fermentation, after which the beer can be clarified if necessary, and bottled. This particular Imp matures for two years, with the odd cheeky little taste along the way just to make sure that all’s well.
I have a bottle of Ephemerale 2009 Imp in my beer store, waiting for Christmas Day. I had a little taster of this one a few months ago, before it reached its two-year anniversary, and it was tasting extremely fine. (Tasting notes for the 2009 Imp are here).
I look forward to the day in 2013 when I get to taste this year’s brew!
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