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Oakes Weekly -- October 21, 2004

Kazan to Samara
Oakes Weekly October 21, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

Continued from last week...
The next day, being stranded in Kazan I checked out the Kremlin and bummed around the main pedestrian drag checking out the local beers. Restaurants here make liberal use of the microwave so I was having trouble finding real food. I’m not paying Canadian prices for shashlik that hasn’t seen a flame in six hours. That’s one thing the Russians haven’t grasped yet - matching western prices to western quality. They’re better than they used to be but not there yet. There’s a couple of German-themed joints in town serving the likes of Franziskaner, Krusovice and even Samichlaus.

The local macrobrewer is Krasniy Vostok. Their beer tents are ubiquitous and I found their Klassicheskoe and Yershistoe to be the best - both mediocre pale lagers. Overall, I found Baltic porters to be rather scarce in Russia - Baltika being the only well-distributed brand. It really is a Baltic thing, this style - St. Petersburg only. Even Baltika 8 starts to get tougher to find, leaving the good beer mantle to be upheld by Sibirskaya Beloe.

One of the silliest beers I’ve come across on my Russian excursion was from Klinskoe. It’s called Arriva, and is a Mexican-themed beer. From the cheeseball motif to the corn and jalapeno taste, this beer has the Mexican thing all wrong. I’m sure Russia’s Mexican community is up in arms. All three of them. The beer smells like stank feet, 7-Up and jalapeno farts. It did make me think of Mexico though - I miss tortilla soup.

The next day I took it easy prior to my overnight train ride to Samara. After all, who knew what would await me on the train. As it turns out, it was not going to be a big party night. However, I did score some new beers during the station stop at Ulyanovsk. This Volga city, like most big Russian cities, has a local brewery. Unlike Krasniy Vostok, they do not have much distribution outside the city, so it is pretty rare to get one’s hands on these beers. They are nothing special, and as it turns out the best of the lot was a ’temnoe’ from the nearby city of Dimitrovgrad. It’s pretty cool, I think, to sit in your bunk while everyone else is asleep drinking new beers you scored at a station stop. Hopefully I’ll be able to do the same at other points on the trip.

Samara is a city that, due to oil, was closed to foreigners during Soviet times. However, it seems to me that having such a local industry has also made it the wealthiest of the provincial towns I visited. The beers from the local brewery are widely available, although they only have a few brands. I arrived with knowledge of a brewpub, a big brewery tap room, and given that I had a few days to spend there before flying to Uzbekistan, I was hoping to track down some beers from nearby cities like Tolgiatti and Orenburg.

Those ended up not being found, however. Samara has three breweries, though most locals only talk about one. They don’t expend much energy talking about Baltika’s local plant, even though the products of the facility are available everywhere. They’ve never heard of Stariy Georg. This is a brewpub in suburban Krasnaya Glinka. You take bus 50 to get there. Right before the Krasnaya Glinka stop, Stariy Georg is on the left. In the local yellow pages, and even on the facade of the building itself, there is no indication of a brewery. The underpass adjacent to it has been turned into a grotto and makes a relaxing place to enjoy their lively-tasting house beer.

The other brewery is the Zhiguly Brewery. The name Zhigulevskoe is synonymous to many with Soviet-era ubiquibrew. In most cities today, it’s the cheapest beer around and so far from being cool it might as well be World Select. Not so in Samara. The reason is simple - the name has history here. The Zhiguli Hills are a popular nearby outdoor getaway, and the Zhiguly Brewery was founed in 1881 - long before inept Soviet brewmasters corrupted the name.

The tradition in Samara is to bring your own bottles to the brewery and have them filled up for the absurdly low price of 14 rubles per litre. If you don’t have your own bottle, not a problem. You can buy a 1.5L bottle for 5 rubles at the dried fish stand on the eastern side of this sprawling Victorian brewery. Of the brands, Zhigulevskoe is mild but tolerable, Fon Vakano not so good, and Samarskoe the top-end brand. Beside the dried fish stand, there is a small bar where you can find an unfiltered version of Zhigulevskoe, which I found to be dramatically superior with fuller, more rounded flavours.

The brewery is on the Volga River and there is a beach there. It is not maintained, so a barefoot walk will inevitably lead to spurting blood, stitches, tetanus and gore. Just the same, it is a great way to experience raw, unpasteurized Samara - the Volga, a fresh 1.5 of nefiltrovne, and a couple of dried fish.

Heading westward from the brewery you soon come to a long stretch of pristine beach. It’s safe to take off your sandals here. This area is quite predictably lined with beer tents. Beer tents in Russia are rather sophisticated affairs, offering two or three draughts and anywhere from 15-30 bottles. Obnoxiously loud Russian pop and techno are de rigeur, but a couple along the beach in Samara differentiate themselves with more laid-back fare, or even rock.

Shashlyk and morozhenoe are everywhere, as are cheberuki. Between various tents there are probably 50 beers in total avaiable here. I can tell you that on a sunny August afternoon that is probably the best pub crawl in Russia.
It was also my last, as the next day I flew to Tashkent.


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start quote The brewery is on the Volga River and there is a beach there. It is not maintained, so a barefoot walk will inevitably lead to spurting blood, stitches, tetanus and gore. end quote