A Russian revolution is underway and it’s hop-flavoured. Vodka may still be the country’s libation of choice, but hot on the heels of the US and Europe, Russia has a micro-brewing scene that’s producing some world-class artisanal ales. With brewhouses galore, St Petersburg is at the heart of the country’s craft brew trend, asserting Russia’s status as the world’s third largest beer producer. From cool taprooms to experimental beers, here are the Russian craft beers to try and where to find them.
In keeping with the indie ethos of micro-breweries, the ‘AF’ of AF Brew stands for ‘Anti Factory’. Launched in 2012 as a DIY initiative by a group of self-confessed beer geeks and former employees at brew-giant Balitka, AF Brew has grown to be one of the most beloved niche Russian craft beers, and is exported to the coolest bars of Berlin and London.
Most popular in AF Brew’s ale arsenal is its famed Redrum IPA. Malty and hoppy, it’s a deep ruby-red colour with heaps of personality. Then there’s the Black Magic American porter made with roasted barley, which has intense coffee aromas. AF Brew has a playful side, which is behind such quirky creations as Double Chocolate Banana Cake stout and I Got Mango Worms, a sour fruited New England IPA.
Head to AF Brew’s very own AF Taproom on Kurlyandskaya Ulitsa in St Petersburg. Occupying the red brick former Stepan Razin plant—the oldest brewery in the city. The stylish minimalist bar has industrial-chic vibes with 20 beers on tap and many others imported from all over the world.
Experimental ales are the order of the day at Bakunin Brewery. Take its Red Maniac smoked chilli IPA, opening with elegant fruit and citrus flavours. Once it reaches the back of your throat, it bursts to life with smoked malt and the delicate spice of Bird's Eye Pepper. For something a little less dramatic, there’s Peach Up peach milkshake IPA made with peach pulp and oatmeal flakes.
This innovative brewery’s name comes from the small St Petersburg bar that it was conceived in. Founded by three craft beer enthusiasts in 2013, Bakunin has now released over 150 types of beer. The founders’ travels across Europe have informed their brewing art, from experience with dozens of leading Old World breweries to unearthing rare yeast strains and berries and fruits.
Sample Bakunin’s imaginative array of brewed delights at its Rockets & Bishops taproom on Gorokhovaya Street. A cool, lively space, you’ll find the brewery’s flagship craft varieties as well as the latest releases, alongside gourmet burgers to soak up the ales.
Tricky to say after you’ve consumed a few of its fine beers, Vasileostrovskaya is an independent brewery located on Vasilyevsky Island and the first to open in St Petersburg. In 2002, it created a non-filtered cloudy lager for a restaurant, which proved so popular it kickstarted Vasileostrovskaya’s journey to becoming one of the best-loved Russian craft beers.
Pioneering the concept of fermentation in the bottle, Vasileostrovskaya has pushed brewing boundaries with an emphasis on innovative flavours and styles. Its classic Vasileostrovsky Dark is a rich, Bavarian-style beer with rye and caramel notes, while its fruit beer range harnesses the zesty notes of raspberry, pineapple and melon. To keep the brand fresh, Vasileostrovskaya creates seasonal beers such as super-strength 10 per cent creamy Russian Imperial Stout with Truffle or Toffee Popcorn and Pumpkin Ale released at Halloween.