Russian beer is totally unique to beers from other regions of the world. The brewing process is unlike Western European style brews, and the resulting flavor profiles are unforgettable. Some beers are light and fruity, much like a hybrid beer-cider with an undertone of apple cider vinegar. Others are muddy, thick beers that leave no question about high alcohol content.
The Russians are proud of their products, and have guarded their recipes until recently. However, brew-masters have discovered the Russian’s secrets and are happy to help others learn how to brew beer. If attempting to make Russian homebrew, proceed with caution and do plenty of research before starting. These brews are anything but standard, and a good recipe and list of tips is imperative to producing a consumable batch of beer.
Facts About Russians and Their Beer
Served icy cold, this hoppy brew is growing in popularity worldwide. Though vodka is the main alcoholic drink served in Russia, beer follows up with a close second.
Russian beer is a staple of the natives. Just a few short years ago, even children consumed it regularly. The water quality in Russia is very poor in certain areas, so beverages whose contents are sterile due to boiling are much safer to drink.
As of 2011, Russia was home to just over 560 breweries: 40 high production, 76 medium production and 263 low production operations. There are also 182 restaurant/brewery businesses.
Russians drink about 12.5 liters of alcohol per capita each year – 5 liters of vodka and 4 liters of beer included.
Beer wasn’t actually categorized as an alcoholic beverage until 2011. Until that time, foods comprised of less than 10% alcohol were considered just that: foods. This leads one to wonder if those on government assistance could purchase beer with the Russian equivalent of food stamps.
Due to the relaxed attitude and laws concerning alcohol consumption combined with the wide variety of vodkas and beers in Russia, approximately 1 in 5 men die from alcohol related deaths each year.
Russians don’t label their beer as porter, lager, ale, stout, etc. Rather, it is sorted by colors: light, red, semi-dark and dark. It is possible to learn how to brew all colors and types of beer at home, and many Russian beers were born in back rooms in the back woods.
Dark Russian beer has a very high alcohol content of 6-10%. Keep this in mind while drinking their imported beer, as it is twice as strong as American brews, at the very least.
The attached guide may help take some of the guess work out of choosing a favorite beer to brew or drink:
Baltika beer comes in a wide variety of colors and flavors. This well known brewery is a high production plant, enabling the company to export beer internationally. Baltika is high popular, winning the “Most People’s Brand” award for nearly two decades running. Baltika has amassed over 30 international and domestic awards for excellence in taste and quality.
In 2008, Baltika Three, the lightest and crispest brew they produce, was awarded a silver medal at the Brussels International Taste and Quality Institute.
Thick and black, this porter style brew affords a low amount of tan head. Its flavor is reminiscent of well aged red wine with hints of dark chocolate, and this is a great wintertime beer that pairs well with red meats. Due to its burly nature, it is easy to see why this is a working man’s brew.
Baltika Lager – Cooler Refreshing Taste
This golden brew is very similar to Miller High Life and offers a cooler, more refreshing taste than typical Russian beers. It is a wonderful refreshment on hot summer days, and this is a popular choice with Europeans wanting a slightly different lager. Very creamy and lemony to the last drop, this beer contains 4.7% alcohol by volume.
This is a medium color beer, which is relatively uncommon to the Americas. Brewed from clean, crisp water and high quality ingredients, Nevskoye offers a very mild, pleasant flavor. This beer pairs well with white meat and hot summer nights. When poured into a frosty mug, drinkers enjoy about a half inch of white, foamy head. Flavors are very balanced between sweetness and bitterness. Nevskoye beer goes down very smooth, thanks to its creamy yet crisp texture.
Arsenalnoye Extra Lager
This beer is an enigma. Flavors of apples and hops swamp the senses with the first sip and reminds one of drinking apple ale without the hinderance of a heavy grain aftertaste. Refreshing and light, this charming lager is palatable to finicky drinkers and is excellent for entertaining at holiday parties. Its 7% alcohol content by volume is still about twice that of American beers, making this a great value.
Baltika Seven – Export Lager
Light to medium bodied, this lager is moderately carbonated. The head diminishes fairly quickly, so it is best for drinking, rather than sipping. This beer affords a rather slick texture with a sweet aftertaste. The flavor is very sweet and slightly buttery, but the malt and hops are very evident when drinking. This slightly heavy, sweet lager is a pleasure to drink and even more fun to brew. Learn how to brew lagers at home where it is easy to control alcohol content and flavors.
Created in 1881 by Alfred von Vacano Zhigulevskoye, this beer has the distinction of being the only brand of beer brewed during the Soviet Era. This pilsner has been reinvented and refined to be a heavy contender in today’s highly competitive market. It is now one of the Eastern World’s most trusted, popular beers. It even has a unique plastic twist off cap!
Nevskoe Imperial Pale Lager
After making its first appearance in the early 90’s, this beer has retained its novelty and popularity. Strongly scented by hops, the flavor is very robust and full bodied. The quality is consistently great, and this beer is a genuine eye opener. The high alcohol content and malty flavor overtakes the hoppy flavor typical of other lagers. Nevskoe Imperial Pale Lager was voted World’s Best in Poland, and its popularity has since spread to countries further west.
Ochakovo Pale Lager
Conceptualized and created for the 1980 Summer Olympics, inventor Ochakov brewed the first successful batch of his brilliant pale lager in 1978. Cutting edge cold filtering technology paired with the use of finely meshed polymeric membranes help filter out even the smallest yeast particles. This beer is incredibly cool, clean and crisp – a truly unforgettable Russian treat.
Stary Melnik American Lager
This Russian beer is closely modeled after the most popular American lagers on the market today. Best suited to western beer critics, this lager is crisp and very mild. Very easy to drink, the label on this beer has a whimsical old windmill, hinting at an appreciation for clean energy. This is one of the easiest Russian beers for Americans to drink or brew at home.
Sibirskaya Korona Witbier
Having a name similar to the well known Mexican beer Corona, its name is the only thing the two beers have in common. Since its inception, it has enjoyed high popularity in Russia and abroad. Available in eight varieties, it is fun to sample each flavor in turn. Work down the list and get a flavor for each type.
Recognized by its beautiful amber color, this lovely pilsner affords a perfectly balanced hoppy scent and flavor profile. This especially high quality beer is comprised of only the best quality malt, hops and sugars. Cold filtering technology helps brew masters develop this pilsner into a truly fantastic, special beer that should only be drunk with the best-loved company.
Brewing beer and managing at-home or professional cellars has never been easier than it is today. Get started brewing today and reap the benefits with friends and family for decades to come.