Tachanka: Russian Imperial Stout Brew Day

By: CJ, 21 January 2019

carriage 'Tachanka' is the name of an improvised horse-drawn carriage mounted with a machine gun invented by Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. This dude raised a 100,000-strong army to fight against everybody who tried to impose themselves on southern Ukraine, including *both sides* in the Russian Civil War. Makhno didn't take any shit from anyone, capitalist or communist, striving to build a stateless, worker-controlled society in his homeland. As the name for a weapon used by poor but ferocious revolutionaries, the term 'tachanka' suggests something proud, primitive, and anti-authoritarian.

makhno That's a good attitude to have in a day when 'imperial stout' seems to mean a syrupy, 15% abv beer aged in bourbon barrels on vanilla and chili peppers. More delicious than these beers is the delicious irony of naming a 'Russian imperial' stout after a weapon used to fend off an army that supported the Russian empire. My aim is a beer that, while strong, full bodied, and complex, remains drinkable and uses a relatively simple recipe. No bourbon barrels, no vanilla, no dozen-malt grain bill or 1.040 finishing gravity. Just something black, direct, and hardworking that can keep you warm in an Eastern European winter, but still leave you ready for a fight: the way Makhno would've wanted it.

To achieve this, I essentially built out from a version of the 1914 Courage Imperial Stout I've brewed before, adding some extra grains for depth, with some ingredient substitutions and compromises for availability.








I started with a buttload of fermentables, brewing on a day when the cooling water I left out overnight had frozen a bit.

grist bags water

My water is pretty hard, but I ended up needing calcium carbonate to keep the pH in range due to all the dark grain.


I mashed at 155 for 65 minutes, then at 160 for 10, producing a beautifully dark, inky wort.

mash sweet wort

I boiled for 90 minutes, using Eureka hops because they were the highest alpha acid hop my LHBS had.

hops boiling

I went with three full packs of dry yeast to avoid needing a gigantic starter. After slowly adding chilled wort to the rehydrated yeast to temper it, the stuff was kicking by the time I pitched.

rolling yeast

I added the yeast to 60F wort, open fermenting at around 64F ambient so that the beer rose to around 70F by day 3. I primed the bottles to about 2.3 volumes, adding champagne yeast to make sure it carbed, then conditioned.



Finished Stout
Even after only a week in the bottle, this beer was already good. With some extra time, it got even better. The beer pours black and opaque, topped by a moderately sized, extremely tight, khaki head that eventually settles to a small ring. Taken holistically, the beer reminds me of a good espresso. The aroma is strong roast/coffee and chocolate with a streak of earth and pine, though there was a hint of garlic aroma in certain bottles. The flavor follows, but with weaker roast elements. The silky body, while full, is not syrupy. It has a lingering, slightly bitter finish with a hint of vanilla. It may sound odd to say, but this imperial stout is quite drinkable: I can have a 12 oz serving without struggling to finish it or developing diabetes afterward. I'll probably play with the hops and yeast in the future, but the spirit of Makhno approves of the grist!