From wheat beer to barley vodka?

In his Letters of a Russian Traveller (1771–1795), Karamzin mentions drinking “white beer” — which he admitted to not liking — in Berlin, simply to quelch thirst. I would like to think the “white beer” was merely unfiltered wheat beer. Specifically, it must have been the low-alcohol Berliner Weisse.

Weissbier has made great advances in Russia in the past half-decade: any decent restaurant is likely to offer Paulaner or Franziskaner from their tap, and Baltika has included wheat beer in its product line (No. 8). Baltika’s white beer is probably too sour but its existence is a sign of the drink’s admission to the beer mainstream.

While No. 8 is hardly anything special, No. 6 (“Porter”) has been quite good since the latest re-launch, or upgrade of Baltika’s product line. (“Porter” is the Russian name for a sort of bittersweet, malty, strong dark beer; Baltika is a leading Russian brewer based in St. Petersburg — blast it — formerly controlled by a bunch of Ossetians, now by a bunch of Swedes from VVN).

Alas, Russian beer under any label (including possibly beer produced locally by international brewers) should be expected to revert towards the mean: all non-dark beers become indistinguishable after three years in existence. That’s one of the reasons Baltika introduces “old but new and improved” brands every five years or so.

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