The average Russian drinks 15 litres of pure alcohol a year, up from 5.4 litres in 1990. To put that in context, hard-drinking Brits currently average 11 while our Australian neighbours are nudging 10 litres.
Working off the back of an envelope and a vague memory of sixth form maths, New Zealand’s figure would be approximately 8.5 litres.
While the Russians continue to love their vodka, beer consumption has risen sharply as it is being advertised as fashionable and, increasingly, portrayed as less damaging than vodka and other higher alcohol drinks. Russian leaders since Gorbachev have sought to promote beer as a much safer beverage for their citizenry although often with limited success.
It is fair to say that Geoffrey “Eighteenth Amendment” Palmer does not share this particular view.
Baltika is by far the leading Russian brewer and exporter. Construction of the original brewery began in 1978 but, because it was Soviet Russia, the factory did not actually open until 1990. It started life as a state enterprise but was privatised in 1992 and has since rapidly grown to become the largest brewery in Eastern Europe and the second largest in all of Europe.
Baltika has around 1,200 employees and is now 85% owned by the Carlsberg Group 70% of all Russian beer exports are Baltika. The brewery exports to over 45 countries including Kenya, Cuba, Mongolia, the Sudan and now, for a second time, New Zealand.
Rather than names, the Baltika beers have numbers. Ordering a Baltika 7 is probably easier for the average Kiwi than trying to use the beers’ original brand names of, and I’m not making these up, Zigulevskoye, Rizhkoye, Admiralteiskoye and Prazdnichnoye.
I think my spell checker just exploded in confusion.
Malthouse has perhaps wisely chosen not to stock Baltika 1 (non-alcoholic lager) or Baltika 2 (a lager which has been made in the past with cherry, orange, honey and coffee.) However, it does offer the remainder of the range:
Baltika 3 – “Classic” – A hugely grassy nose, quite light in the mouth.
Baltika 4 – “Original” – This 5.6% dark lager is light red, quite sweet with some integrated marmite notes.
Baltika 5 – “Golden” – Proclaiming itself an “elite beer”, Golden has grassy and honey notes.
Baltika 6 – “Porter” – Based on English recipes, this 7% porter is the most critically regarded of the Baltika range.
Baltika 7 – “Export” – Served in a rare rip top bottle, this pleasantly balanced beer has a mix of grass, honey and gentle bitterness.
Baltika 8 – “Wheat Ale” – Easily the best Russian wheat beer I’ve tried, Baltika 8 is surprisingly authentic and surprisingly good. It is cloudy with ripe banana and herbal lemon predominating on the palate. It claims to have “biologically active substances that are useful for our health” which probably sounds better and less threatening in Russian.
Baltika 9 – “Extra Lager” – This big 8% lager has a sweet start with a bit of balancing bitterness and actually hides its strength quite well. It is what the Russians might call a “Автобусная остановка” (bustop beer).
The very professional Baltika website has two rather worrying features. The first and most obvious is the constant cheesy Russian xylophone pop which makes you long for the musical ability and variation of Crazy Frog. Fortunately there is a “music: off” button which much get a lot of hits. The second is the company mission statement – “to raise the Baltika brand to leader position in the world” – which has worrying Cold War overtones.
Finally, a proverb to go out on.
The Russians have a saying – “The Church is near but the road is icy. The bar is far away but I will walk carefully.”
Take a careful walk to Malthouse soon.
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine
The Times Article – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article1647475.ece
Baltika Beers – http://www.baltikabeer.com/
Malthouse Facebook Group – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine – http://www.beerandbrewer.com/