Winston Churchill once said:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
No more true than now.
That said, I had the opportunity recently to be in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. They were well organized and executed, a success surely, but perhaps not on the same scale as Vancouver. There were lots of people, but no throngs on the grounds of the Olympic Park most days. Not many of the events seemed to be sold out. To buy a ticket you had to have a security pass and I’m sure tickets prices may have kept away a lot of average Ivans and Natashas who would’ve liked to go. On another note, the only beer available at every venue in the Coastal Cluster was Baltika 0, a non-alcoholic beer.
Still, there were licensed bars and restaurants on the grounds. Off the grounds variety stores and large supermarkets carried a large variety of bottled beers, and even the Media Village had what became known as the ‘Canadian Beer Tent’, where Baltika flowed like ambrosia to the thirsty TV crews who populated this den nightly. I don’t think the proprietor knew what a success his tent would be, the large Canadian contingent held court there nightly.
Across the river from the Olympic Grounds is the city of Adler, population 76,000. This is where the real action is, the streets are packed with shoppers by day and partiers by night. There were many pubs and restaurants, and a number of ‘Piv-bars’ or beer bars throughout the city. I lead a small band on a pub crawl one afternoon and was genuinely surprised at the variety available to the Russian beer drinker. From light lagers to dark porters, filtered, unfiltered, even unpasteurized, the discerning imbiber has much to chose from. But that’s another story. This one is about the bottled beers that I found and a few I brought back home.
Russians love Czech beers, so there are many Czech pilsners and lagers available throughout the country and many Czech styles made by local and regional Russian breweries too. Indeed, Russian breweries do make a wide range of styles, though completely lacking in any hop dominated beer styles; no IPAs, pale ales, ESBs, you get the picture. Baltika (???????) is the largest brewery, the official beer supplier to the Games and a producer of a interesting line up.
Found just about everywhere was Baltika 3 called a ‘classic pilsner lager’, it was rather light and ordinary, a Russian version of Lucky Lager, pale gold, malt-hop balance muted, underwhelming. (4.8%) Much better was Baltika 7 their Export Lager, more of a premium brew, pale yellow, quick frothy head, grainy nose, sweet palate, some hop dryness in the finish. (5.4%) This was an immensely popular brew, a number of people I know may have drank their weight in this beer while there. They will be happy to know, Baltika 7 is now available in Canada.
Perhaps the one of best of the bunch, a real traditional Czech pilsner. The Moscow Brewing Company produced product shows off as a high end pilsner in every detail: immediate hop nose on pouring, a crisp, clean, well balanced and carbonated product, deep gold in colour with a soft head and palate that leads to a refreshingly dry finish. Comes in a unique, almost wine-like 500 ml green bottle with a regular beer cap. (5%)
Starrie Melnick (?????? ???????)
Pretty much a straight ahead light bodied lager, but with a big malt flavour profile, some underlying fruitiness balanced against a minimal hop presence. Nice tight white head, some lacing, light gold colour, fruit-malt nose, lingering grainy finish. Starrie Melnick means ‘Old Windmill’. (4.6%)
One of several I found labeled as ‘zhivoe’ or ‘living’ as in it has yeast in it. Indeed, it is cloudy pale yellow, though no residual lees visible in the bottle, bready-malty nose, fresh grainy palate, no hop presence, but a fairly pleasant dry finish, refreshing, medium bodied, bright. From the Volga region. (4.2%)
Khamovniki Pilzenskoe Pivo (????????? ??????????? ????)
Bright and effervescent, Czech-style in a unique tall, tapered bottle, strong lacing, good balance of hops over malt (for a change), filtered to a brilliant light gold, fresh palate, lip smackingly good, smooth, somewhat more-ish, with a long dry finish. (4.8%)
Anton Gruby Tomnoe (????? ????? ?????)
An unpasteurized dark ale, ‘zhivoe’ or alive, though there is no lees on the bottom of the 1.5 liter PET style bottle it came in from the giant supermarket store.
Beautiful deep coppery brown colour, big off white head that slowly dissipates leaving not much lacing. Somewhat neutral nose but nice, well balanced flavour profile focusing on the malt, some nutty notes, very smooth & more-ish, tastes very fresh, dries nicely in the finish, no lingering sweetness like some Russian dark beers. A very decent Russian ale. (4.7%)
A filtered but unpasteurized ‘live’ brew, that was a staple of the Soviet era and is still brewed today. Light gold, fresh nose, effervescent, malt dancing lightly on your tongue, hidden hop dryness, crisp, clean, nice finish, no lingering sweetness. Brewed by Zhigulovskiy Pivo-Byezalkogolniy Kombinalt, in Samara, Russia. (4.4%)
This is an unfiltered wheat beer, pours with a cloudy haze, foamy head, emitting a fresh citric aroma, seems somewhat wheaty, medium bodied, balanced and refreshing, good lacing, creamy mouthfeel, some malt sweetness in the finish and citrus throughout. Kind of a weizen-light, subtle clove tones and fleeting banana notes, a very drinkable beer, perhaps one of the best Baltika puts out. I love this quenching, cerebral tonic.
This is my Gold Medal Beer of the Games. I had it on tap and in bottles, a very consistent brew, always refreshing, always poured in a tall proper glass, always the beer everyone paused over. (5%)
Yuzberg Weissbier (?????? ????????e)
Brewed by Suzdalskaya Pivovarnya, this is a German style weizen beer, very impressive for a Russian made brew, though it was brewed with Deutsch ingredients (yeast from Weihenstephan, three kinds of malt), it works as a very tasty tonic on those warm winter days when you’ve been hiking along the Black Sea and are in need of refreshment and shade. This was a close second to Baltika 8, nice subtle complexity going on here, very more-ish. (4.9%)
St.Petersburg based Bokharov Brewery makes this strong entry into the Malt Liquor category. Gold colour, firm head that disappears, nose of alcohol and bread, sweet malt notes intermingled with some light bitterness, full bodied, yet kind of thin, warming after 1/2 a liter, long lingering finish. (8.1%)
And speaking of strong beers, there is this one at 8% abv, another of the stronger beers I found. Big malty nose hints at its strength right off, as does the full bodied, deeply golden hued pour. A light head falls quickly, but laces coyingly. The first sip tells the tale: strong, bock-like, malt accented, alcohol evident in the palate, yet balanced with enough hop to keep the malt sweetness in check, especially in the lingering finish. (8%)
Brewed by Martin Aqua LLC, from Krasnodar, not far from Sochi, a bottler of gaseous mineral waters, now producing their own line of beers.
Full malt nose, tight tan head that quickly dissipates, dark ruby brown in colour, caramel overtones, big malt palate, good carbonation, nice legs, buried hops to balance the heavy malt sweetness, dollops of cocoa & treacle, traces of vanilla & brown sugar, complex & inviting, strong but coyingly so, long, long wayward finish. This is my Silver Medal Beer of the Games, for its longevity and tenacity. In a sea of lager, it held its own like those frigates on the Black Sea horizon. (8.4%)
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cheers from fezz !