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Oakes Weekly - September 23 2004

St Petersburg
Oakes Weekly September 23, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

Four years ago I made my first visit to St. Petersburg. It was all about the macros back then, and not much has changed in that regard. A few other things, have, though. For example, they have really cleaned up the touristy areas. It used to be that you could buy a beer at any kiosk. True today as well, except that they’ve removed all the kiosks from the touristy areas (ie Nevsky Prospekt and anywhere with imperial architecture, which is a lot of places). So you buy your beer in a sweaty shop, or from a patio bar. Thus beerhunting, while still affordable, is not the rock-bottom bargain it used to be. But then again, you don’t smell urine in all the doorways now either. And all the buildings along Nevsky are clean and civilized, not just the Nevsky Palace Hotel and Pizza Hut. Old Russia is gone from St. Petersburg for the most part, under Putin’s law-and-order rule.

On my last trip, I attempted to pay a visit to the Tinkoff Brewpub. They tried to play a game of "let’s shake down the foreigner". I politely requested that they self-fornicate and left. This time I didn’t bother with a visit. There’s no need, really, as they now have a bottling brewery in suburban Pushkin and you can find their feeble attempts at Porter and Rauchbier anywhere.

You can’t find Elross/Shiko anywhere, however. Three days of poking my head in every store and bar I came across, trying to contact the brewery and trying to find a map that would outline specifically how to get to their brewery and I was still unable to procure any of this micro’s beers.

I’m not a totally useless beerhunter though. Indeed, I paid a visit to a fine bar called Pivnoi Bar Prokhudimets, which is at ul. Rubinshteyna 8, just off Nevsky. True, they have only 12 beers, but two of them are from a tiny microbrewery heretofore unheard of - Vasilyeostrovskaya. The name refers to a district in St. Petersburg and the beers - theoretically a pale and dark lager - were quite unique. They both tasted very wheaty (and thus slightly tart) and had distinctive citrus notes. They were unfiltered and yeasty. It seems a fairly unorthodox combination of elements, but I really dug these beers.

In other news, the last Soviet-style brewery in St. Petersburg, Bavaria, is now part of SUN-Interbrew. So no more of these types of beers in that city (nor as it turned out anywhere I went to in Russia).

I dropped by another microbrewery. it was a very frustrating experience to say the least. I could smell the beer but the gates were locked. Moreover, the tap room was supposed to be open at that hour but was shut tight as a drum.

Amongst regular grocery-store beers, two stood out. One was Konigsberg Dunkel. Konigsberg is the Prussian name for what is now the Russian city of Kaliningrad. This city is the focal point of Kaliningrad Oblast, a piece of Russia that has been cut off from the rest of the country since Lithuania declared independence. The Dunkel is all-malt and has a full, molassesy, slightly smoky flavour. The pale Konigsberg isn’t worth your time.

Another good one is Baltika 8, also known as Pshenichnoe ("Wheat"). It’s not the finest example of the style, but has a funky house character, a complex fruitiness and is easily the most refreshing Russian macrobrew I’ve found.

At first I wondered if I liked it because it was good, or because it was such a nice break from all the macro lagers I’d been tasting. Well, the next day I tasted Stepan Razin Pshenichnoe. That confirmed for me two things - that Baltika’s wheat actually is pretty good and that Stepan Razin still can’t brew their way out of a paper bag.

One thing you’ll notice in St. Petersburg is that they’ve perfected the art of the traveller. There’s no carrying around fey water bottles or childish soda pop - everyone walks down the street with a beer. Even the pretty girls, the babushkas, and yeah teenagers still. It’s pretty much a social faux pas in St. Petersburg to be seen without Gambrinal accompaniment. Russians may not have all the freedoms that I have back home, but I am really envious of that one. Sure, there’s some falling-down drunks hauling around 2L bottles of Krepkoe ("strong"), but tell me you’ve never seen a drunk swilling it in public in any big city in North America. I for one appreciate that a beer on a park bench doesn’t put me in league with that lot.

Next up...Moscow


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start quote On my last trip, I attempted to pay a visit to the Tinkoff Brewpub. They tried to play a game of "let’s shake down the foreigner". I politely requested that they self-fornicate and left. end quote