DURING my gap-year, I had much fun trying some of Russia’s beers. So I was delighted to discover a Russian shop called Kalinka in Queensway, west London. A quick visit, and I left with a handful of unusual Eastern-European bottles. First of which is one I tried during my time in Saint Petersburg. That’s because this is Saint-Petersburg’s own Baltika. Baltika 3 in fact.
Baltika is the drink of choice in Saint Petersburg. I counted about ten varieties of the stuff, and the shop shelves are filled with them. Here’s a picture of a cooler cabinet I snapped in a small supermarket in the Russian city.
With so many to choose from, I opted for Baltika 7. I can’t remember why. Probably because it looked strongest. Here’s what the genuine bottle of Baltika looked like.
My understanding is that Baltika is the Tsingtao or Guinness of Russian beer brands. You might have seen their poster advertising last year or even seen them for sale in Tesco or other mainstream UK shops. Baltika came to be after the collapse of the USSR, and so far looks to be Russia’s only beer making a push for international distribution. Lets hope its not the last. We might wring our hands at their government, but the quirkiness of Russian products is awesome.
Back to the beer, and let’s start with the neck label. And a very functional label it is too. The main purpose being to separate it from all the other numbers in Baltika’s extensive range.
The main front label is good though.
The logo does a good job of looking well established. Even though the date on it is 1990. It also features hops and a crown. Why a crown for a republic I don’t know. Maybe a hint of the Tsarist past? And can anyone explain what the three wavey-lines logo means? Answers in the comments at the end of this post please.
Also on the front label roundel is the non-anglicised Baltika name. You’ve got to love Russian Cyrillic. So very nearly readable by anyone only who only knows English. For the curious, read this Wikipedia article on the Russian alphabet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_alphabet. If only to reassure yourself that it says what you think it does.
Also inside the roundel, they describe it as “Classic beer”. Whatever that is. And on the bottom border, the volume is given as 5.1%. Not strong, not weak and not conventional either.
Let’s see what the back label is hiding.
It’s good to see that they have English and Russian language descriptions. Although I’ll only be reading from one. This side, they call it a “Premium Beer”. In the description, we learn a great deal. For instance, that it’s the number one beer in Russia. That they sell it in over thirty countries. And that it’s won over thirty international and Russian awards. We also learn the Russian for “cheers”, which is “Na zdorovye”. That’s one to try if ever you visit or meet some Russians. But, if your attempts at speaking Russian are anything like mine, you’ll only receive a look of incomprehension at your failed attempt to talk.
Under the Russian language version, the small print begins. This little bottle is the common 330 millilitres. And at 5.1% volume, it has 1.7 UK units of alcohol. Then, there’s some bad news. It also contains barley and wheat. This is not the genuine article. It’s not been imported. This has the address of Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes this as Russian as tartan. Despite this immense handicap, S&N usually do a pretty good job, so this could still be good.
Ultimately, there’s only one way to find out. It’s time to open the bottle and see how it tastes. Should you buy it? Let’s find out.
It’s got a thick-ish creamy head. Which was a surprise. And it’s a pale yellow colour. Which wasn’t a surprise.
How does it smell? It smells faintly lagery. But better than most. You can just about make out a blend of barley and wheat. But not the same way as cheap big-name lagers do. I like it.
How does it taste? It tastes rich, smooth and with a lagery bitter bite and aftertaste. It doesn’t seem to have any flavour. But it does have a startlingly easy bite and bitter aftertaste. What you’ll notice most is that smoothness and soft lagery bite.
I hadn’t tried Baltika 3 before and I didn’t expect to like it. As it’s a take on lager, I certainly don’t love it. But as lagers go, I think it’s one of the better ones out there. For a start, it’s much easier to drink than lots of lagers. And that’s because it’s so smooth and the taste, that bite is so soft and well balanced. It’s not particularly gassy. And it scores marks for being distinctive.
There are downsides however. The aftertaste and character might be good, but it doesn’t seem to have any flavour. Almost none at all as far as I can tell. No doubt the lager fanatics out there will disagree. It’s still hard to find. And compared to everything else on the shop shelves of Britain, there are plenty of other bottles that are cheaper and have more flavour.
To sum up, Baltika 3 is an excellent lager. If you love lagers, you should try it. If you’re curious about Russian and Eastern-European beers, you’ll enjoy it.
If you only have lagers to choose from, this is one of the better ones. If you like full-bodied flavours and don’t like lagers however, you probably won’t like this beer so much. Overall, Baltika 3 does an excellent job of being a lager beer.
Have you tried Baltika 3 or any other Baltika or Russian beers?
If so, do please leave your corrections, opinions, translations, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.