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March 29, 2016 10:03

Pavel Yegorov: Five best Soviet beers

Pavel Yegorov: Five best Soviet beers

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There is a well-known joke that in the USSR there were two kinds of beer - "there is beer" and "there is no beer" ;-) Although in every joke there is some truth, in fact about 350 varieties of beer were brewed during the time of the former Soviet Union! Of course, many of them duplicated each other, but there were also a great number of really unique varieties. So, it is not easy to mark the five most interesting of them.


Well, I'll start with a consistent and strong beer style. Modern technologies (especially those used by large breweries) allow to ferment beer almost completely, so modern beer is much stronger (by the same original gravity) than beer in the USSR. That’s why consistent and strong variations are highly alcoholic. I don’t want to offend our big breweries, but the Nine or Okhota have become common names, having a reputation for marginal beer. In the USSR it was all exactly the opposite. The more consistent and the stronger the beer was, the more expensive and upscale it was considered to be (the price depended directly on gravity; the taste also, due to the low degree of fermentation, became more and more accentuated with increasing gravity). Another widely known beer style is Leningradskoe. According to the beer standards (GOST) its gravity was 18% before the war, and 20% after the war. The alcohol volume by weight amounted to 6% (In Soviet encyclopedias and cookbooks it is mentioned as the strongest beer in the USSR. It gave rise to the myth that in the USSR did not brew any beer stronger than 6%, and that such a beer did not exist at all).

Before the war, out of spite of Leningrad, a new beer style named Moscow, the highest grade, with gravity 18%, was brewed in Moscow. But in fact the most consistent and the strongest light beer in the USSR was Stolichnoye. It was also brewed 1939 and its prototype was obviously the German doppelbock, which was usually brewed in pre-revolutionary Russia and the USSR under the name Salvator (in Germany it is just one of the doppelbocks, though perhaps the most famous one). Before the war, beer had gravity 19%, but after the war this variation was brewed with gravity 23% and alcohol by volume 7% (that is 8,75% and is, by the way, slightly stronger than the Nine and Okhota. The gravity is meanwhile in one and a half times higher).

In the 1950s, the wide use of unmalted raw materials in brewing began in the USSR. Stolichnoye was no exception: only to 60% it was brewed of malt and to 20% of rice, another 20% were sugar and glucose. According to modern technical regulations, this is not a beer, but a "beer drink" (however, like most other types of beer brewed in the USSR, including the most upscale ones. That shows the stupidity of such a concept as a "beer drink"). The beer was strongly hopped (61 g of hops per deciliter). The second fermentation lasted 100 days, but the real degree of fermentation was low - 55%. The beer had amber color and sweet-bitter taste (because of the non-fermented extract and high hop rate) with a wine flavor. The cost of beer was 55 cents for a 0.5 l bottle (excl. cost of tare). To compare: Zhigulevskoe cost 25 cents. The beer was brewed by several major breweries, but somewhere in the 60s its production was stopped.

It is interesting to know that in the movie The Brest Fortress (directed by Alexander Kott) the beer Stolichnoye (sold on the plot in the store of the Brest Fortress) appears with a label of the pre-war time. After the start-up of the Ochakovsky Brewery, its trading beer also became Stolichnoye, but it was already a completely different beer style with gravity 12% .


Among the soviet consistent dark beer styles stood the Baltic Dizalus and Biržiečių (gravity of 21%), but I want to tell you about the beer style called Porter. One may ask: what does this old British beer style have to do with the USSR? But the fact is that the paths of porter variations diverged in the twentieth century. In Britain even Robust Porter now is brewed with gravity of 12-14% and alcohol by volume 4,8-6%. The USSR inherited the tradition of consistent and strong porter (often called by its second name Extra Double Stout) from the Russian Empire. After the war, porter was bottom-fermented, that is, it was already not ale, but a lager. That led to the rise of such a beer style as Baltic porter - a strong porter, fermented with lager yeast.

In general, the traditions of porter brewing in Russia have long. By the middle of the 18th century, this variation was imported to Russia, and later it was also brewed by Russian breweries. There is a legend about the predilection of the upper class of the Empire for this beer (hence the name of the style Russian Imperial Stout, which allegedly was brewed to meet the needs of the Russian royal family). In the 19th century, porter was so popular that beerhouses were then called "porterhouses" while the porter seemed to be separated from beer in general, it was considered an upscale drink along with good wines, and was not cheaper. By the twentieth century, its popularity had declined markedly, but it continued to be brewed in the USSR and was introduced into the brewing standards (OST) of year 1938. Then it had gravity of 20% and was top-fermented (like ale, in the British manner). In 1946 the fermentation was not regulated by the brewing standards (GOST), and in fact it turned into a lager (although traditional top fermentation was also allowed). The strength of porter was 5% (6.25% by volume), the attenuation degree - only 46%, hence the sweet taste of dark malts with wine flavor.

It was brewed in different ways by different breweries. At Badayev's brewery the basis was formed by dark malt - 82%, with a slight addition of light malt, caramel and burnt malts, and one of the best was Lviv Porter, which was brewed from light malt (62%), with a large caramel additive (34%), as well as burnt malt. Porter was refermented 60 days in tanks and 10 days in bottles. Even its unpasteurized version was stable for at least 17 days. Although porter was brewed by a significant number of breweries throughout the history of the USSR, it was not easy to find it on sale. The experts recommended to look into the buffets of cultural institutions, like the Hermitage...

Double Golden Label

Another type of beer with long historical roots is Double Golden. At the end of the XIX century the brewing association Trekhgorny in Moscow made beer with double label of gold color. The name was not shown on it, but the beer was called Double Golden Label. After the revolution, this variation continued to be produced at the Trekhgorny Brewery (later the Badayev Brewery). The variety was so popular that Vladimir Mayakovsky devoted his poems to it.

«Долой запивающих до невязания лык,
но пей Трехгорное пиво —
пей “Двойной золотой ярлык”».

(Down with those who drink like a horse, уou should drink only Trekhgornoe beer — only Double Golden Label)

This variation wasn’t included into the brewing standards of the year 1938 and it was forgotten for a long time. It was remembered and revived in the second half of the 50s, when the "thaw" in Soviet brewing gave wide opportunities to be creative. The color of the beer corresponded to its name and was golden. Besides the pale malt (81%), caramel malt and rice (9.5%) were also used. The beer gravity of 15% and strength by weight 4.2% (the attenuation degree was 53%), the dose of hop was about 45 g for 1 deciliter. The taste of beer was therefore malt and hop accentuated with a hop aroma. Beer was brewed by the largest breweries of the RSFSR, also produced by many breweries in the Ukrainian SSR.

In our time, the Ochakovo brewery revived this variation for the second time under the name Stolichnoye Double Golden. But in order to preserve the one-time strength together with use of the current technologies, they reduced the gravity to 13%. More authentic versions of this variation are brewed by Velka Morava mini-brewery from Moscow (called Golden Label) and Knightberg brewery from St. Petersburg.

Of the consistent Soviet beer variations it is worth to mention Nasha Marka (18%), which was developed at the Badaev Brewery on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, and Isetskoye (16%), brewed under the direction of G.P. Dumler at the Iset Brewery in Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) in the German Bock style, but with the addition of unmalted materials).


A lot of interesting variations were developed in the Ukrainian SSR. Before the war, the Kievskoye wheat malt beer was created, but I should stay with Pereyaslavskoye. This beer variation was offered by the brewers of the Kyiv Brewery No. 2 in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Ukraine with Russia (Pereyaslavlskaya Rada). Perhaps, it was one of the first beer variations, which began to appear in large numbers during the Khrushchev "thaw" and the first with anniversary label (for the first time in the USSR!).

This beer is very interesting from the point of view its recipe: it was honey beer, where, in addition to pale barley malt (66%) rice (17.5%) and natural honey (16.5%) were used! For hopping 50 g of hops per 1 deciliter were used, and as a result, a beer with an unusual honey taste was obtained. Its gravity was 16%, the strength by weight 4.5% (the attenuation degree 53%). In the 60s the beer was brewed by many breweries in the Ukrainian SSR, by the 1980s - only by several ones, and in the 90s the production was completely stopped.

By the next anniversary of the Pereyaslavlskaya Rada in January this year a small batch of this beer style was brewed with my participation at home brewery in Zhavoronki. It was not an industrial production, so that only few can try it...


And finally, you can’t bypass the Zhigulevskoye ... This beer became the most popular beer style in the USSR in the second half of the 1930s (in some years its production volume reached 90% of all brewed beer). Despite that modern breweries often point on the labels that their Zhigulevskoye is brewed according to the recipes of the 1930s, in fact, the Zhigulevskoye that we know now has little to do with the beer of that time. The prototype of this beer was the variation Vienskoye, which differed in that it was brewed from Vienna malt, more roasted, and therefore darker than common pale malt. Therefore, the color of Zhigulevskoe was twice as dark as by other light variations (such as Riga or Moscow), which was directly indicated in the brewing textbooks of the time. Its color was closer to the half-dark beer.

Why did beer from this malt become the most popular in the USSR? Obviously, there are two reasons. Firstly, the Vienna malt was easier to obtain, since the requirements to it were less stringent than to the pale ones. Secondly, the Vienna malt, which stands between really bright and dark malts, gave the beer taste more malt notes, making it richer. Malt hints and soft hop taste (beer was not drunk too much - only 21 grams of hop per deciliter of beer) and made this beer so popular among consumers (rather, Zhigulevskoe kept the popularity of its prototype, Vienskoye beer, which was one of the most popular In the USSR in the 20's and first half of the 30's).

According to the standards of the year 1938 that beer had gravity of 11% and 2.8% of alcohol (ABV 3.5%), the second fermentation lasted 16 days. In addition to malt, it was allowed to use up to 15% of unmalted raw materials (barley, corn, wheat, rice). By the 1950s, the use of unmalted materials in the USSR had a mass character, that made Zhigulevskoye irreversibly bright, so in standards 1953 it was suggested to tint beer with burnt malt or burnt sugar to achieve standard color. The breweries began to brew Zhigulevskoye began from light malt (in the last GOSTs, only one kind of pale malt was left in the USSR, although the secondary pale malt was close in parameters to the Vienna malt). According to the standards the requirements to the SRM value of Zhigulevskoye color were lowered, so its color could vary from light to semi-dark. The second fermentation lasted 21 day, but it was allowed to apply accelerated technologies and shorten the time to 11 days. The number of unmalted products was limited to 15%, without enzyme use. Using the same enzymes, it was possible to use 30-50% of unmalted materials (and this was practiced actively: for example, in the Ukrainian SSR, in the 1960s half of the Zhigulevskoye beer brewed with a content of 30-50% of unmalted products, according to modern technical regulations, was also a "beer drink"). So gradually from almost half-dark beer with strong malt notes Zhigulevskoye turned into a modern light (often almost colorless) beer without accentuated malt tones, conditioned by roasted malts. Its strength was also constantly increasing: modern standards require at least 4% alcohol by the gravity of 11% , although often Zhigulevskoye has 4.5% and even higher.

In fact, recently a lot of beer in Venskoye style has appeared (for example: Baltika Brewery Collection Vienna Lager, Khamovniki Vienskoye by MPK, etc.), and these varieties are much closer to the taste of the original Zhigulevskoye. than the modern one, which is still one of the most consumed beer varieties in Russia...

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Егоров Павел Владимирович

Автор сайта, коллекционер пивной атрибутики.

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