If you ask me to think of Russian beer, I immediately think of rich, malty Russian Imperial Stouts. De Molen’s Rasputin springs to mind, for instance, or Mikkeller’s Black Hole. Delicious beers? Absolutely. Russian? Not really.
Confusingly, Russian Imperial Stout doesn’t come from Russia; it was brewed in the UK for export directly to the palace of Tsar Peter the Great. Clearly the man had great taste. However, if you want to taste the beer of the Russian people you have to dive a little deeper. In my case, it meant diving into my local Russian grocer to pick up a few bottles of Baltika and a packet of fried mustard bread.
Baltika 5, Golden Lager
Russians famously start their number system at 5, which means our first beer is Baltika’s golden lager. The bottle looks great: they’ve really leaned into the golden theme here, with the rich, brown bottle, shiny golden labels, and fancy patterns moulded into the glass.
It’s very pale gold, as far as golden lagers go, but perfectly clear and lightly effervescent. This lager smells of lightly buttered sweetcorn; the flavour is light and metallic, with a hint of bitterness.
Not a particularly flavoursome beer, but as far as mass-produced lagers go it’s not the worst I’ve had. 1/5
Baltika 7, Premium Export Lager
Given the similar styles, it made sense to compare Baltika 5 and 7 side by side. This also had the benefit of letting me crack open two beers at once, which feels like a special occasion.
From the outside, Baltika 7 looks very different from the 5: the bottle is green glass, rather than brown; the label a metallic silver rather than gold. The similarity returns once you go to open it, however, as you come across the same pull-tab cap as before.
They also look startlingly similar once poured. The export is a little darker, bronze rather than gold. The aroma is darker too, malt rather than corn but cranking up the butter notes. The flavour is malty as well, though it lacks depth. I’m left feeling not quite satisfied, and sadly not in the way that makes me crave a second bottle.
Is Baltika 7 really “premium” compared to their golden lager offering? I’d argue yes, it’s a better beer. But it’s not so much better that I’d order a second. 1/5
Baltika 6, Porter
I know, I know. I’m tasting these beers out of numerical order. But with two very similar lagers on offer, tasting them side by side just made sense. Later in the evening I’m lightly buzzed, and more than ready to crack open a dark beer and some snacks.
Baltika claims they’ve brewed this using traditional English recipes, but you wouldn’t know it. True, it is sweet and malty, as a porter should be. There’s darker, smokier aromas and flavours coming through. But it also tastes worty, almost unfinished; too light for such a dark beer. It tastes more like a black lager than a traditional porter.
Not true to the style, perhaps, but this is still a half decent beer. I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink another one, but if I found myself stuck in Russia and in need of a drink, this would be a good shout. 2/5
The real star of the show here, however, was not the beer. The real star was the snack that we bought with them: suhariki.
Salty and crunchy, with a meaty aroma and mustard tang, suhariki is Russia’s answer to pork scratchings. Whether these scraps of bread are fried or baked I have no idea. All I know is that they’re satisfying and delicious. 5/5