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All at sea again: Imperial Russian Stout is coming home.

I am SO going on this.

This is old news now, but I’ve been meaning to promote it for ages and, having just paid my deposit, now seems like the perfect time.

This June – almost four years since I recreated the journey of IPA from Burton-on-Trent to India – a group of brewers corralled by a man almost as mad as I am will be recreating the Baltic Run, from London to St Petersburg.

This is the journey that foreshadowed IPA, and its recreation is taking place on the kind of epic scale, and with the a level of authenticity, that I only wish I could have achieved with my adventure.  Tim O’ Rourke, a longstanding figure in the beer industry, had the idea a few years ago after a chat I had with him about my IPA voyage, and he’s worked tirelessly to make it a reality.

He’s hired Thermopylae – the yacht above – and convinced eleven brewers to create Imperial Russian Stouts that will be loaded on board after a special beer festival in London, running from 12th to 15th May.  The ship will then set sail across the North Sea, and will tour pubs and beer festivals around the Baltic, with the intention of arriving in St Petersburg on 15th June.  The journey will be in stages, and volunteer crew are still needed for various bits of it.  It’s a non-proft making venture and hiring a round-the-world clipper plus professional skipper and watch captains doesn’t come cheap, so it costs £700 per person per week.  But it’s worth it to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime – sod that, once-in-two-centuries -experience.

It’s a common misconception that stout was shipped to Russia by Burton brewers in the days of the Czars.  Well, while some stout may or may not have gone in later days, the beer that made Burton famous was strong, sweet, nut-brown ale.  Years later though, London’s porter brewers got in on the act and started exporting their beers to Imperial courts that fell in love with strong British beer styles.  British ships originally went to the Baltic to source wood for barrels, and figured they needed to take something on the outward journey to make it worthwhile.  So they took beer, and it really took off.  Maybe it was because of Staffordshire glass blowers working on the new palaces of St Petersburg.  Maybe it was inspired by attempts to keep up with Peter the Great, who served it at royal banquets, or Catherine the Great, who was ‘immoderately fond’ of British beer.  But the Baltic was Britain’s first great export market, until a combination of Bonaparte and prohibitive duty rates killed the trade off.  Back in Burton, it was the infrastructure and knowhow developed for the Baltic trade that allowed Burton brewers to crack the Indian market.

On the modern day version, the beers taking the trip come from:

1.     Harveys
2.     Coors Museum Brewery/William Worthington Brewery
3.     Wadworth
4.     Shepherd Neame
5.     St Austell
6.     Elgood’s
7.     Thrornbridge
8.     Meantime
9.     Bartram Brewery
10.  Black Sheep
11.  Fullers

I wish I could go along for the whole voyage, but I’ll be helping The Beer Widow organise Stokey Lit Fest again at the start of June.  Happily, we have just enough time to recover from the Litfest before getting a flight to Helsinki, where we’ll meet the ship and her cargo for the final leg to St Petersburg and what will hopefully be a triumphant arrival.

Middle of June, Baltic, a sun that never sets… I might even take the Beer Widow with me this time.  Go to www.thegreatbalticadventure.com if you’re interested in joining us.




Nice. Helsinki is an interesting place and St Petersburg is out of this world, an absolutely incredible city. Try to have as long as yu possibly can to see it.

Gary Gillman

What a great plan, I wish the organizers all the best with it!

Good to see Harveys in that list amongst other eminent names.

Tasting recently some U.K. Imperial or strong stouts purchased at the beer shop in Borough Market (London's), I thought the 2008 Le Coq Double Stout from Harveys took the crown with its big winy (brett-influenced?) elegant sweetish taste. Very classy stuff and I'd like to think a replication of an 1800's flavour. But competition will be keen given the other names in that list!


Paul Keenan

Totally agree on this venture – very exciting range of brewers to be involved and I'm very keen to see what they can produce for the journey.

One minor point though – the wood that GB was interested in through the Baltic trade wasn't primarily for barrels. It was for use in ship-building by the Royal Navy, particularly for use as the main masts.


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