A Guide to beer in the Ukraine.
For starters I really wanted to call this, A Short History of Beers in Ukrainian* – really I did. So perhaps this is a short guide to beer in the Ukraine.
This is a rough outline, a bunch of notes, rubish information and indications of what lengths I go to for beer…
I have been been mulling over this since I have got back from the Ukraine, that place where quite frankly, reputation has it, if you’re there and hear another British accent, male, they are there for one thing and one thing only; it ain’t the beer… This could be interesting for you if you’re looking for the hinted upon fruits of the Ukraine or travelling there for the Euro 2012 Football.
I have since been to Belgium and Germany, but this place is mad. I believe Ukraine translates as Border lands, which if you push that toward the idea of the Wild West, you’d get a picture of what the place is like.
So, it’s in the lands of strange writing. This, I thought was going to make reading bottle labels near impossible. So, as one does when travelling to a far out place I jumped on Ratebeer, searched for places in the Ukraine and wanted to see if Oh My Head Per or Gazza, or Dave had been there. Rates, as they who tick and scoop refer to them, seemed not un-plentiful.
Visa’s for a Brit aren’t needed to travel to the Ukraine but should a Ukrainian want to come to the UK – please apply to Her Majesties Border Authority – or it’s now not as well named UKBA.
Ukrainian history, well, it’s chequered.
Ukrainian history is long and proud, with the inception of Kievan Rus as the most powerful state in Medieval Europe. While this state fell prey to Mongol conquest, the western part of Ukraine became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 14th until the 18th century, even modern Ukraine owes it a debt of sorts. A subsequent Ukrainian state was able, in the face of pressure from the ascendant Muscovy, to remain autonomous for more than a century, but the Russian Empire absorbed much of Ukraine in the 18th century to the detriment of their culture and identity.
Despite a brief, but uncertain, flash of independence at the end of the czarist regime, Ukraine was incorporated into the new USSR after the Russian Civil War in 1922 and subject to two disastrous famines (1932-33 and 1946) as well as brutal fighting during World War II. As a Soviet republic, the Ukrainian language was often ‘sidelined’ when compared to Russian to varying degrees; Stalinist repressions during the 1930s, attempts at decentralisation during the Khrushchev administration and the retightening of controls during the Brezhnev-Kosygin era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In any case, the traditionally bilingual province had signs in both Russian and Ukrainian in virtually all cities, including Lviv, where Ukrainian is most prevalent. The 1986 Chernobyl accident was a further catastrophe to the republic but also widely considered as an event which, in the long run, galvanized the population in regional sentiment and led to increasing pressure on the central government to promote autonomy.
Ukraine declared its sovereignty within the Soviet Union in July 1990 as a prelude to unfolding events in the year to come. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) again declared its independence in early December 1991 following the results of referendum in November 1991 which indicated overwhelming popular support (90% in favour of independence). This declaration became a concrete reality as the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist on December 25, 1991. Initially, there were severe economic difficulties, hyperinflation, and oligarchal rule prevailed in the early years following independence. The issues of cronyism, corruption and alleged voting irregularities came to a head during the heavily-disputed 2004 Presidential election, where allegations of vote-rigging sparked what became known as the “Orange Revolution”. This revolution resulted in the subsequent election of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko as President. During ongoing five years the “Orange coalition” broke up and Viktor Yushchenko lost support of majority of Ukranians. Ironically, his former adversary Viktor Yanukovich was elected the President.
Odessa or Odesa (Ukrainian: Одеса; Russian: Одесса;) is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast (province) located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000.
The Odessa city was founded by order of Catherine The Great, Russian Empress, on the place of Turkish fortress Khadzhibei, which was occupied by Russian Army in 1789. De Ribas and, Franz de Volan recommended the area of Khadzhibei fortress as the site for the region’s basic port: ice-free harbor, breakwaters could be cheaply constructed and would render the harbor safe and have got capacity to accommodate large fleets. The Governor General of Novorossiya, Platon Zubov (one of Catherine’s favorites) supported this proposal and in 1794, Catherine gave it her approval to found new port-city and invested first money into city construction.
However, adjacent to the new official locality, a Moldavian colony already existed, which by the end of 18th century was an independent settlement known under the name of Moldavanka. Some local historians consider that the settlement pre-dates Odessa by about thirty years and asserts that the locality was founded by Moldavians who came to build the fortress of Yeni Dunia for the Ottomans and eventually settled in the area in the late 1760s, right next to the settlement of Khadjibey (since 1795 Odessa proper), on what later became the Primorsky Boulevard. Another version posits that the settlement appeared, after Odessa itself was founded, as a settlement of Moldavians, Greeks and Albanians fleeing the Ottoman yoke.
The four foreigners’ in Russian service met by chance on a Russian military vessel in 1870s – Jose de Ribas, Duc de Rischelieu, Count of Langeron and Franz de Volan. Later on, those four played became instrumental in the city’s success: the first one convinced the Russian Empress to found Odessa, the second made it the fourth largest city in Russia in just eleven years, the third one made it free economic zone and the fourth one created the city plan, used to build Odessa, which was considered the most advanced city plan in Russia at that time!
The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement, was founded by Hacı I Giray, the Khan of Crimea, in 1240 and originally named after him as “Hacıbey”. After a period of Lithuanian control, it passed into the domain of the Ottoman Sultan in 1529 and remained in Ottoman hands until the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792. The city of Odessa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794. From 1819–1858 Odessa was a free port. During the Soviet period it was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and a Soviet naval base. On January 1, 2000 the Quarantine Pier of Odessa trade sea port was declared a free port and free economic zone for a term of 25 years.
In the 19th century it was the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Warsaw. Its historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist.
Odessa is a warm water port, but militarily it is of limited value. Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus has enabled NATO to control water traffic between Odessa and the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Odessa hosts two important ports: Odessa itself and Yuzhne (also an internationally important oil terminal), situated in the city’s suburbs. Another important port, Illichivs’k, is located in the same oblast, to the south-west of Odessa. Together they represent a major transport hub integrating with railways. Odessa’s oil and chemical processing facilities are connected to Russia’s and EU’s respective networks by strategic pipelines.
Odessa has very strong links to Russia, seemingly Russians get priority over Ukrainians and other tourists, there is a heirarchy – I thought was based on how rude you were. Mad place that has beautiful heirloom buildings, crazy nightclubs, the largest shopping area in the World. oh, and of course, the The famous Potemkin Steps are leading to it from the monument of the Duke De Richelieu.
Honestly, I was expecting Pale lager, followed by Pale lager, with a top up of stronger pale lager. I knew that Carlsberg and Inbev had been splashing the cash, bless them – but Ratebeer did reveal a number of Brewpubs and smaller efforts. Maybe it wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought.
The Lonely Planet guide to the Ukraine compares Ukrainian beer with Czech beer, and the comparison definitely makes sense. The Ukraine (and Russia) have much the same beer styles as the German lager styles widespread in the Czech Republic, although Russia and the Ukraine add some extra styles. The quality is also comparable. Ukrainian pale lagers are generally quite well made, although in Russia the average seems to be quite a bit lower.
In general, Russian and Ukrainian brewers tend to stick to the traditional German beer styles, with some rare exceptions. The main styles are:
- Pretty standard pale lagers, 4-5% alcohol. Generally low on flavour, but for the most part also free of off tastes and quite well made. Best in category: Lvivske Premium (3.2). Worst: Taller (2.2).
- Dark lagers (or dunkels), again 4-5% alcohol. Generally sweet, but not always, and generally with some roastiness, and, if you are very lucky, some spiciness. Again, off tastes are rare, though at times the brewers overdo the sweetness somewhat. Best in category: Obolon Oksamitove (3.2). I didn’t try enough of these to have a meaningful worst.
- Pretty standard strong pale European lagers, 6-8%. They are sweeter and denser in body than the svitles, and often have a bit more hops. Reminiscent of Scandinavian “gold” macro brews. Slavutych Mitsne Arsenal Mitsne
- German-style hefeweizen wheat beers, but often spicier and more citric than the German brews, while not as much as the Belgian wits. There are also some dark “whites”, which tend to be sweeter. Dnipro Bile Chernigivske Bile Nefiltrovane =
- There is, surprisingly, a good number of these, but they are very difficult to find. The first night, presented by my girlfriends dad presented Lvivske Porter. This was a rich, dark amber lager. Very prune-y raisin with dark roast notes. Impressive.
- (thanks to Largsa for this)
There is also kvas, a traditional Russian beer style originally quite low in alcohol and brewed from bread. This is rarely sold in bottles or in pubs, but generally sold in the street from little tank trucks. These usually have some babushka manning them, selling beer in plastic cups. For some reason this beer style has much lower status than the more widespread German-derived styles, although some of the brewpubs make good versions of it. The many glasses that I tried, I found one I really liked – at the bottom of the Potemkin steps, in Odessa – for 5 Krv a 50cl beaker.
I got to try a few different varieties of kvas and there seem to be two different kinds. One is what I would call the traditional, which is brownish, hazy, and tastes of rye bread, spice, and yeast. The other is found in bottles and pubs, and seems more like a traditional soft drink, with a caraway taste. I never found any official indication of the alcohol level, but would think 3-4% at the most.
The beer served in the south of Ukraine is good and goes with the great hearty food. This is as good as some Czech beer. A beer in a restaurant will usually cost around 2 – 3 USD for local beers, and you don’t need to worry about the import. There are several breweries in the area nearby Odessa, but they are usually not very popular in the restaurants, big brewery money and schwag.
Some highlights, of sorts:
Brewing Museum Lviv.
Do not miss this, this not a disney-fied overly romanticized tale of brewing and the brewing community, funded it seems by the Lvivskya brewery (although you do exit through the gift shop). Lviv has been known for its beer making expertise since the 15th century. There has been a brewery since 1715, established by Jesuits monks. Lviv was the brewing capital for the old USSR/CCCP; Beer brewed in Lviv was enjoyed at the royal banquets in Austria-Hungary and in Poland, and in more recent times at the banquets of the communist party leaders in the Kremlin. – running on the same-similar geography of their German and Czech brewing community partners. Lviv is also a very pretty Bamberg/Brugge type of city in the old town.
Arena Brewpub Kiev.
As far as nightclub venues in Kiev go, Arena which is located in the very center of the city inside the round structure right next to Bessarabski market is the king of clubs. Inside Arena is more “architecturally stylish” than a watering hole needs to be. Although calling it a watering hole would be like calling Russia a slightly bigger than an average sized country. Arena consists of multiple floors, featuring a Casino, sports bar, sushi restaurant and of course a standard nightclub with a large “VIP” area.
The large dance floor and dancer girls set the bar for pricey drinks, not that the moneyed clientele seems to mind — they’re just happy to be inside. Mojitos and martinis are the cocktails of choice, and rich new Russian types and local Ukrainian celebrities are usually well-represented in the see-and-be-seen crowd. That should come as no surprise; provided Arena is partially owned by the famous boxers – Klitchko brothers who frequently make an appearance at the first floor sports bar.
The brewery is on one of the levels, and certainly one of the most bizarre spots I have ever been into for a beer. The beer was some of the best we had on our travels, very clean-brewpub-germanic, but the prices were near double “normal beer”. When I spoke to the brewer regards duty rates, his reply – “this is Ukraine, sometimes we do, and some times well….” as he shrugs his shoulders…
Restaurant Pivnoy Sad
there is a small restaurant-brewery right in the pretty “City Garden” near Deribasovskya, their beer is rather good, and they have an English menu. Just look for a sign that says “Hausbrauerei” and tell them you just want to have a drink at the bar unless you want to have dinner there of course. Pavel Grembowsky, former Ukrainian triathalon star, learned his brewing trade from the head brewer from the Arena Brewpub – but I think has excelled over him. A near native quality English speaker and very cool person to boot. Apparently I was the first foreign “brewer” to visit, or more than likely introduce himself, a 500litre Copper Waschmann brewkit brews three times a day to keep up with demand when the sun is out. The red and pale lager – both unfiltered are made from Weyermann malts, fresh pellet hops and german supplied fresh yeast – the local water and this produces good fresh lagered beers! Mix with a plate of pickles, smokey stringy cheese and a pretzel, no more tha 50Krv for a couple of half litres and the noms.
If you’re in Odessa, this and the Gambrinus bar are the two best beer hangouts, plus a growler fill shop. The sunshine in Odessa was wonderful, warm, balmy days. The one downside, is the lack of balls with the management, since there was apparently a party of “famous people” from Russia in the place, who bypassed the local laws for the non-smoking area.
Lvivskya Pivovar, Lviv
Probably the better of the industrial breweries in Ukraine.
” Lustdorf combines new conception of modern recreation’s style and classical quality of brewage and cuisine. This place is perfect not only for having good drinks and food but also for successful business meeting, having fun with friends or even a romantic date. ” – it’s just a good brewpub out of town! Bah, they really over talk everything. Sad that I had to find this information on a site for Russian Brides too!? Not on Ratebeer…. The beer was OK brewpub beer, cold unfiltered lager. Worth the haul out here? Perhaps, if your me, which says you’re nuts!
Beer in Kiev
Brewpub: Arena – best of the Kievian brewpubs plus the added advantage of strippers.
Brewpub: Chato – tired old velo system churning out buttery unfiltered lager.
Brewpub: Schulz – a new 750 litre system, brewing and serving an unfiltered lager and dunkel. Tasty stuff just that the service sucks.
Beer in Odessa
Brewpub: Pivnoy Sad Vinogradov, Odessa
Brewery: Odesskaya Chastnaya Pivovarnya
Beer Bar: Gambrinus
Russia and the Ukraine may sound like terrible destinations for anyone looking for a decent pint of beer, and while both countries are for the most part deserts of pale lager, things are not nearly as bad as they may seem. There are some interesting beer styles, some brewpubs, and the quality of the industrial beer (especially in the Ukraine) is not at all bad. And prices are low, of course. If you’re looking outside the normal beery destinations, perhaps this might be worth a try. Consider it, going to see a first division football match rather than a premier league side.
When I left Ukraine; besides the pushing and shoving and slow passport control and complete lack of control – they really need to learn to queue properly, and the fact what ever we have with Dave and Nick, their politics is well, a fekking joke – succinctly “Money Talks and bullshit walks. ” I was left feeling that this is a country on the cusp of being a really tremendous powerhouse in the world. Great produce, great climate and very cool people. I was sad to leave such a country with great climate, natural wealth, cool young people doing their own thing – I really hope for the best for the Ukrainians, I hope that the people like Pavel Gremborsky make their country as amazing
Note: a pectopah = Restaurant.