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Craft Beer Moscow

The craft beer scene in Moscow intensively absorbs everything that the new world beer culture produces in terms of trends - always on the lookout for the next flavour. Beer sommelier Sylvia Kopp takes us to the fascinating metropolis and the protagonists of the Russian craft beer revolution.

Beer bar in Russian restaurant chain Noble restaurant chains in Moscow adorn themselves with Belgian and other Western European beer specialities (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)
Huge beer selection in Russian supermarketMegastore for beer in Moscow: Beru Vyhodnoy has what it takes to be the largest beer specialty shop in all of Europe (Picture: Beru Vyhodnoy)

Dynamic craft beer scene in the Russian capital

I don't speak Russian. Most Russians don't understand English. Communication therefore took place under difficult conditions, but fortunately Vadim Kamkalov, co-owner of the Protokoll Bar in Berlin, helped me to make contact. He encouraged me: "The Russian craft beer movement has grown into a dynamic scene with international appeal in a short time, completely independent without state subsidies."  In the Moscow region alone, there are around 65 craft breweries, in St. Petersburg around 45. Both cities are in constant competition with each other - also when it comes to craft beer. The St Petersburgers think their city is the epicentre of the Russian craft beer movement: "Trends are made here." But Eugen Smirnoff waves it off, saying that trends can emerge anywhere today thanks to social media. He leaves no doubt, Moscow is the Russian craft beer capital: "Russian brewers, small and big, dream of being in Moscow," says Smirnoff. "It's impossible to become famous if you don't have a presence in Moscow." 
 

Stunning beer selection in the supermarket

Smirnoff works at Beru Vyhodnoy (which means "to take time off"). The specialist chain offers 70 taps each for on-site growler/bottle filling and more than 500 bottled and canned beers in 17 Moscow markets. The flagship shop at 79 Prospekt Mira even has a staggering 200 taps and stocks more than 3,000 different beers - the largest beer specialty shop in Russia, possibly the largest in all of Europe. I didn't expect such astronomical numbers here."It's our mission to show people what beer can be: from ordinary lagers to rare styles like Swedish Gotlandsdricke," says Smirnoff. Ten years ago he switched from newspaper and TV editor to beer consultant, now advises two retail chains on purchasing and boasts of having tasted and tested 6500 different beers. Chapeau!
 
 
 
Vadim Gurov (l.) and his brewmaster Alex KorobkovVadim Gurov (l.), co-owner of Zagovor, and his brewmaster Alex Korobkov with a Juicy & Hazy sample fresh from the tank. (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Zagovor Brewery: Sedentary Gypsy Brewers

All brewers want to be in Moscow, hardly any can afford the city centre. So the Zagovor brewery is in a good position. Their brewery is located in the north in the suburb of Mytishchi, only an hour's drive from the centre.

Vadim Gurov founded the brewery in 2014 together with five friends - punk rock fans who made pilgrimages to concerts in foreign countries together. On New Year's Eve 2013 in Australia, one of them had the inspiration: "We should brew beer." In May 2014, they trained at public home brewing demonstrations, brewed at home, and already in August they launched their commercial "Conspiracy" (English for "Zagovor"), at that time still as Gypsy brewers.

Yet the six of them were not originally into craft beer. "We liked beer," says Vadim. Full stop. They had tried Brewdog's Punk IPA (of course!), the beers of the Californian cult brewery Russian River somewhere, and at some point during their punk rock crusades. It was the emerging home brewing scene, which met at the then Brewpub 1516, and local products like Red Machine - a classic IPA by Moscow craft beer pioneers Victory Art, even then with 65 IBU - that put them on the extreme hopped track.
 

 

View of the bar in the Rule TaproomThere are now several hundred craft beer bars in Moscow alone - including the Rule Taproom by Zagovor (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Craft Beer Boom in Moscow

A lot has changed since they were founded: "Five years ago, most were still Gypsy brewers. There was hardly any beer, neither shops nor raw materials. Today, a whole industry is flourishing around craft beer," says Vadim. Back then, for example, they would have had to make do with dried yeast if they hadn't been bold enough to bring cultures from White Labs in Copenhagen across the border. In the meantime, he says, there are domestic suppliers not only for liquid yeast, several hundred shops and bars in Moscow alone (including Zagovor's Rule Taproom and Dogma Bottle Shop), as well as financiers who invest in equipment.

We are standing between nine cylindroconical fermentation tanks, total capacity 300 hl, behind us the 10-hl brewhouse from the Russian plant manufacturer Nomas. With the help of two investors, who are now co-owners, Zagovor was able to build its own brewery in 2016. In addition to the basic range of six varieties, brewmaster Alex Korobkov produced an additional 30 special brews and 20 collaboration beers here in 2019. With this tightly timed brew schedule, Zagovor produces over 4000 hectolitres a year. 90 per cent of the output is kegged, the rest is canned twice a month with the help of a mobile service.

But we drink straight from the tank: Alex first twists us the delicious Milk Stout Stoner, a debut (2014) from the Zagovor standard range. Then the NEIPA Foggy Notion, 6.8 percent by volume, cold-hopped with Citra, Galaxy and Motueka. Sensational! 

"I want super good beers for us. We want to ensure the quality and taste of our beers," Alex describes his goals. "We're not going to skimp on raw materials." He wants to develop new flavours, experiment more with wild ales and barrel-aging, expand sales in Russia and Europe and, if possible, double them.
 
taproomHuge beer selection at Zagovor's Rule Taproom (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Cooperation with Protokoll Bar in Berlin

The invitations to beer festivals in Europe, Asia and Australia and the cooperation with the Danish importer of pan-European beer geek supplies Drikkeriget may help - as well as the partnership with Protokoll Bar. "Protokoll is our outpost and embassy for Russian craft brewers in Western Europe," says Vadim Gurov. 

As Vadim explains, Zagovor wants to stand for "trendy beers". They launched what they claim is the first NEIPA in Russia back in 2016 (Blast Beat, 8% by volume, Simcoe, Citra and Cascade) and are churning out never-ending IPA variations every four weeks: Triple and Double NEIPAs, Milkshake IPA, cold-hopped with and without lupulin powder, rounded off with lactose. Stouts and porters are also on the brew schedule: for example, as Imperial, Nitro or Pastry variants, as well as various sour beers with added fruit or hops.

In general, trendy hop varieties are part of the recipe for success: Idaho 7 was big in 2019, now Sabro is in the running. Alex shakes his head: "There are new flavours all the time - all the time." Intense, excessive - that's the Russian scene.
 

 

Andrei Ivanov (l.) and Ren Sharafview in front of beer glasses with different beers, ready for tastingTasting with Stamm boss Andrei Ivanov (l.) and marketing man Ren Sharafiev (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Stamm Brewing: Brewing as a high-performance sport

Curse or blessing? "The people who drink our beer want surprises. We surprise them," says Andrei Ivanov, co-founder and head brewer of Stamm Brewing. "It's like a sporting competition."

The venue is the Untappd.com network, and the judges are the users. One of Andrei's goals is to lead the ranking with his beers. On your mark, get set, go! Ren Sharafiev supports him in this. The video blogger looks after Stamm's social media activities and events at home and abroad. A lot to do, because Stamm launches two new beers every fortnight. Real high-performance sport! 

Ren, who works from his home office, travels to the brewery at least once a week for his job. It is located in Novomoskovsky, just under two hours by metro and taxi southwest of the city centre. The Novomoskovsky district is one of the two newly created development areas on the huge urban expansion sites incorporated in 2012. Stamm Brewing has been operating a 10-hl brewhouse there since 2011, as well as a busy pub serving Western-inspired burgers and pizza and good Russian soups.
 
 
Andrei Ivanov (l.) and Ren Sharafview in front of beer glasses with different beers, ready for tastingIvanov and Sharafiev in the barrel cellar of the Stamm Brewery (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

From classic Lager to Juicy & Hazy

"We started with classic varieties like German lager, Belgian blonde ale and English stout," Andrei says. In fact, the top-fermented specialities of Belgian and English beer culture were the first to arouse curiosity among Russians for beer varieties other than the ones they were used to.

In 2013, the craft beer wave rolled in and washed stem beer into the bars of the City. Since then, the brewery has covered all the hype and today serves all trends from Juicy & Hazy to Pastry Stouts and fruity-sour and barrel-aged beers.“

Stamm now produces 1200 hl per year, 70 per cent of which is canned. The young brewery claims to operate the first hop gun (from the German manufacturer Braukon) in Russia.

And not only that: the walk through the brewery ends in a storage hall with a hundred wooden barrels - carefully marked and stacked - and some imposing foudres (wooden vats). Above them towers a refrigerated ship: welcome to the Wild Ale Room of 8 Barrels Brew, a project Andrei started with a friend and now continues on his own. "Everyone says 'wow' when they see this," Andrei laughs. "All I see is work." Blending spontaneously fermented barrel-aged wine needs not only biochemical analysis and sensory skills, but simply experience. Tireless training! Andrei keeps at it, even in this discipline.
 

 

Screenshot of search results for Zagovor on untappd.comThe rating platform Untappd.com spurs Moscow's craft brewers to top performance (Picture: Screenshot of the search results for Zagovor on untappd.com)

Untappd.com as the engine of the craft beer movement

Collaborations, meanwhile, are helping it to the top. For example, the regular collaboration brew with Zagovor, Sour Passion Party, 6 per cent by volume, a wild ale with flavour, stayed at number one on the Russian Untappd list for weeks. "Untappd is the engine of the Russian craft beer revolution," says Andrei. It's not just about the question of "vertical take-off or misfire?", but about a high level of feedback in general. "On Untappd you find out what people really think about your beer," says Ren. His boss Andrei is tearing his non-existent hair out: "What will be the next big flavour? I wish I knew." New year, new trends.

When everything is moving faster and faster, it is even more important to remember what you stand for - to know who you want to be. Freestyle instead of compulsory programme. New creation instead of copy. How about Russian craft brewers inventing their own craft beer style? Like the Italians, who have elevated Italian Grape Ale (IGA) to a national beer style?

Andrei shakes his head: "Russia has no roots in beer culture. I prefer to look abroad and try what the guys there are brewing," he says, laughing: "Or do you think the world needs more Tomato Gose?"
Indeed, three Russian brewers - Shagov's Brewing from the outskirts of Moscow, Salden's Beerhouse from Tula and JFF Brew from Izhevsk - have successfully established the lactic sour tomato beer, sometimes smoked, sometimes spiced like Bloody Mary. But Tomato Gose is not Andrei's vegetable.

Stamm Brewing's next step is heading for the city, Ren tells me. The goal is to open their own craft beer restaurant. "We have the experience and the expertise," he says. There are many English, Scottish or Irish pubs with menus, as well as Belgian beer restaurants all over the city. A diverse craft beer selection plus sophisticated cuisine - that is still missing in Moscow, he says.
 
(from left): Vadim Lapschin, Marc Rauschmann and Mikhail Erschov with beer glasses in the brewhouseThe three comrades from the collaboration brew in the Poet brewhouse (from left): Vadim Lapschin from Poet, Marc Rauschmann from Braufactum and Mikhail Erschov from Mosbrew.  (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Craft beer import from Germany

And German brewers are also getting involved in the Moscow gastro scene. The Krombacher Beer Kitchen fits in well with the Moscow restaurant scene: opening in May 2019 in the inner-city ring road not far from the White Russian Railway Station, the new Moscow beer restaurant serves Burmese-German-Russian cuisine in a relaxed cosmopolitan atmosphere. 

"The Krombacher Beer Kitchen is a mega success," says Oliver Braun, Managing Director of Krombacher International, happily. The investment from the brewery's side was inconsiderable. After Spaten and Paulaner, Krombacher is one of the major German import brands in Russia.

Braufactum is one of the top 3 craft beer import brands in Russia and thus finds itself in the best company between Brewdog, Goose Island (AB-InBev) and Kona (Craft Brew Alliance).
Especially the Braufactum India Pale Ale Progusta, but also the wheat IPA Indra can be found on some beer menus in Moscow's gastronomy as well as on retail shelves. "Eastern Europe is often neglected. It's like a blind spot. Nobody wants to go there," says Braufactum brewmaster and managing director Marc Rauschmann. The market for craft beer in Russia is small, he says, but very grateful if you get involved personally. Braufactum regularly participated in the Craft Depot Festival, for example. "Hats off to what they're putting on in Moscow," says Rauschmann.
 
Mikhail Erschov (l.) and Alexander AxelHead brewer Mikhail Erschov (l.) and Alexander Axel, Managing Director of Wolf's Brewing (Picture: Sylvia Kopp)

Craft Beer with Group Mother

Mosbrew - a company with a total capacity of eight million hectolitres, which is also extremely active in beer imports - is the largest Russian craft beer company. Wolf's Brewing is a project of the big mother Mosbrew, but legally independent. The brewery produces around 140,000 hl of beer annually. Licensed production for other craft beer brands takes up a large part of this, with Wolf's beers accounting for around 35,000 hectolitres.

Brewing takes place at various locations: at Mosbrew, at the brewery of the acquired Poet Brewery, which is located in the new business and arts district Arma (a former gasworks near the city centre), and in a newly acquired brewery in St. Petersburg.

Wolf's beers are mainly sold in the trade - the portfolio includes common varieties such as lager, cider, American pale ale, India pale ale, fruit beer, a mead variant, hop white beer and porter. They are aware of their role: "We want to brew craft beer that everyone can afford," says managing director Alexander Axel. 
His brewery also initiated the founding of the craft brewers' association Craft Depot, which he now heads as president. The association promotes its 50 members and craft beer in its own online and print media as well as at the annual Craft Depot Festival in August.
 

Beviale Moscow 2021 will take place from 16 to 18 March 2021 at the Main Stage event location in Moscow.

The Russian Beer Award Rosglavpivo will be presented at Beviale Moscow this year. You can find more information here: https://beviale-moscow.com/