This and other posts titled “Resurrected” are reposts from an earlier blog I kept that now, thanks to no longer being affiliated with UNC–Chapel Hill, I cannot continue to use. I’m adding them to jumpstart the process, and to provide some examples of the kind of commentary I envision adding in the coming weeks and months. The posts will be edited from their original form only to correct any errors of grammar and style I might find.
Just so no one gets the wrong idea—that this will all be thick academic books, doom, and gloom (although there may be plenty of that)—here’s something fun: Beer!
I originally posted this on February 2, 2016.
Although it’s unseasonably warm in Moscow today, that hasn’t stopped it from snowing. After a few minutes outside, you start looking like this guy:
To get out of the weather on my walk down Chistye Prudy, I stopped in to a place called a Russian phrase that translates as “MainBeerStore,” a play on Soviet–era naming conventions. This is, however, anything but a throwback to the Soviet era. It’s far too hip for that. In fact, it’s the product of a phenomenon that has taken off only in the eighteen months or so since I was last in Moscow, in June and July 2014.
In a word: craft beer.
It’s a phenomenon so notable that even the mainstream media outside the country has picked up on it. At home, when the New York Times writes up a cultural trend, its a sure sign that it’s a trend that’s over, if it ever was one to begin with.
This one, as The Guardian attests, is very real. Being a craft beer lover (read: beer snob) at home in the States, I can assure you that I am very happy about all of this.
Russians have long loved beer and ale. One of my favorite references is in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Children, when the arrival of young Kirsanov home from university is cause for hauling out some bottles of imported English porter.
So far as I can tell, in the USSR beer was common, widely enjoyed and promoted by the government-run economy, statements you can’t apply a lot of everyday food and drink we tend to take for granted. The quality and variety, however, are much less clear from this distance, but may not have been all that great.
What I do know a bit more about is the state of post–Soviet beer production. In the ten years after my first visit to Russia in 2004, domestic beer came in any variety you liked, so long as what you liked was cheap, malty lager. That is perhaps a little unfair, since there were exceptions to this rule. The giant scion of the multinational brewing conglomerates, Baltika produced a numbered line of beers ranging from wheat and porter to the No. 9 (occasionally to be found in the US), which resembled nothing so much as barley wine, if nothing else in its relatively righteous alcohol content. But the most common and most popular varieties were their lagers. Some localities had a local brewery putting out some variation on the theme, perhaps a little darker, or perhaps brewed with wheat.
Alternatives included overpaying for imported labels (domestically produced versions of, say, Carlsberg), or overpay still more for actually imported beer, most often some regional styles and brands from Germany and other parts of Central Europe. These tended to still be lagers, or at most Guinness and its like from the British Isles.
Today, I give you this: an American Pale Ale (they pronounce the letters in Russian Style, “AaaPA”) made by a Moscow microbrewery called Stamm Beer.
It is, as you can see, deep in color, running almost to red. And it has hops! Although there are some distinctive innovations I’ve never had anywhere but here (more on those another time), this one is a chip off of that American block.
But about that variety: some of the dozens of new bars have as few as 4–6 varieties to choose from, but this one has around 40 taps on the wall, not to mention a large case of bottles for taking home.
What’s more, these beers are not made, as you might imagine, by a handful of westernized Moscow hipsters, or even the hipsters of Piter. Although the culture, lingo, and styles are American in inspiration, the beers themselves hail more frequently from all manner of mid-sized Russian cities not named Moscow and Petersburg. Some of the most common (and best, I’ve found) are located in Tula, Lipetsk, Voronezh, Ekaterinburg, and beyond.
This is a curious phenomenon that needs further consideration. Why Tula? And why now, when the economy is poor, foreign trade low, and anti–foreign sentiment on the upswing?
In any case, all of these beers go for anywhere from 200–250 rubles for a pint. At pre–ruble-crisis exchange rates of, say 30 rubles to the USD, that’s a relatively pricy investment. Yet with the exchange rate only now back below 80, that’s not such a daunting one. And, what’s more, for a mass-market lager in a similarly hip setting in Moscow, you’d be looking at nearly as much, certainly no less than 160 to 180 rubles.
As I can attest while writing this, it’s worth it.
Hopefully, there will be more reporting form the beer front. Perhaps a weekend trip can be arranged to visit the Saldens brewery, or one of the many others, soon.
Oh look at that, I finished my beer and the snow is . . . still coming down, but perhaps slacked off a bit. Guess I have to brave it again.