Did you think that was Russian for “cheers”? Turns out it’s not really, and there isn’t actually a word in the language that matches the English! It’s become an anglicised idea that’s stuck – but true Russian toasts are customised to suit the occasion – so every toast is different.
Now we’ve got that right, let’s look at other Russian beer facts, stats and history.
A Brief History Of Russian Beer
Beer as we know it in the West did not arrive in Russia until the fall of communism. This means their brewing industry is relatively young compared to other Eastern European nations. The nearby Czech Republic is the birthplace of the Pilzen-style lager, one of the most widely consumed beers in the world, but for reasons such as climate, terrain, and culture, it never caught on in Russia in the same way.
There was, however, a similar product by the name of Kvass that preceded Russian beer. Kvass is still produced and consumed in the country today but is far lower in alcohol than regular beer. For this reason, it is considered a soft drink (although it is not marketed toward children). Kvass is made by fermenting rye bread and then adding flavourings like fruits and herbs. At one point in Russian history, Kvass was consumed more than water!
It’s important to note the development of Kvass as a much older beverage in the Russian brewer’s psyche, as when we look at modern craft beer in Russia, we can see a lot of similar flavours used. Vasileostrovskaya, based in St. Petersburg, uses flavours like cherry, a common additive in traditional Kvass brewing.
What is Considered a Soft Drink in Russia?
We all know Russia to be a hard-drinking nation, but the fact that up until 2011, any beverage with an alcohol concentration of lower than 10% was considered foodstuff is insane by most western standards.
However, when you examine the above-discussed history, you’ll realise that mid-range drinks such as beer weren’t a part of Russian culture until about 2 decades prior to the signing of the bill. 2010/11 was also a tipping point in the Russian beer market. Beer was now the second most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the country (after Vodka, of course), making Russia the fourth largest beer consuming nation in the world.
Do Russians Have Good Beer?
Becoming one of the biggest global beer consumers in the space of 20 years is a remarkable achievement and one that requires a lot of good strategizing by local producers. Pale lagers are the public favourite. but Baltika (the country’s biggest and best-selling beer company) offers three different strength lagers, all of which are quite widely available.
This piece of information sets Russian brewing apart. With German brewing knowledge quite readily accessible to would-be Russian brewers, the collapse of the Iron Curtain saw Russia’s beer market explode. This means that even run-of-the-mill lagers come in a variety of strengths, colours and flavours. Russians consume a lot of beer, but as a nation, they’re still trying to figure out what they like.
What Are The Major Russian Beer Brands?
There are three main Russian beer brands: Baltika, Zhigulevskoye and Nevskoe Imperial. But which is the best?
What is the Most Popular Beer in Russia?
According to sales, we’d have to say the Baltika No. 3 is the people’s beer.
What are the Styles of Russian Beer?
The lager needs no introduction, but the favoured style of lager in Russia is definitely the pale lager (a light, easy-drinking beer).
This is a very heavy dark beer with a caramelised flavour, perfect for those icy Moscow nights.
Created in the nearby (and much hated) country of Czech, the Pilzen-Style lager is a bright and bitter beverage.
What Are The Best Russian Beers To Try?
Baltika No. 3
Let’s start with Russia’s most popular beer. Baltika No.3 is a light, pale lager. It might not be anything special for those who live there, but as an outsider, it’s always exciting to try out the people’s choice.
Born in the 90s, the Nevskoe Imperial has remained a favourite for a long time. Why? Because unlike other things born in that time period in Eastern Europe, it’s aged rather well. It’s a regular, pilsner-style lager with a bright, crisp finish.
This would be a wonderful beer to try if only you could pronounce it. Luckily, pointing to the menu can help in almost all situations so you’ll be fine. Expect a Heineken-like lager that goes down smoothly with almost any beer pairing.
If you’re an all-American frat house boy, follow in the footsteps of former President Trump and get up close and personal with something Russian. Sary Melnik is the closest you can get to an American-style lager and is therefore a good entry point for those unused to all things Eastern Europe.
What Are The Best Russian Craft Beers?
The Russian craft beer industry took off just as the rest of the world’s obsession was beginning to bloom. However, big-time brewers were out looking for smaller Russian beer brands to snatch up and a few labels didn’t stand the test of time. And we can’t say we can blame them. If your craft beer label was going to be bought for a couple of million Rubles, what reason would you have to refuse?
Let’s look at some of the best Russian Craft Breweries whose beers you could still have the pleasure of tasting.
Vasileostrovskaya, St. Petersburg
This brewery gives Zhigulevskoye a run for its money in the tongue-twisting department but would definitely beat it in a battle for the best flavour. Vasileostriovskaya uses traditional Russian flavour components such as honey, cherries, spices, berries and even newer profiles like coffee and juniper.
The results are bold and surprising and definitely worth a taste.
Victory Art Brew, Moscow
With a name like that, you can be sure the brewers want to be taken seriously, and they deserve that honour. What started out in one man’s garage has been transformed into and internationally award-winning brewery.
For the eco-conscious consumers amongst us, it’s good to note that they have been certified as an eco-friendly business since 2016.
AF Brew, St Petersburg
Started by two master brewers from Baltika, AF Brew is one of the most iconic breweries in all of Russia. They have a beautiful taproom where you can try some drinks exclusive to the establishment.
Be sure to try their Big Black Mash (a butterscotch imperial stout) and the Redneck Pumpkin Ale if you want to taste some of the most forward-thinking beers in the city.
What Are the Best Russian Beers To Pair With Russian Food?
Let’s look at three Russian dishes and see which beers they would pair with:
Russia’s national dish, this spicy, rich soup and dumplings dish consists of pastry-wrapped mince and topped with sour cream. For a meal with a bit of a bite looking for a lighter beer to compliment it. Why not pair Russia’s favourite dish with their favourite beer – the Baltika no. 3.
Russia’s version of crepes, these sweet pancakes are often accompanied by a hint of savoury like cheese or sour cream. These tea-time treats would sit well with a half-pint of Big Black Mash Imperial Stout as the beer would still be sweeter than the food.
This dish is one of Russia’s favourite starters. A soup made from beets, it’s hearty and earthy. It’s just the type of meal you’d want to wash down with a Pilsner-Style lager, so reach for a classic Nevskoe Imperial.
How To Order a Beer In Russia
The Russian way to ask for a beer would be ‘Одно пиво, пожалуйста ‘
If you don’t know how to pronounce that, neither do I, so let’s stick to the anglicised version “Odno pivo, pozhalusta”