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Tuesday, May 8
Beer: Black Currant and Raspberry Berliner Weisse
ABV: 4.5 percent
If I was going to write an article about Russian beer, I had to consult with an expert in the field. On Tuesday night, I took part in a bar-hopping escapade organized by a local tour company. My guide for the evening was Anna, part-time tour guide, English tutor and, interestingly enough, former confectioner. The other members of the tour were a pair of Austrian nurses taking a break from their jobs and small-town life. The three bars we visited that evening were packed with Russian men and women who didn't care if they had a hangover in the morning. The next day was a national holiday: Victory Day.
Between bites of salted fish, pickled fish and fried cheese, I sampled many unique beers that adequately represented the malty to bitter spectrum. However, the black currant and raspberry Berliner Weisse was the most memorable of the bunch. It poured dark purple and smelled of crushed berries. The taste was slightly sour, but not so much as the Russian River Brewing Company's sour ale. It was a solid B+ beer. The only downside was that its flavor would overpower anything you might want to eat alongside it—a problem, as Russians always snack when they drink.
Verdict: Following in the footsteps of the real-life Mikhail Bakunin, this fruity beer wages anarchy on bourgeoisie flavors.
- BETTER THAN PRETZELS Cured and pickled fish go well with beer—at least in Russia.
Wednesday, May 9
Beer: Boro-da Lager Premium
Brewery: Daka Brewery
ABV: 7 percent
To quote George Bluth from Arrested Development, "There's a good chance I may have committed some light treason" when I wore the Ribbon of St. George during the Victory Day festivities on May 9. To patriotic Russians, Victory Day is like the Fourth of July, the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's Day all rolled into one. Who says you can't pay your respects to the past while eating, drinking and partying yourself into utter oblivion?
In the morning I witnessed a military flyover near the Kremlin that climaxed with fighter jets streaming the colors of the Russian flag over the city center.
After finding a bar with an empty seat, I ordered a Boro-da Premium Lager. From appearances alone, it looked like a refreshing, malty beer, and for the most part, it was. Taking my first sip, though, I had to do a double take. I half-expected to find a handful of Werther's Originals floating in my glass. To put it another way, if Starbucks ever plans to release a sugary-sweet Frappuccino beer, they know which brewery to consult.
Verdict: "I got a Frap Pliny for Vlad ready at the bar!"
A specter is haunting Russia—a specter of hops. IPAs are everywhere, and most rank as "good enough." Russia's best beers are those that brewers have imbued with traditional Russian flavors.
My fellow beer comrades, if you should find yourself in Moscow, St. Petersburg or somewhere in the provinces, seek out these unique beers over the IPAs and watery, imitation lagers. And whatever you do, avoid Sibirskaya like the pestilence it is.