In the black corner, the champ -- brewed since the 1780s at the Barclay Perkins brewery in Southwark, surviving the merger with Courage and now, following nearly twenty years on hiatus, revived under the stewardship of Wells & Young of Luton: the original of the species, Courage Imperial Russian Stout!
And in the other black corner, the contender -- from darkest Yorkshire, representing the entirety of progressive British craft brewing, sporting the modernist typography of the Soviet Ewe-nion: Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout!
At the weigh-in, the champ had a few points on the sheep: 10% ABV vs. 8.5%. To keep things fair the bout was fought blindfolded. Seconds out; round 1!
No real head on either beer when poured, though what little foam there was showed much darker on the Courage. This extra density came through in the mouthfeel too, with the Black Sheep thinner and fizzier than the beautifully full and rounded Courage. Looks like this might not be much of a fight.
Black Sheep put in a good showing in the aroma, lots of lovely sweet treacle and molasses against Courage's rather bitter liquorice offering. But the knock-out punch is delivered in the flavour: Black Sheep drops its guard with an autolytic tang, producing a kind of unpleasant sour coffee effect, while the Courage avoids any big risky manoeuvers, instead going for a subtle dark smooth caramel with just a mild metallic hop tang. Deft, gracious, and the unanimous winner for the judges.
For its mix of heavyweight brawn and classically traditional flavours I don't know whether to match it against Guinness Foreign Extra or Brooklyn Black Chocolate in the next bout.