Tuesday, 10 May 2011

My Russian Dynasty

Red Square
So its been a while since I've posted, mostly because I've been obscenely busy and also because I took a ten day trip to Russia over Easter.

My trip was never intended to beer centric, but holidaying or traveling inevitably means you're sure to have a few. My first port of call was St Petersburg, the beautiful baroque city built as a gateway to the West and Europe. Its also the home of Imperial Stout and Baltic Porter (see previous posts) my knowledge of the Russian language was limited to a few phrases which inevitably made ordering drinks at a bar difficult. Exchanging hand gestures for "big" or "small" became a common event. My first night I arrived late and headed for a beer and a bite to eat at Tinkoff. Tinkoff started as a micro brewery in St Petersberg but now is American owned and has brewpubs all over Russia. Sadly I wasn't impressed, with a dodgy wedding esq band playing to a near empty bar and a menu mostly consisting of Sushi (a common theme in Russia) not to mention the pint of Temnoe 6.0% which was sold as a Porter but actually was more of a weak Dunkel. I didn't stay long, heading back for a early night that turned into an all night drinking session with added Vodka.

Baltika 6
Since I was in St Petersburg I wanted to try a Imperial Stout or Baltic Porter. Things didn't look great when the staff in the hostel hadn't even heard of it! Luckily with limited Russian and a bit of luck in a local shop I found a bottle of Baltika 6 a Baltic Porter! This actually was a Porter, although not the best beer I've had, I was simply content on finding something! And for about a pound a bottle I stocked up.

A grueling 10 hour night train took me to Moscow and thanks to the synchronized snoring of the 3 men in my couchette, I got to sample vodka shots at 4am in the buffet car with some other nocturnal types! Moscow was instantly more Soviet, more Russian and overly more complicated!! Navigating across town on the metro was a skill in its self.  The overwhelming size of Red Square and the power hub of the Kremlin will always stick with me, As will my evenings sipping dark beers in some old stolovaya's (cafeterias) eating cheap food and watching sport! Zhiguli was with in spitting distance of my hostel harks back to the Soviet years and has its namesake beer Zhigulevskoe brewed on site.
Capitalism is alive and well in Moscow
CSKA Moscow & Spartak Moscow were playing at the 1980's Olympic stadium whilst I was in town and I was lucky enough to get a ticket the derby. CSKA Moscow play in Red & Blue the same colours as my team Crystal Palace and so I became a honorary fan for the day, getting to sample an atmosphere which was unrivaled on any level compared to a game in England.

To sum up the trip from a beer point of view, I was a bit disappointed hoping to find a bit more varied choice on offer. Local supermarkets were stocked up with English & Czech imports and having the choice of Wychwood Hobgoblin and a previously unheard of Bowman by Wells & Youngs in one bar, finding anything that seemed to be Russian was difficult. I'm guessing since the fall of communism in the early 90's the Russian market has been infiltrated with imported goods from the West. (My farther recalls mile long queues for Mc Donalds when he visited Moscow in '91) You only have to look at some of the cars parked near Red Square or the shops in the previously drab soviet shopping mall GUM, to understand that some Russians are making the most of their wealth.

But this wasn't ever supposed to be a beer holiday, it was a trip to discover and explore a vast and beautiful country! (Although I only took in its two major cities) It's one trip I'll never forget!

Check out some of my pictures here:

Russia Easter 2011