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Oakes Weekly - October 7 2004

Moscow Part 2
Oakes Weekly October 7, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

When last we left off, I was getting out of that hole Moscow. I chose Suzdal, a small town a few hours away that is known for ornate wooden houses and beautiful churches. To get there, you must stopover in Vladimir. The entire area is part of the Golden Ring, a circle of historically important and fairly wealthy towns and cities surrounding Moscow.

Whereas the beer selection didn’t change much between Moscow and St. Petersburg (more Yantar, less Stepan Razin), other cities in Russia usually boast local breweries, and Vladimir is no exception. Vladimirskoe is apparently not bottled much, and I couldn’t find the beer at the bus station despite seeing several Vladimirskoe tents and signs on my way into town.

In Suzdal, you sometimes feel that you’re not really in Russia. What I mean is, the architecture is very traditional (pre-Soviet, non-Imperial) and you don’t see any kiosks. It’s a nice place to visit, but as I couldn’t find any cheap accomodation, I only stayed one night. I did manage to find Vladimirskoe finally, on tap in a convenience store at throwback prices (R7.50 for 1/2 litre). Better still, not only were they giving it away, but it was pretty good.

Then I found out why there was no local Suzdal beer - it’s a mead town. The local meadery produces a very sweet variety that it dilutes to various strengths. They have a "tap room", and in this establishment you can try the mead with numerous spice mixtures. I tried:<ol><li>neat<li>mint

<li>hops<li>spices<li>juniper berries and pepper

<li>lime tree blossoms<li>hops and mint<li>hops and spices<li>hops, mint and spices<li>pine tree buds and rose petals</ol>The best of these was the juniper berries and pepper, with "spices" coming next. To my surprise, I wasn’t into the hop one. If you’re ever there, #7 is listed on the menu as "hops and spices", same as #8. The French menu, however, confirms that it is in fact "houblons et menthe".

After dinner, I was bumming around looking more beer. I got caught in a torrential thunderstorm. Needless to say, I jumped into the nearest licensed establishment. They had no interesting beer. Ok, I dashed across the street to a store. They had beer, but no fridge. Ouch. That beer didn’t stand a chance. OK, so it’s still dumping. Now what? Well, the lazy man either stays put and drinks warm swill, or dashes back across the road for cold swill.

Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky to be good. And that’s how it went in Suzdal. I put my basic beerhunting training into practice - leave no stone unturned. I remembered the karaoke bar around the corner. Sure, I’d get soaked to the bone getting there, but maybe they had something worth drinking.

Oh hell yes. I flew in the door and landed at the bar, my internal bar GPS still firing on all cylinders. Not much beer there, I thought, until I looked back at the local crooner. He and his s.o. were drinking some strange bottles. "Lager Old", they read. What’s that? I ordered one to find out. I’m sorry - it’s a microbrew from Nizhny Novgorod that nobody’s ever heard of before? Terrible tragedy! In a small town karaoke bar. It was a yeasty, funky lager much like the ones from Vasileostrovskoye in St. Petersburg. So a new meadery and a new microbrewery on my day off.

Would that my day on, the following, have worked out as well. I returned to Moscow and spent five hours trying to find two non-existent micros. That was splendid.

To tops things off, after having written off any hope of finding either Teddy Beer or Sem Holmov, I (eventually) made my way back for another macro session. The first three were total drainpours. That’s not cool.

There was only one brewery left to go, on my last day in Moscow. Of course, this ended up being non-existent as well. At least when you hit the less-swanky outlying areas you still have kvas wagons serving up the real thing. It’s less complex, and heavier, than the stuff I had at Kielas in Lithuania, but not bad. The ones around Ryazanskiy Prospekt metro are especially heavy on the raisins (a traditional flavouring ingredient in kvas).

After two days of utterly futile and completely aggravating attempted beerhunting, I was so glad to see the back of that ugly, bloated, pompous city. It talks the talk, but walks like a man with two broken legs. I was headed for "real" Russia, finally.



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start quote Now what? Well, the lazy man either stays put and drinks warm swill, or dashes back across the road for cold swill. end quote