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Russian and Ukrainian beer

Posted in Beer on 2006-10-28 15:55

Lvivske Porter, the best Ukrainian beer

Russia and the Ukraine may sound like terrible destinations for anyone looking for a decent pint of beer, and while both countries are for the most part deserts of pale lager, things are not nearly as bad as they may seem. There are some interesting beer styles, some brewpubs, and the quality of the industrial beer (especially in the Ukraine) is not at all bad. And prices are low, of course.

(Apologies for the lack of good photos, by the way. I lost nearly all my Russian beer photos together with the laptop.)

Despite this, Ukrainian beer seems largely unexplored on RateBeer, while Russian seems better covered. When we left for the Ukraine, only 27 Ukrainian beers had 10 ratings or more. Two months (and 55 ratings from me) later, the number stands at 29. The beer scenes in the two countries seem very similar, as far as I can tell, so I will treat them as one here. In general, Russia seems a little more sophisticated and a little more aware of modern craft beer attitudes, and Russian beer also seems to enjoy much broader international distribution.

Drinking beer in Russia and the Ukraine

Beer generally seems to be the drink of choice in Russia. People drink it in parks, in the street, in pubs, in restaurants, at the bus stop, etc etc. In fact, in Kiev it's not uncommon in the late afternoon to meet men in suits carrying a briefcase in one hand and an open beer bottle and a cigarette in the other. People seem to do much more drinking in public places than in pubs and bars, probably because of the prices, and possibly also because of the loud music.

We did see people drinking strong liquor or wine, but not very often. Alcopops exist, but are barely noticeable. The Russian reputation for vodka drinking seemed undeserved to us, but probably more vodka is drunk at home and in social settings than in public places.

Pyatiy Okean, Moscow. Brewpub with tap on the table

In general most restaurants and pubs in Russia and the Ukraine have only pale lager, and while there are quite a few of these this gets boring quickly. The strange thing is that the breweries make other beers, but in three weeks we only found one place that had something else in their menu (only on the menu, of course; when we ordered it they turned out not to have it). However, there are a couple of brewpubs in Kiev, and there are some pleasant surprises here and there, so it isn't all dreary.

One interesting thing about Russia and the Ukraine is that pretty much every street corner has a couple of kiosks selling various groceries, typically including 10-15 different beers, and the beers vary from kiosk to kiosk. The prices are also incredibly low (2-4 UAH for an 0.5l bottle; that is, 30-60 EUR cents), so if a beer does not appeal you can simply pour it out and have another. The result of this (and the loud, horrible music played in most pubs/restaurants/cafés) is that often the best place to have a beer in Russia is on a park bench, or on a beach promenade. Or, in the worst case, your hotel room.

It seems that foreign beer enjoys much higher prestige than the local brews. Foreign beer is consistently much higher priced, often by a factor of 4-5. The more upscale a restaurant or pub is, the fewer domestic brands it seems to carry. The same pattern seems to hold for grocery stores, so trying to find a well-stocked supermarket to buy the best Russian beers is not going to work, because most likely the supermarket will have only foreign brands. Local "gastronom" shops for the common people are a much better place to seek out local brews, although some supermarkets carry local specialties like meads.

Beer styles

The Lonely Planet guide to the Ukraine compares Ukrainian beer with Czech beer, and the comparison definitely makes sense. The Ukraine (and Russia) have much the same beer styles as the German lager styles widespread in the Czech Republic, although Russia and the Ukraine add some extra styles. The quality (at least in 2006) is also comparable. Ukrainian pale lagers are generally quite well made, although in Russia the average seems to be quite a bit lower.

In general, Russian and Ukrainian brewers tend to stick to the traditional German beer styles, with some rare exceptions. The main styles are:

Svitle (light)
Pretty standard pale lagers, 4-5% alcohol. Generally low on flavour, but for the most part also free of off tastes and quite well made.

Best in category: Lvivske Premium (3.2). Worst: Taller (2.2).

Temne (dark)
Dark lagers (or dunkels), again 4-5% alcohol. Generally sweet, but not always, and generally with some roastiness, and, if you are very lucky, some spiciness. Again, off tastes are rare, though at times the brewers overdo the sweetness somewhat.

Best in category: Obolon Oksamitove (3.2). I didn't try enough of these to have a meaningful worst.

Mitsne (strong)
Pretty standard strong pale European lagers, 6-8%. They are sweeter and denser in body than the svitles, and often have a bit more hops. Reminiscent of Scandinavian "gold" macro brews.

Best: Slavutych Mitsne (3.0). Worst: Arsenal Mitsne (2.5).

Bile (white)
German-style hefeweizen wheat beers, but often spicier and more citric than the German brews, while not as much as the Belgian wits. There are also some dark "whites", which tend to be sweeter.

Best: Dnipro Bile (3.1). Worst: Chernigivske Bile Nefiltrovane (2).

Porter
There is, surprisingly, a good number of these, but they are very difficult to find. In three weeks of searching I saw Lvivske Porter twice, and Baltika 6 once. The latter I haven't tried yet, so I don't know enough about this category to write anything meaningful about it.

Kvas

Kvas, unknown brand, Yalta
Coarse small head; body hazy dark brown. Acidic, strong taste of rye bread. Some ginger. Very watery. Not much taste. 1 UAH for 0.3l.

There is also kvas, a traditional Russian beer style originally quite low in alcohol and brewed from bread. This is rarely sold in bottles or in pubs, but generally sold in the street from little tank trucks. These usually have some babushka manning them, selling beer in plastic cups. For some reason this beer style has much lower status than the more widespread German-derived styles, although some of the brewpubs make good versions of it.

I got to try a few different varieties of kvas throughout those three weeks, and there seem to be two different kinds. One is what I would call the traditional, which is brownish, hazy, and tastes of rye bread, spice, and yeast. The other is found in bottles and pubs, and seems more like a traditional soft drink, with a gingery taste. I never found any official indication of the alcohol level, but would think 3-4% at the most.

Russian kvas in a can







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Comments

CaptSolo - 2006-11-10 08:28:09

Have you tried looking for beer in Latvia yet?

Students of physics and mathematics at the University of Latvia even made a self-sacrifice and tested 100 different brands of beer - both local and foreign.

Here you can see one of 4 pages of the test (text is in Latvian, but photos are self-evident): http://fizmati.lv/dzive/kojas/petijums_par_alu_2_dala

Lars Marius - 2006-11-10 09:04:04

I've been in Latvia, but that was before my beer-hunting days. And, besides, I was driving. I could be tempted to go there, though. I thought Aldaris Stiprais decent (my only Latvian beer so far), and I have an Aldaris Porteris at home of which I expect a bit more.

Thanks for the link! Not sure I understood the scale, though. Is -5 best or worst?

Maria - 2007-03-12 10:48:23

I think the best beer choice in Russia is in local micros. In St.Petersburg where I live there a number of good beer places to visit. About porters you are right, it's a bit difficult to buy them in supermarkets. You should know the places... If you want, I'd be happy to bring some russian porters for you to taste, as I'll be in Oslo soon.

PS Kvas at your picture is made at Ochakovo brewery in Moscow.

Igor - 2007-05-16 05:19:27

Did you know that KVAS is actually a non-alcoholic drink? I used to buy from the babushka with the tank with my mates when i was 8. It's brewed out of bread as a soft drink.

Vladyslav - 2007-06-06 08:08:47

My two favorite Ukrainian beers are Obolon (dark) and Arsenal. Kvas is a seasonal drink that doesn't show up on the streets, in tanks until in the month of may or later. Please, stop calling Ukraine - the Ukraine. You don't call Russia - the Russia or the France.

Lars Marius - 2007-06-06 12:43:04

Igor: no, I was not aware that kvas is non-alcoholic. I think the canned ones I found had a little alcohol, so I guess you are referring to the ones sold in the streets.

Vladyslav: I haven't tried Obolon Dark, but I hope to get the chance this August, when we go to Lviv. I have to admit I didn't like the Arsenal beers too much. I had no idea kvas was seasonal.

Vladyslav: It's actually common in English to write "the Ukraine," but after I saw your comment I checked Wikipedia, and it seems like just writing "Ukraine" is becoming more common. Note that there's no disrespect in this; after all, the Netherlands is referred to the same way, and so are other countries. Anyway, I think I'll try to change my style now, since writing "the Ukraine" always kind of grated on me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine#Etymology_of_the_name_.22Ukraine.22

Piotr - 2007-06-21 09:01:46

For a couple of months we've had Lithuanian beer in Warsaw thanks to some adventurous supermarket managers and it turned out fantastic. Beats all local beers head down and much cheaper than western ones. You definitely should try ©vyturys, both light and dark.

vlad - 2007-06-21 10:36:04

Yep kvas has NO alcohol what so ever. Its a drink you buy on the street to cool off, sort of like Ukraine's version of lemonade. Maybe there is bottled kvas with alcohol added now?? Dont know.

Lars Marius - 2007-06-26 14:39:07

There is definitely bottled kvas now. Just look at the last picture in the posting. I saw other examples of this, too. Unfortunately, they were much less interesting than the street kvas.

Taras - 2007-09-17 12:08:05

first of all russia is mainly desert but Ukraine is not!!... 99% of Ukraine are populated second. Ukrainian beer is the best!! as all my friends from other countries said that.

Lars Marius - 2007-09-17 17:11:49

Desert is an exaggeration, I think. :)

I agree that industrial beer from Ukraine is better than industrial beer from Russia. The beer in the brewpubs in Moscow are much better than in the ones in Kyiv, though. But who knows, maybe Kyiv will overtake Moscow here in a few years.

Bill - 2009-06-27 22:46:43

Hi - Does anyone know of a Russian beer in a 12 oz can that was brewed back in the 1978 to 1980 timeframe? I have 2 empty 12 oz cans of this beer which was called Gold Ring Beer. It says Lager 13%. Rest is in Russian which I cannot read. I'm sure that metal cans were few and far between back in the late 70's in Russia. Any help would be appreciated.

Bill

balazs - 2009-07-03 17:11:18

well i dont know, but i won't go there, because li can't obtain visum for that fucking communist country, or what is that...anyway how much is a shity communist beer in that shity place. my name is balazs, and i like to drink beer and fresh pussy to eat. thanks for your help,yours friendly balazs.

have a nice life, or whatever.

p.s and what abot georgia... you know the song georgia on my mind, by that faggot george michel. rip jacko

Ed - 2009-08-15 09:40:37

It's Ukraine not "The Ukraine."

Also rewrite this paragraph: "Beer generally seems to be the drink of choice in Russia. People drink it in parks, in the street, in pubs, in restaurants, at the bus stop, etc etc. In fact, in Kiev it's not uncommon in the late afternoon to meet men in suits carrying a briefcase in one hand and an open beer bottle and a cigarette in the other."

In the above paragraph you made it appear as if Russia and Kiev are part of one country. Kiev (properly spell Kyiv) is the capital of Ukraine. Russia is another country altogether.

Czech - 2009-09-17 01:14:07

You're right Ed it's Kyiv, well actually Êè¿â. But do you know why? Doubt it. Could you clarify the correct spelling of the capital of the Czech Republic, is it Praha, Prague, Prag. Using the definite article before some proper nouns is common practice in English eg. the United States, the United Kingdon, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and many more. If you want to say Ukraine go right ahead. The rest of us will say the Ukraine. Finally the title of the paragraph that you dislike is Drinking Beer in Russia and the Ukraine so the full stop between the refernce to Russia and the Ukraine made it clear to me that Lars was speaking about two locations. Why don't you all get over yourselves and get back to talking about beer.

internationaldrinksburgher - 2009-11-08 22:24:11

stop calling it 'the ukraine' and join the rest of us in the 21st century. its a constant distraction and takes away from the quality of your article.

Sergey - 2009-12-07 21:13:35

Listen up Czech just because it's common does not mean it's correct. Does English grammar require the definite article the before Ukraine? Ukraine is the name of an independent country. There are only two groups of countries which require the article in English: Those with plural names such as the United States or the Netherlands. The others have names with adjectival or compound forms which require the article, such as the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, or the Ukrainian SSR. We may conclude then, that the use of the definite article in English before the name Ukraine is awkward, incorrect and superfluous. Writers who care about good style in their English grammar and the correctness of their language will always avoid the use of "the Ukraine" and use only the simpler and correct "Ukraine."

Lee - 2010-02-06 07:26:40

Gee, I was attempting to locate information about a terrific beer I am enjoying in Ukraine, not an increasingly heated exchange on what to call this country! The beer in question has a big # 1 as part of the glass bottle, and also on the label, a simulated scroll. I can make out "Abmors_kie Pubo" (not sure about this transliteration at all). Anyone venture a guess? It is by far the best bottled brew I have found here, 6.8% alcohol, therefore somewhat strong, and amber in color. Costs 5.29 UAH at my local small grocery store. Drink up, and hey - lighten up as well, lads!

Lars Marius - 2010-02-06 07:56:17

Lee: the last word is obvious: it's really pivo ("beer"). The first word rang no bells at all before I started thinking a bit. The correct name is Persha Avtorske (your Abmorskie :) Pivo. It's made by the Persha brewery in Lviv. See http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/persha-avtorske-pivo/63266/

Daniel - 2010-04-03 08:15:06

I would imagine that are some decent brew pubs in Moscow. But as the Russians say: "Moscow isn't in Russia".....if you get my drift. I live in Kazan and as a rule the selection is abysimal. Baltika 7 seems to be the local Bud. Most I've tried are just plain awful so I gravitate towards the German beers. The quality of Kvass over the years has gotten bad too being made with "concentrate" goop...looks like a petroleum by-product....alcohol content 1%-2% if that. The canned Kvass tastes live Pepsi without any sugar. Nazdrovia!

Monk11th - 2010-08-09 15:37:58

Oh I've nevet thought that Ukrainian and Russian beer could interest someone :) I'm from Russia (Sain-Petersburg) and could tell that in Russia we don't have any good beer.. But if u'll find it (them) just tell me:) about Kvas there is at least 1.3% of alc. (it's usually indicated on the bottle or alluminium can). maximum alcohol percentage is unknown but it about 2% i think :) Welcome to us

raphael - 2010-08-19 02:50:27

Im visiting ST Petersburg from NYC this weekend- and would love to visit the above mentioned micro breweries of any kind- or meet someone who actually makes the Kvas at home. I really like it (Im up north now) but I find the recipies on the internet dissapointing... Send me an email or post a contact here- I dont think I will have a phone but I will have email. eots -at- riseup dot net best Raphael

Sergey - 2011-05-06 08:31:49

I went to Ukraine last summer. Overall I was pleased with the beer scene. My favorite is Slavutich. I tried it for the first time while in the States. When I was in Ukraine my friends and shop clerks did not approve of it. Even though it's #1 exported beer out of Ukraine. My friend told me that what is being exported is not the same as local stuff. The most recommended beer by locals was Lvivske or Obolon. As far as prices go, it all depends on geography. Crimea and Kiev are the most expensive. In Zaporizhzhya(downtown) you can get 0.5 L. for 15 hryvnas. My favorite beer experience was at Slavutich microbrewery in Kiev. It was expensive but it was worth it. Even the coasters correlated with the brand of Slavutich one was drinking. To give you guys my style of beer, I really like Busch Light, Sam Adams and Becks.

Davra - 2011-06-18 09:30:41

A few years ago I was in Kiev and had a hard time finding a good beer beacause I could not read or speak Russian. I always asked for a Lager beer and didn't do too bad, but I did fine Heineken in more than a few places and when I did, I was happy and drank that beer. I normally drink Budweiser of Bush and could not find than anywhere, to Heineken was a happy relief.

don peterson - 2012-04-25 17:38:22

my experience with Ukranian beer while travelling there for six weeks and trying most every brand I came across, was that it is all bad. I know good beer and even Mexican beers i find superior to Ukranian beer.

cheers.

Johnny Mallia - 2012-08-09 19:12:24

Very informative and well-written. I plan an exodus out that way very soon, so it's great to find a great blog about a great thing. Can't wait to try me a can of kvas)) Ura!

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