Wednesday, 15 August 2018

A VERY BEERY WORLD CUP

Beer O'Clock on Tour



As most of you would know now, I spent the end of June following the Socceroos at the World Cup around Russia. The results on the field may not have been what we were hoping for but the whole experience, including the beer, was amazing!

In the past I've only been in countries for up to 5 days, so have had no issues rattling off every beer I had in the country. With a three week holiday in one country, that revolved around football, eating and drinking I think I will struggle to do that. In this post I think I'll pick out some highlights of the trip and discuss a bit about the Russian beer culture.

First and foremost, the Russians were so much friendlier than they are portrayed to be in the Western media. Their food was superb & their craft beer was plentiful! I had three of the best weeks of my life, with two great mates in this wonderful country filled with thousands of drunk people; Australians, Russians and those of various nationalities!

The day I arrived in Moscow I arrived in the early evening and agreed to meet Coll & a mate of his from the hostel at a local craft beer bar; Craft Station. My first craft beer in Russia was a clearly infected IPA from a brewery called Trigger, which was laced with Brett. I was wondering if it was an issue with the bar however the following two beers; an IPL from Victory Art Brew & Nuclear Laundry from Jaws, were both tasting awesome.

After some sight seeing the next day we managed to locate my first ever Armenian beer at a local Armenian restaurant. The Kilikia lager was a pretty solid beer and the full review can be found here. Seeing as we were in the area, we decided to pop into Dogma, probably the preeminent bottle shop in Moscow. If you were looking for a Melbourne equivalent it is similar to Slowbeer, with four taps & a carefully curated range of Russian craft beers & fine international offerings.

Not long after we arrived the heavens opened, for one of the few times in our three weeks in Russia. Accordingly we stayed for a couple of beers, after buying the mixed 6-pack we came to get. The pick of the bunch was the Zagovor Blast Beat, a NEIPA, which was one of the hottest beers in Russia at the time. 

We trekked from Dogma into Red Square to do some sightseeing before finding out way to Craft RePUBlic for some more beers. I had very good beers from Russian breweries STAMM, Panzer and Salden's, whilst also trying an Imperial Milk Stout from Hungary's MONYO Brewing Co. The bar was pretty cool and it wasn't the last time'd be here. After some Georgian food we retired for the evening, but not before having an AF Brew Mosaic IPA which was one of the best beers I had on the trip.

The next day we started our beer day with some macro lager at a Uzbek restaurant where we tried horse meat for the first time on the trip, pretty good if you're interested. More macro lager (Zhiguli) was imbibed in Gorky Park later that afternoon; as an aside, beers should be more readily available in parks in Melbourne.

That evening we attended the first of our Fanatics functions; it was a genuinely weird event, the first of the many instances where the Russians underestimated the beer drinking qualities of the Australian's. Coll & I had some Aecht Schlenkerla Weizen before disembarking to Craft RePUBlic again. where we met some Russian guys and had a few more beers - before going to another bar, Howard Loves Craft, with them on their recommendation. This night really enhanced my perception of the Russian craft beer scene.

Fast forward through a slightly hungover morning of sightseeing and we arrived at our first official Fanatics function. As we took in the opening game of the tournament the beer was Baltika #7 and thankfully it was cold & plentiful. Many more beers were had on our hot overnight train to Kazan, before taking in the afternoons football at a local bar - before it ran out of beer... Something that was to become a bit of a theme in Kazan.

There was plenty of macro lager to follow, with the Fanatics functions & the World Cup in general being awash with Budweiser. Parny joined Coll & I in Kazan, just before Daryl Braithwaite played "Horses" either side of the Spain vs Portugal game, which was a truly awesome way to start the tour proper. There's certainly worse beers out there than Budweiser - I got quite well acquainted with it over those few weeks.

Our first game against France was the next day, so it wasn't too big of a night. The atmosphere at the first World Cup game was like nothing I've ever experienced! It was an incredible performance by the Socceroos, but unfortunately the result didn't go our way. Afterwards we bought some beers from the supermarket outside the stadium for our wander back into town - which were an array of equally bad Russian lagers, before working our way down Bauman Street drinking various lagers, ranging from truly awful to pretty good.

At this point Coll & Parny made the sensible decision to retire for the evening, I did not... I ventured to Drink Craft, Kazan's premier craft beer venue and had one of the best NEIPA's that I've ever had; AF Brew's Eat The Dust! DDH Mosaic. A chance meeting with some guys that I've previously ran into at Carwyn Cellars led to many more beers that I probably didn't need!

Going to Russia I'd be told that Russian's loved their German beers. I hadn't seen a heap around until we ventured to a traditional Tatar restaurant in Kazan the next day, where a couple of wheat beers eased my hangover from the previous days festivities. That afternoon was spent watching football and drinking lager, both at the official Fan Fest in Kazan & in the hotel bar. The pick of the bunch was the Stary Melnik Svetloe - a pretty common Russian lager.

The following day we took the long bus ride to Samara, a formerly closed city due to its involvement in the Russian space industry. It was a pretty long day and we just decided to pop into an Irish pub for a few beers & dinner. Alongside the usual Guinness, Kilkenny & Harp offerings, was a Staropramen Velvet; an Amber Lager that I'd never had before. It was actually quite a nice beer with some good maltiness & quite a creamy mouthfeel.

The famous Zhiguli brewery was where we ended up the following afternoon after seeing pretty much all that there was to see in Samara. I had a few different lagers there, all of which were very good. Some canned lager was consumed at a Fanatics event, before there was plenty more Budweiser at the Samara Fan Fest. The Russians won that night, the less said about the next 6 hours of partying with Russians the better... I don't think I've ever had more vodka in my life!

As we were on holidays it was only natural that I got back on the horse the next night, with a beer at a burger bar whilst watching the soccer over dinner. After we went back to the hotel I was feeling pretty good so had a STAMM Hoppy Milk - a massively dry hopped Pale Ale. Our second game against Denmark followed the next day and far too much lager was again consumed, both Budweiser in the stadium & Zhiguli on the way back to the hotel. I finished the evening with a Mobius Pint BACK2PALE as I needed to reduce weight in my bag for the flight to Sochi the next day.

Sochi was a bit of a change from the rest of Russia - with the weather being far warmer and more humid. We found ourselves on the promenade by the Black Sea and felt like some lunch. We found a wonderful Georgian restaurant where we enjoyed some Amber Weiss - a wheat beer from Moscow-Efes before moving onto some wine. There was a macro IPA back at the hotel, before a few truly awful lagers in the hotel bar.

We warmed up for Germany vs Sweden, as an aside the best quality football game I've ever been to, with some Budweiser and more of the awful Sherlock in the hotel, before more Budweiser at the game. The next day was spent exploring more of the older parts of Sochi, which obviously involved some beer! There was a few local Pale Ale's at lunch, before some Heineken whilst watching England trounce Panama. We decided we were pretty tired and retired to the Hotel Bar for the evening's games.

The following day started with an audience with Graham Arnold, the incoming Socceroos coach. Naturally there were beers; this was one of the few places in Russia where they could pour a beer in less than 3 minutes! It was a James Squire equivalent Pale Ale & one that was pretty well balanced. The venue was right by the promenade and after a few morning beers we decided that maybe we should visit that Georgian restaurant again - more Amber Weiss & Georgian Red ensued...

If that night had ended there it probably would've been enough, however we were on holidays... Some more Sherlock in the hotel bar ensued before some beers we'd picked up in the supermarket ensued in the hotel room. Thankfully I woke up sans hangover! Our pre-game function was the best yet, I think in part because the weather was so good! It was a hot day and the beers were flowing early; Bakalar, a Czech beer that was pretty good was the beer of choice at the function.

Budweiser was again consumed en masse as the Socceroos crumbled in the intense atmosphere that the Peruvian fans created. It was a disappointing result to see our qualification hopes slip away, but the World Cup was still an incredible experience. Outside the stadium I swapped shirts with a Peruvian fan before joining a heap of other Aussies for more beers nearby. We drowned our disappointment over dinner, whilst watching Messi score his best goal of the tournament, despite the ridiculously early nature of our flight the next morning.

That was where Parny left us, having to go back to Melbourne. Coll & I were heading to St Petersburg, leaving the hotel around 4am. We did make it to bed (thankfully!) many blokes on our flight didn't. Knowing we only had 2 days in St Petersburg we knew we had to make the most of it - we dumped our bags and headed straight out for some beers and pelmeni (Russian dumplings). Much sightseeing was done before we ended up at Craft Beer Cafe to watch the soccer and drink some beers.

We had a few very good beers, AF Brew's Hoppy Surf stood out as an excellent dry hopped Pale Ale. I revisted some beers that I've loved previously; Jaws' Nuclear Laundry & Victory Art Brew's Red Machine. Coll & I broke for dinner briefly across the road and got to have a Kazbegi Porter from Georgia, with some excellent food, before returning for a couple of local stouts from Knightberg brewery.

Our last day in St Petersburg was highlighted by our journey to the Peterhof Palace, which is simply stunning. That night we went to a famed football pub to watch the final games of the group stage. We started with Heineken's before finding the craft beer fridge where beers from Jaws & Victory Art Brew got a workout! In the middle of this session I managed to pop up the road to Beer Geek to sort out some Russian beers to bring home.

I really can't quite sum up how good of an experience the World Cup was. The football didn't go the way of the Socceroos, but it almost didn't matter. We tried hard and were still a chance of qualifying going into the last day. It was such a wonderful few weeks with two of my best friends - we shared some wonderful experiences that I'll never forget and I'm glad I was able to share at least a little of that with all of you through beer!

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

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