Bar men will brag, so I was skeptical at Brendan Hartranft's claim. But the jolly fellow tipping back a stout one seat over from me at Strangelove's - Jim Robertson, the brewmaster of Wells & Young's in Bedford, England - confirmed it. A 2009 drinking session with Hartranft (and Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione) had indeed inspired him to resurrect the iconic John Courage Imperial Stout: "a lifelong ambition," he said.
No ordinary brew, this is a direct descendant (via centuries of corporate mergers) of the original Russian Imperial Stout created in the 18th century by Thrale's Brewery for the court of Catherine the Great - a porter intensified with extra hops and higher alcohol for the journey to St. Petersburg.
On draft this week at Hartranft's many bars for the first time in the United States, it struck me with its balanced power - its 10 percent alcohol seamlessly melded into a brew with the creamy richness of a chocolate shake, shaded with notes of black coffee, licorice, and a peppery, yeasty finish. It's such a perfect pairing with chef Paul Martin's spicy duck gumbo, I'd brag about it, too. But just drinking it is fun enough.
- Craig LaBan
John Courage Imperial Stout on draft, $8 a glass, Strangelove's, 216 S. 11th St., 215-873-0404. Also at Memphis Taproom, Resurrection Ale House, and Local 44.