A significant proportion of the Russian populace tends to be addicted to vodka-the nation’s most popular alcoholic drink. Russians’ fatalistic obsession with vodka claims the lives of nearly 20% males annually. In terms of popularity, beer ranks a distant second. Out of an average Russian’s annual alcohol consumption of roughly 12.5 liters, beer constitutes approximately 4 liters in comparison to 5 liters of vodka.
However, a Russian’s preoccupation with vodka has not dented his love for the sparkling ale or stout beer. No wonder, Russia ranks 4th in terms of global beer consumption. Baltika, Russia’s largest brewer, owns the majority of the nation’s bestselling brands.
Stary Melnik and Zhigulevskoe also control a generous share of the beer market.
Baltika 6 Porter
Baltika launched the Baltika 6 Porter in 1995, and eventually, the brand became Russia’s most cosmopolitan beer. The dark hue of Baltika 6 becomes visible on pouring typified by a slender top of microscopic auburn bubbles. On the palate, you pick up faint smells of a typical red wine, layered with subtle hints of chocolate and musty cherries.
Baltika 6 Porter happens to be a very coveted beer brand as it has bagged several international awards. The porter has won the ‘European Beer star,’ ‘World Beer Cup’ and the ‘World Beer Award.’
InBev brewery produces a wide variety of pale ales out of which Klinskoye Svetloe is universally popular. Klinskoye Svetloe is brewed from rice, imparting to the lager soothing crispiness and doing away with the caustic taste. A good percentage of the Russians guzzle down near endless bottles of Klinskoye to quench their thirst.
The secret behind Klinskoye’s widespread popularity is the relentless marketing campaign to position the brand in front of beer enthusiasts.
Zhigulevskoe was brewed in 1881 by Alfred von Vacano, entrepreneur and noble who relocated to Samara from Austria-Hungary to establish the Zhigulevsky Brewery. Sparkling fresh water from the Volga along with a host of premium grade ingredients came in handy for fermenting the beer. Initially, Zhigulevskoe had a semi-dark appearance and very low ABV.
Russia’s most celebrated beer brand has seen the best and the worst of times and has come a long way. During the Communist era when Russia was a federation of states, Zhigulevskoe commanded nearly 90% of the beer market. Zhigulevskoe has been revamped and repackaged and promoted as an affordable pilsner and does not at all taste like what it used to originally.
Nevertheless, a good number of Russians swear by the nation’s most iconic beer label.
Baltika No. 3
If you survey Russia’s top 10 beers, you can bet that at least 5 Baltika beer brands will make it to the list. And Baltika No. 3 is one of the Baltika brands that will be invariably present in the list. Russia’s biggest brewer Baltika distills and markets no less than 13 lagers in the country as well as globally.
Baltika No. 3 is distinguishable by its mild and soothing taste and crunchy finish. The pale lager has a unique golden color with a subtle hoppy zest. The brand witnessed a major refurbishment in 2004, thanks to the revamping of the labeling and bottle design and the introduction of beer cans.
Volkovskaya is Russia’s most popular and best known IPA and has similarities to the American IPA in terms of taste. Till date, Wolfsbrewery has released three versions of Volkovskaya, and the latest edition-IPA V.3 is the best of the lot. The IPA has a misty blond hue with a somewhat thick frothy head.
On sipping, you can make out the nuanced notes of bubblegum, citrus, pine, malts, herbs, and fruitiness. The finish is mildly bitter and a bit dry with a medium body.
The exotic names of Jaws’ brews will surely titillate to try every one of their beer varieties. The names-Do Not Worry Baby, Atomic Laundry, and Looking for a Man-will simply make you wonder what made Jaws choose these epithets. A snow-draped hamlet in the Ural Mountains houses the Jaws Brewery that began operations in 2008.
Make sure you try their flagship brand-the English Pale Ale. You’ll be able to discern the malty notes tempered with strong hints of caramel and fruits.
Chekhov from Vasileostrovskaya
The Vasileostrovskaya brewery has earned a name for itself by pioneering the production of craft beers. The brewer ferments an array of refreshing pale ales flavored juniper berries, spices, honey, coffee, and cherries. Vasileostrovskaya keeps on raising the bar for indigenous craft beer by continuously releasing quality labels, many of which have won international awards.
If you visit their brewery in St. Petersburg, make sure you ask for a glass of Chekov- cherry-flavored ale. A tart and bitter aftertaste will predominate following the dispersing away of the cider-style sweetness. You’ll also find the beers of this brewery in bars across Russian cities and towns.
Baltika Grade 9 Extra Lager
You bet you’ll have a hard time deciphering what the ‘extra lager’ in Baltika Grade 9 is all about. While you keep wondering, your nostrils will pick up the toasty malt aroma peppered with a fruity flavor. The 8% ABV will ensure that you’ll feel quite tipsy once you’ve quaffed off a couple of bottles.
The Ochakovo brewery created a unique Russian pale lager in 1978 to impress athletes and visitors at the 1980 Summer Olympics. The lager tastes soothing and refreshing as the brewer uses the best grades of hops and malt for the brew. Also, the use of state-of-the-art filtration technology ensures the removal of all impurities and filtrates.
On the palate, you discern scents of grass and cereals with a finish that reminds you of cardboard.
Laughing Sam from Bakunin
Bakunin Brewery owned by three enterprising entrepreneurs started operations in 2013 and started exporting their produce within three years. Within six years of going operational, the brewery has established the infrastructure to offer a wide variety of refreshing beers. The majority of their offerings come with a range of aromatic flavors, earthy and citrus fragrances dominating.
One beer variety you must try is ‘Laughing Sam,’ an American-style Pale Ale. It has a misty deep orange hue with a frothy top and effuses a blend of fruity, herbal, and citrusy notes.