Something brewing: how Russia’s craft beer-makers are getting ahead

How Russia's craft beer-makers are getting ahead

9 September 2014

 

Pop into any hip bar in Russia ― the world’s third biggest producer of beer ― and you may be puzzled by the glaring absence of local brands. It’s easier to find an obscure pilsner from Japan than a pint of honest Russian lager. However, an ingrained distrust of home-made products within the country has recently been challenged by a new breed of small-scale craft breweries with adventurous production methods and unorthodox flavours. From Hawaiian-themed pale ales in the Urals to a laboratory-style brewery in St Petersburg, these are the five craft breweries transforming Russian beer.

Text: Igor Zinatulin
Image: Ivan Skorikov





Vasileostrovskaya

When it produced its first batch of non-filtered cloudy lager in 2002, Vasileostrovskaya was the only craft brewery operating in St Petersburg. Since then many aspiring breweries have jumped on the bandwagon, but this hasn’t discouraged Vasileostrovskaya’s founder Alexei Ilinsky from pursuing increasingly bold experiments in flavour.

The brewery’s signature beers range from triple wheat ale with “additions of locally sourced juniper” to La Barbe Bleue a pit-smoky dubbel named in honour of folkloric baddie Bluebeard. Next year Vasileostrovskaya will unveil a Chekhov-inspired cherry ale that comes in a champagne bottle. Originally operating out of a small red-brick warehouse on Vasilevsky Island, production facilities have recently moved to a spacious factory packed with state-of-the-art equipment that should allow Ilinsky to remain one of the gamechangers in the field. As he puts it: “I just want to raise the status of beer to that of a sophisticated gastronomic product.”

Jaws Beer

Although its geographical location might put off some environmentally conscious beer lovers — the brewery sits just a few miles away from a large nuclear plant — the owners of Jaws Beer claim that their signature pale ale is as safe and pure as the driven snow. This is hardly an exaggeration when you consider that their base in Zarechny, a small town of 30,000 people in the pristine forests of the Urals, is literally covered with snow for six months a year.

Despite being situated thousands of miles from the sea, the brewery is named after a 20-metre wave in Hawaii dubbed “Jaws” by local surfers. The brewery’s obsession with rough seas is reflected in its visually dynamic labels, which also include a detailed list of ingredients, tasting notes and even suggested food pairings. Thanks to this attention to detail, Jaws is certainly making waves in the beer world with growing distribution in major Russian cities and rave reviews from prominent critics.

Odna Tonna

What started as an experimental family enterprise just a couple of years ago has turned into a nationally known phenomenon. Odna Tonna (One Tonne) is a brewery and a lively bar which serves dozens of Russian craft brands alongside home-brewed variations. The brewery has been opened in Zhukovsky, a leafy suburb to the south of Moscow, by self-taught hops enthusiast Alexander Belkov — a passionate believer in flavoursome, slightly-over-the-top beers.

Some of Belkov’s inventions include an “extra-bitter pale ale” brewed with apple peel and an oily stout based on a combination of malt and oats. Odna Tonna is widely regarded as Moscow’s preeminent craft institution, a fact that’s suddenly made sleepy Zhukovsky a site of pilgrimage for artisan beer drinkers.

Labeerint

This small and ambitious brewery from the Kaluga region, south of Moscow, focuses on local ingredients in unconventional combinations like porter with blueberry juice, dark beer with rowan berries and the world’s first beer made of birch tree sap. Labeerint’s founder Vyacheslav Vetelev is no stranger to the brewing world after running a successful gastropub in his native town of Obninsk for many years. Vetelev certainly knows how to turn customers into craft beer evangelists: visitors to his beer temple can find the most comprehensive possible selection of small-batch beers from around the country, hand-picked and sometimes hand-poured by the man himself.

AF Brewery

AF Brewery’s name stands for “anti-factory”, which is hardly surprising given that most of its beverages has been produced on a micro-scale for a limited audience of rigorously trained beer Jedis. The brewery has made a name for itself for pioneering radical beers with a “criminal level of hoppiness” and for their strongest batch in terms of alcohol content which was devoted to TV series Breaking Bad. Founders Nikita Filippov, Dmitry Buldakov and Artyom Kovalchukov claim they don’t want to do things in half-measures, but rather to “set new standards that other breweries have to adapt to.”