YESTERDAY’S Baltika 3 was all very good. But it wasn’t real Russian. That slick and professional little bottle was produced by our very own Scottish & Newcastle after all. What I needed was a real Russian bottle of beer. And that’s what the Russian shop Kalinka from Queensway, west London sold me for £1.80 pence. Here is a bottle of Zhigulovskoye from the Ochakovo Brewery in Moscow.
You don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t a classily presented product. The dull brown bottle and cheaply printed labels give that away. On a western beer, that would be grounds to accuse it of being cheap and shabby. But this is Russian. And that makes it quirky, interesting and baffling.
Lets start with the neck label.
It has what I think is the name and logo of the brewer at the top. With what looks like barley either side of it. The equally plain name of the beer has a couple of symbols either side that are too small to read. Under that are a couple of words to do with beer. Maybe it says “Lager Beer”? Translators, get on it and leave a comment at the end of the post. Under that is what must be the alcoholic volume. Which is a surprisingly low 4%.
The main front label is just as bad. Or should that be quaint? And badly stuck on too. All the labels seem to be coming unstuck by the perspiration on the outside of this chilled bottle.
Inside the egg-shaped roundel is a crest made up of barley, hops and a shield with a tankard of frothing beer. The medals from the neck label are here, and bigger, but I can’t make any sense of them. In fact, I can’t make any sense of any of the other words on this label. Translators, do please leave a message at the end of this post translating what it says!
Sadly, my utter lack of foreign language skills fails me again. This time it’s on the back label. And it fails me in a big way. I can’t understand anything on there.
All I can understand from this label are that it’s a 0.5 litre bottle. That the web address is www.ochakovo.ru where the English language version didn’t work. And that it contains the word for Moscow. So that’s probably where it’s from.
Fortunately, clueless foreigners like me have been given some invaluable clues by the importer. Clues in the form of this little white label.
It’s hard to read, but if it wasn’t for this, I’d be stuck. It has, written in English, the name of the beer and the brewery. It confirms that it’s from Moscow, Russia. That it’s 500 millilitres and has a volume of 4%. And what’s more, it has a tiny description of the beer and ingredients. They describe it as coming from “purest water, barley malt, barley, selected hops and no additives”. I wander if Pierhead Purchasing Ltd import any other obscure Russian beers into the UK? I hope so.
With nothing else to read. Or at least nothing I can understand, its time to open this bottle and sample the contents within. Will it be better than Baltika? Probably not. But there’s only one way to find out.
Once poured, you get a big frothy head that rapidly subsides. After a couple of minutes, it’s retreated to be a consistent layer of creamy froth. Predictably, the colour is yellow. But not as pale as some.
The smell is surprisingly strongly of barley. And a little stronger than you expect it to be. You can tell its part of that familiar lagery blend, of smells. But that smell is strong and different. I wander how it will taste?
A couple of gulps in and it’s not as bad as I predicted. Like Baltika 3, it doesn’t seem to have much, if any flavour. But it leaves you with a light aftertaste. Like the smell, that aftertaste seems less about hops, and more about the barley. Although it’s a struggle to make even that out. What you’ll notice most is that lager bite and lingering bitterness. The bite hits you quite hard. And the lingering bitterness isn’t hiding from view either. But the whole thing is well balanced enough to be drinkable.
What is there to like about Zhigulovskoye? A respectable list of things. It’s crisp and refreshing. At least it is if you serve it chilled and don’t drink too much of the stuff. It’s smooth. It has a taste. And sometimes inspite of itself, it’s easy to drink.
As you’ve probably guessed, there are downsides to Zhigulovskoye. I’m about half-way through the bottle now, and that bite and bitter aftertaste are wearing thin. Let’s be honest, I can barely stand it. Lager aficionados will love it, but not me. And not people looking for a truly accessible drink or full-bodied ale. Apart from that taste, it’s a little gassy. And weak, too.
So where does all this leave Zhigulovskoye? Well, it’s a lager with a wheaty bite and bitter aftertaste. It’s not as high-quality as the smooth Baltika 3. But it’s not bad as lagers go. By all means, track it down if you like unusual bottled lagers. As for me, I’ll be enjoying something with flavour.
Have you tried Ochakovo Brewery Zhigulovskoye? What did you think of it? What reputation does it have in Russia? And can you translate anything?
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