Thursday, August 26, 2010

Here's a little free advertising. I've drunk a fair amount of beer in my life, but when it comes to meals, I tend to like good wine. Cocktails are fun, and I've mixed about 1500 variations, restlessly trying different combinations. But beer aficionados have new tastes all the time, just as wine connoisseurs do.     

I'm not up to date on the beer business, but at some point the Baltika Beer brand began appearing in the local Bev-Mo stores [otherwise known as Beverages & More]. American boutique breweries have been popping up all over, especially in the Northwest and Northeast. Lots of variations, something for every taste. I've drunk beers from all over the world, and have a fair idea of the range of possible flavors. 
Surprisingly enough, Baltika Beers are made in Russia. In the West, we were never exposed to Russian brews during the Cold War years. Occasionally, we got Polish and Czech beers, along with the German, English and French-Belgian brews. But Russian beers were a novelty until recently. Bev-Mo rates products by the professional tasters and tasting contests. Whenever a rating exceeds 90, and the price is reasonable, generally that product will fly off the shelves. But most 90+ rated wines, beers or spirits cost more, and there's a clear correlation between the quality (measured by ratings) of a product, and its retail price.  
Baltika, unlike most popular American beer products, produces a distinct sequence of types of beer, and numbers them. At the present moment, I'm sipping a bottle of No. 4, a Dark Amber at 5.6% alcohol, in a slightly larger than typical size bottle. It's slightly sweet, with a big malty character, and a soft, dry finish--it goes down easily and is wonderful with hot beef dishes.
Baltika began production in 1990, and it's owned by the Carlsberg Group--with 18 breweries scattered around, 11 of which are located in Russia proper. When I think about the awful stuff my parents drank in the 1950's and 1960's...Budweiser, Millers, Schlitz, Pabst...that was terrible! According to Wikipedia, Baltika presently markets 10 beers, as follows:
  • Baltika 1 (Light) at 4.4% is characterized by "light colour and…malt and hops taste."
  • Baltika 2 (Pale Beer) is a lager brewed from pale barley malt, rice, and "exclusive varieties of hops."
  • Baltika 3 is a 4.8% pale lager. This is also known as Klassicheskoe (Classic).
  • Baltika 4 is a 5.6% amber coloured lager brewed from caramel and rye malts. Such coloured lagers are often termed dark American lagers. This is also known as Originalnoe (Original).
  • Baltika 5 (Gold Beer) is a 5.3% lager brewed with both pale and caramel malts.
  • Baltika 6 is a bottom-fermented 7% dark beer that the brewery classes as a porter "brewed according to traditional English recipes." Such strong dark lagers are often termed Baltic porters.
  • Baltika 7 (Export Beer) is a 5.4% pale lager.
  • Baltika 8 (Pshenichnoe) is an unfiltered wheat ale (Alc. 5,0% vol.).
  • Baltika 9 (Krepkoe) is a strong lager (8% alcohol).
  • Baltika 10 (Jubilee) is a 5.2% alcohol beer.
I haven't seen Baltika offered in taverns or restaurants---yet. But the rich flavors and variations offered are hard to beat. American breweries--both the mass market ones and the smaller, regional boutique producers have been offered a big challenge. Russia may be corrupt and inefficient, but their Baltika beers are better than 9/10's of the product on the American market. And, perhaps most surprisingly, Russians don't even get to drink it. The beer distributed in Russia is not as well-made as that marketed in the West. So we're blessed.
If you haven't tried one of the Baltika brews, give yourself a treat. They aren't cheap, but what Continental quality brew is these days?   


Ian Keenan said...

I was quite the Baltika enthusiast before I retired from the sport: there was a Roger Wilco here that stocked a lot of Russian and Eastern European beer and wines (like Soviet Muscat) in the back, and I would pile pint bottles onto a case without being charged too much per beer and have sampler parties. Baltika was a big hit and is truly amazing. I seem to remember the five and the six and swearing by the six. There were a lot of other great brands back there, some with endearing labels with Russian folk art.

Ian Keenan said...

Stepan Razin 'Kalinkin,' absolutely one of the best beers anywhere, named after the heavy-drinking Cossack leader who led a 17th Century uprising against the Czar. Stepan stares at you from the label saying 'top that, huh.' Much better than Baltika imho.

Just tracked it down, brewed in St Petersburg, but apparently recently acquired by Heineken. It's possible the brewing methods will be unchanged but it's always scary when a company like Heineken buys it out.

J said...

Ein Bitburger pils, Bitte. Oder Becks. Carta blanca

Miller's not a bad cheap US brew. And as far as the lite-stuff goes, somewhat drinkable, unlike most. Beerblasts were mostly fratboy hype, anyway.

Iced stoli. Aquavit. herring or smoked oysters. few specks of chiba. Everclear and 7up, shot of grenadine for the authentic lush....y Esmeraldissima

Ian Keenan said...

found this..

"Heineken has announced the closure of the Stpean Razin brewery in St Petersburg and plans to turn the site in to a giant warehouse and "logistics" facility. The Dutch group says the Stepan Razin brands will be brewed elsewhere in Russia but it's not clear how many will survive. The future of the 8% Porter, a now rare example of a Russian Baltic Porter, is in doubt.
Stepan Razin is a brewery with a long and fascinating history. It was foudned in the late 18th century by a Swede named Abraham Krohn. He supplied beer to the palace of Tsar Peter I, who encouraged the spread of commercial brewing. The brewery was first called Kalinkin after a bridge over the River Neva and it brewed English-style ales, porters and stouts. It switched to cold fermentation late in the 19th century.
Following the Russian revolution, the brewery was renamed Stepan Razin in honour of a Russian Cossack who led a failed attempt on the life of the Tsar and was put to death in 1671.
The brewery was encouraged to expand in the 1920s by Leon Trotsky, the former Commissar for War, who helped obtain modern brewing equipment from Germany.
As well as the brands, there will be a major qeustion mark over the future of the splendid brewery museum at Stepan Razin, which traces the history of brewing in Russia and has many fascinating artefacts from the Soviet period, including the award of the Order of Lenin."

potentially sad news..

jh said...

beer aficianados
are a strange cultural phenomenon
2 of which i've entailed most recently
one speaks of the worlds beers like they are everyone's conversation ( i never drink beer i think it tastes like piss and it bloats me i piss for days afterward )
but my friend will go on and on about beer czech beer most voluminously in that he met his wife in that country at least so i surmise and that association makes czech beers primo for him
at any rate
his topic is beer
at a mexican restaurant he spoke with doctoral affect regarding the wise decision in mexico to employ german farmers brewers and methods in the cultivation of beer

another acquaintance stopped me once right after a musical gig i palyed and asked about benedictines and beer -- he knows something of the tradition and we spoke of the trappist beer he is excited about -- well he wants to start a project of brewing beer in the old monastic tradition - would the monks be interested - i said i'd look into the matter but haven't disussed it with anyone yet

am i lazy or immoral
or bothe

for my part i noted his zeal
not too different from my first friend same sort of intentionality in the forehead same glimmer in the eye

maybe it's a genetic character left over from earliest beer days
the remnant of the ancient fertile crescent revealing itself in a
postmodern way

beer people i talk to seem to be loquacious when the conversation turns to beer

the last really good beer i had came after an afternoon bailing hay in montana about 12 yrs ago
it came out of a watertrough ice cooler the label had come off
i never learned what it was
but it was the thing right then
the thing that really mattered

Ed Baker said...

any of the beers, me thinks, that are "Imported"
used to be actually brewed in the states to USA Gov't standards of purity, cleanliness and % alcohol in fact isn't Heineken's brewed in Pennsylvania?

so even the "Imported" Heineken sort of not much more tha piss-water with some fizz.

jeesh everybody lies to us Americans about everything. and to think:

I voted for change
and got short-changed

we are just into our fifth pint of our first 5 gallon production of our first HOME BREW!

near as we can make out... 9.57 % alcohol...

about all we use American beer for is to steam the Chester Blue Crabs

pardon me for butting in..

we're gonna add some flavor for our nest batch... when we sober up and figure out how to so do...
maybe some honey and blueberry?

Ian Keenan said...

Ed, I agree with you about Heineken, which exerts the sort of corrosive market control of Dutch beer that Bud and Miller have had in the US, brands that make Heine seem like something other than your accurate description of it. It is distressing that they are branching out into Russia, which will most probably amount to buying out and watering down or phasing out their good stuff and marketing the Heineken there.

Home brewing is the way to go and I tend to prefer focusing on the malt and selecting hops that have stood the test of time rather than trendy additives but whatever gets you enjoyably hammered is ok by me.

J said...

at a mexican restaurant he spoke with doctoral affect regarding the wise decision in mexico to employ german farmers brewers and methods in the cultivation of beer

Correcto. Dos Equis, Carta Blanca probably even Tecate started by germanic immigants. Blame the goimans for accordians and waltzes as well.

The US Heineken does taste a bit skunky, but Bitburger's a legit. import and the pils quite sabroso. And quite a few others...the Warsteiners, even Becks still an import. The anglo brews not bad either--Newcastle.

It's a sort of fratboy thing to diss Bud and Miller, but those are cheap workers' beers, not so different than say Tecate. Miller's nearly pilsner-ish. Prole pils

Ian Keenan said...

Part of the East Coast/ West Coast split is over top fermentation of porters v. bottom fermentation, and it's good to see a Friscan take to the bottom-fermentation rather than what's force fed in that town. SF's Anchor Steam is perhaps the only true American beer which isn't an imitation of something else, and should be enjoyed as such,

but they took to top-fermenting porter which started a bad trend. You have a few cold Yuengling Porters (not the watered down Black and Tan) and you see the East Coast can still bottom-ferment the way they did before the temperance union came in, both brands going underground during prohibition. Supposedly there are some good small batches evolving in the states but those two were my favorite domestics. Bud was ready to monopolize the market after the smaller breweries were put out of business during prohibition.

Ed Baker said...

I lived in Hanover, Pa for a year + "restoring"
John Penn's 1723 farm-house

(see my Restoration Poems, country valley press)
and there were many many
many Yuenglings (of the beer brewing Yuenglings in the area... also Snyders and Utzs (pretzels and chips)

so there was at Huffnagle's in town

plenty of kegs of Yuengling Beers ON TAP...

and the best pretzels ever!

the Yuengling Beers up the street at the County Liquer Store isn't the same stff!

Up in Hanover was there the real deal.

the very first beer that I ever had in Europe was in a train-station in Germany on tap dark and room-temperature.

THAT beer tasted like REAL FOOD!

don't worry will not add any perfume "stuff" to what we just did... no need to either
adulterate my beer OR my art/poems


I limit my beer intake to a pint a week...

so, the "I drinks a bit" "stuff" is a ploy... mostly.... not necessary for me to "self medicate"

when we do the 5 gal jug brew thing... is that "bottom brewing"?

what we brewed this first time was very good

only mistake... we dropped the hydrometer into the big jug and couldn't read it... so we had to get another one and a glass cylinder and a long baster to pull some beer and check things...and take a little taste along the way..

J said...

Anchor steam...

pretentious, overrated bay area chi-chi brew.

sierra nevada's ales are alright. a few others. Hardly any US brews even match Carta Blanca frescas ...until you pay like 15 bucks a six pack or so

Ian Keenan said...

Ed, You are correct that a good dark should/could be enjoyed room temperature. I think in the summer unless you have it in a fridge it will top ferment which has produced a lot of glory. Leaving the exposed brew in the bottles a bit may offset the concern, or it might not matter, you may like the taste.

Anonymous said...

What you were drinking was not a "dark amber," as no such style exists, genius. Amber, sure, but no such thing as "dark amber." Baltika # 4 is a dark lager, and quite mediocre.

American microbrew (or what you call here "boutique") is some of the finest in the world, with incredible variety and passion.

You're one of those dudes who pretends to know a lot about everything, but in reality you know very little. Same with these comments. Idiots.

--Garret Oliver

Curtis Faville said...

Dear Anon:

You should use your real identity, Anon. If your thoughts are worth sharing, certainly they're worth sharing in person, instead of wearing a mask.

The reference to "dark amber" is straight from a Baltika promotional website, so I take no credit (or blame) for using it. Advertisers can invent any name they like. Names of products are usually the invention of people in the business, though occasionally things get tagged by amateurs. Not in this case, though.

There are some American boutique beers I've found I like. Gordon Biersch markets several, some seasonally--two of which I've found nice. But, in general, I've found Northwest microbrews to be a bit on the harsh, bitter side--compared to European brews.

Instead of throwing darts at everyone in the bar, you might consider naming a couple of your favorites.

The surprising growth of Baltika, around the world, suggests that they're doing something right. Do you harbor resentment for European or Russian brews?

I don't pretend to know anything I don't know. I say what I think, and then let people disagree. Constructive comments are useful; bitching is just a waste of time--yours, and mine.

Ian Keenan said...

Signing Garrett Oliver's name to your drunken rant would be slightly more convincing if you remembered two t's.

Ian Keenan said...

Stepan Razin also brews a dark amber according to the site I first linked to. I think I may have tried that and their porter rather than the Kalinkin, cuz they were dark, but it's been a few years. Neither are on the Beer Advocate radar.

Craig said...

I drank a six pack of Old Rasputin during a week or two of semi-annual home leave eight or ten years ago. I don't know if it counts as a Russian brew as I think it's a microbrew indigenous to California. It was a stout and not real smooth, a bit like drinking refrigerated Worcestershire sauce.

J said...

frat boy hipsters generally pride themselves on some insider knowledge of trivia--like beers, or some pansy granola BS like "homebrews".

you buy it after trabajo from the cambodians, swill it down; and it tastes OK, and focks you up, it's good--even if King Cobra. Doesn't matter what the Sigma Crappa phis say

Anonymous said...

Last beer I had was a Manila beer called Manila Beer, put out by Coors, and it compares favorably with San Miguel, a company that has essentially had a secure monopoly on local beer for decades.

The restaurant sold both Manila Beer and any of the half dozen varieties of San Miguel for 85 pesos, roughly $3.50 a bottle, the same price as all of about a dozen imported beers. But Coors, it seems, was also marketing a generic beer called Beer for 30 pesos or about 60 cents. I think it's a fortified version of Manila Beer, 7% alcohol instead of 5.5%. The higher octane ruins the flavor.

Symptomatic of a larger trend in my view, as former American servicemen are marrying Filipinas in order to retire in the Philippines where their pension dollar goes a bit further. Lots of new condos going up, selling for about $100k. Medical tourism is catching on too, subsidizing nearly free health care, as needed, for the masses.

Five years ago a San Miguel in a restaurant cost about P20.

I'd check out that Baltika to see if it's coming from Kaliningrad, a Baltic seaport that was headquarters to the Prussian Navy for a few centuries, known then as Konigsberg because that's where Prussian kings were crowned. It was partitioned to the Soviet Union at Potsdam and reverted to Russia instead of Germany after Reunification. The only way in or out of the Baltic is through Denmark, where they make Carlsberg Beer.

Prussia's royal family was all first cousins with both the British and the Russian crowns. Baltika as a brand sounds better to me than Romanov.