Saturday, 16 June 2012

Tasty speciality beers give a flavor of Ukraine

Apart from ubiquitous mass-produced big beer brands, Ukraine can offer some brews that you just can’t find anywhere else. One particular lager stands out for a long history on this turf. “Ukraine is a lager nation,” says Artem Starikov, a 31-year old lawyer and beer blogger. “And the most famous sort in the country is certainly Zhigulivske lager.” It’s a historic brand dating back to the era before the Soviet Union. Sometimes it’s referred to as “Zhiguli” – the same as a popular Soviet car, which in the West was more commonly knows as Lada. Legend goes that it was originally brewed by Alfred von Vacano, an Austrian entrepreneur, in 1881, in Samara, Russia. It was called Viennese Beer then. In 1936, the Soviet authorities changed the bourgeois-sounding name and launched its production at many breweries. At the time the lager was a very pale straw color and contained around 2.8 percent of alcohol. This was pretty much the only beer brand easily available all over the Soviet Union. It disappeared for a while after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and it took breweries a while to realize that it’s a brand well worth recycling. “Beer producers consider Zhiguli to be an essential type [for making now] because its name attracts consumers that are nostalgic for the Soviet past,” Starikov says. “Sometimes they don’t follow the original formula and slap the Zhigulivske label on anything, knowing that there are always going to be those who buy this beer because of the name.” To find the authentic Zhigulivske, Starikov recommends buying the brand made by the Kyiv Podil brewery or the Uman brewery. These breweries designed labels reminiscent of the original Soviet one. Look out for blue stripes on a red background, with Zhigulivske inscribed at an angle in gold letters. Starikov says that Lager Zhiguli Pivo Barnoe, brewed and bottled by Radomyshl brewery to the recipe of the Moscow Zhiguly Restaurant, is also a must. It’s available practically in any supermarkets and in many bars. Of course, Zhigulivske is not the only pebble on the beach. An adventurous beer lover is also advised to try a range of beers coming from the Lviv Brewery Persha Pryvatna Brovarnya. “I never have any second thoughts about drinking new brands of this brewery because the beer is always of high quality,” Starikov says. “I’d recommend to try Avtorske and Platinum beers.” Kyiv Podil brewery also makes a remarkable dark lager (temne in Ukrainian), called Gostynniy Dvir. “This is German Dunkel (a traditional style brewed in Munich and popular throughout Bavaria) with a Ukrainian zest,” Starikov says. “My friends and I regaled English beer expert Peter Brown coming to Kyiv with Gostynniy Dvir recently. He seemed fully satisfied with its taste.” In Ukraine, beer is usually accompanied with snacks. Salty dry fish tops the list of beer accompaniments. It may be unusual for the European palate, but here it goes down like a song. Fried cheese, onion rings, sausages or nuts are also common.

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