Vodka may be Russia’s national libation, but beer comes in at a close second. In fact, the country has the fourth largest beer market in the world and is no longer limited to Soviet stalwart, Zhigulevskoe, or Baltika. Here’s our pick of the best breweries and beers that are changing the nation’s drinking culture.
Despite being tucked away in Zarechny, a small, snow-laden town in the Ural Mountains, not too far from Yekaterinburg, Jaws is named after the colossal waves that hit the coasts of Maui during winter. One of the only breweries in the area, Jaws is bringing the new wave of craft beer into the Urals, as well as across Russia. Kicking things off in 2008, Jaws’s surfer-themed beers have a small basic run, including an English Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout and American Pale Ale, as well as seasonal and small batch-beers that are increasingly getting noticed throughout Russia.
Beers to try: All Jaws beers have such great names, such as Looking For a Man, Do Not Worry Baby and Atomic Laundry, which beg to be tried for their monikers alone. However, the English Pale Ale is their signature brew and one not to miss. Layered on a malt base are notes of fruit and caramel, making it refreshing and tasty. Also try the seasonal Maui Porter, filled with rich, indulgent notes of chocolate, coconut and coffee.
Bakunin, St. Petersburg
Beers to try: Laughing Sam, a citrus-filled American Pale Ale and their inaugural brew. Also try Zatemenie, a black Imperial Stout, bursting with roasted nuts, vanilla and cocoa. At 11.5 per cent, it is also pretty boozy, so it’s not really a session beer.
Odna Tonna, Zhukovsky
The brewery and bar Odna Tonna, or One Tonne, has put the town of Zhukovsky, 45 kilometres (28 miles) south-east of Moscow, on the map as home to some of the best beers Russia offers. The brainchild of hop enthusiast and self-taught brewer Alexander Belkov, Odna Tonna has come to become an institution and a nation wide phenomenon, and many people travel to the small town to taste Belkov’s hits of flavour.
Beers to try: Clique Party Hard. A seasonal imperial IPA that hits sweet notes with hints of fruit and sherry, with a kick of hoppy bitterness. At 8.5 per cent you would definitely be partying hard on a night on this. Mr Golding Porter is another favourite too. Malty and dark it has hints of smoked prunes and salted caramel and at 6 per cent, is not too potent.
Created by Vyacheslav Vetelev, a gastropub owner from Obninsk, Labeerint creates unusual brews made from local ingredients, in the Kaluga region south of Moscow. Using unorthodox ingredients such as balsamic soaked blueberries, watermelon and birch tree sap has given the brewery a reputation for creating truley unique craft beers
Beers to try: Yara-Ma-Yha-Who, and not just for the name. Another boozy Imperial IPA, grapefruit and orange and sweet mangoes and peaches flavour this intensely orange brew.
Vasileostrovskaya, St. Petersburg
Originally based in the Urals, the brewery relocated to St. Petersburg in 2005, and became the pioneer of craft beer in the region. Creating bold favours with cherries, coffee, honey, spices and juniper berries, Vasileostrovskaya continues to push and refine Russian craft beer sophistication to new levels. It makes both seasonal and permanent award-winning labels across the beer varieties, and with so many to choose from, it’s a good excuse to head to the pub.
Beers to try: Chekov, a six per cent Cherry Ale. The bitter aftertaste hits once the initial cider-like sweetness dissipates, and you are left with a crisp, tart, beer.
Victory Art Brew, Moscow
In Ivanteyevka, a satellite city just to the north of Moscow, award winning Victory Art Brew set out to make distinctive beer as a response to the perceived lack of choice in the Russian market. Born out of a home brewing project, their beers have regularly won awards from Russian and international organisations and competitions. Since 2016, they have been certified as eco-friendly by LavkaLavka, a sustainability and farming association.
Beers to try: My Fallen Angel, a fruity IPA with notes of mango and passionfruit, is the newest addition to their range, while the award-winning Celebration Stout is the brewery’s first commercial brew, and still a good one – aromatic hops and plenty of malt gives this creamy beer its distinctive taste.
Read our article on the iconic Zhigulevskoye beer brand.
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