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Oakes Weekly - January 20, 2005
Russian Beer Primer
January 20, 2005
Written by Oakes
You see the questions on the forums. “I’m going to Russia – what should I drink?” or “I have this beer with Russian letters and I don’t know what it is.” Well, this feature will attempt to provide some guidance in relation to these questions. First, the Russian beer primer, the Cyrillic alphabet decoder.
The most obvious places to start if you’re visiting Russia are the brewpubs and good beer establishments. You can find those here:
<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Brew-Pubs-State-0-169.htm>Russian Brewpubs
<a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Places/FindCitiesByCountry.asp?CountryID=169>Russian Places
But for those traveling outside of these areas, or wishing to dip into the vast array of Russian macrobrew, the answers are less obvious. Indeed, finding craft beer in Russia takes a fair amount of hard work and most visitors will face nothing but macrobrew. Faced with a bewildering selection of bottles, labeled in Cyrillic only of course, one might not know quite the best place to begin. Naturally, going to Advanced Search and calling up all beers made in Russia, sorted by Highest Rating is a good start, but you’ll find a lot of microbrews at the top of the list and they won’t be available at the corner kiosk.
So what I’ve done is taken a look at what the most experienced tasters of Russian beer think. I’ve pored over the ratings of myself, Boystout, larsniclas, rickgordon and omhper and come up with the following breakdowns. Collectively, we’ve logged 413 ratings of Russian beers, with an average score of 2.28. So we’ll use that as a starting point.
The two simplest ways to break down Russian beer is by brand and by label. I will explain the label bit in a moment, but first we’ll look at Russia’s major beer brands.
The highest scoring of Russia’s widely available brands is Tinkoff, which is rapidly moving out of the microbrewery category but does brew an admirable range of style (though I personally don’t think they do it very well). The average score of Tinkoff beer from our panel is 2.79, far above the average. Another worthy brand to check out is Interbrew’s Sibirskoye Korona line, which logged a 2.728 score.
Two other brewers scored above average – the St. Petersburg giants Baltika and Stepan Razin. Both have a wide range of labels available, which is why I also looked at labels as well as brands. Baltika scored a 2.44 and Stepan Razin a 2.479 from the panel. Interestingly, Stepan Razin scores a 1.511 from yours truly, which means the other four put it in the same class as the top two, while I put them way at the bottom where they belong.
A couple of brands check in a little bit below average – Tolstyak (2.18) and Nevskoe (2.147). Then the dregs – Yarpivo (1.981) and Klinskoe (1.789). If you’ve got a choice between these last two and something else, give the something else a shot, no question.
In Russia, not only are there major brands, but each brand will have many labels, which translate to things like “Classic”, “Gold”, “Pale”, and “Strong”. When you look at these, you get some guidance for navigating within the brands.
The highest (save Porter, which is a landslide but only made by two breweries) is Originalnoe. This usually denotes an “old-style” beer, amber or dark in colour, with a rich malty palate. Others to score above the average were Pshchenichnoe (Wheat), though the 2.481 average is largely attributable to Baltika’s version; Yantarnoye (Amber) at 2.37; Zolotoe (Gold), which scored 2.344 and Klassicheskoye (Classic) at 2.300.
Scoring just under the average was Svetloe (Pale) at 2.277 and Temnoe (Dark) at 2.25. That Temnoe is below several pale lager labels might surprise some, as dark beers are likely the first thing an uncertain beer lover would reach for. But clearly in the minds of the most experienced tasters of Russian beer, darker does not always mean better.
The labels to steer clear of, regardless of brand, are Krepkoe (Strong), Bezalkogolnoe (Non-Alcoholic), Lyogkoe (Light) and Zhigulevskoe. The latter is the cheapest of Russian lagers, the USSR-style brew. Zhigulevskoe scored a lowly 1.77 average. Non-Russian Zhigulevskoes still exist and I personally wouldn’t recommend too many of those, either.
So to summarize:
Brands in order of ranking:
Labels in order of ranking:
There is also the question of the Cyrillic alphabet. We’re working on that and the transliteration table will appear here soon. In the meantime, <a hrefhttp://infoshare1.princeton.edu/katmandu/sgman/trrus.html>try this. Dasvidanya, komrades!
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Indeed, finding craft beer in Russia takes a fair amount of hard work and most visitors will face nothing but macrobrew. Faced with a bewildering selection of bottles, labeled in Cyrillic only, one might not know quite the best place to begin
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