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?