Author: Jaine Organ

Legend has it that Peter the Great fell in love with porter, the tipple of choice for London’s market workers, during an incognito visit to England in the 1700s. Much like the stories of the origin of IPA, the shipment bound for the Russian Imperial Court spoiled during the journey and the alcohol content was strengthened for a second attempt. The rich, almost black, malty concoction that resulted was a success and became known as Russian Imperial Stout.

Though dark beer largely disappeared during the Soviet era due to scarcity of ingredients, Russian craft brewers are leading a revival. Paul Spencer, head brewer at Ossett brewery in Yorkshire, northern England, is a regular visitor to Russia. I asked him about Imperial Stout and the current craft beer scene in St Petersburg.

Is there a specific area in St Petersburg where craft beer bars have emerged?

The majority of bars seem to be concentrated in an area north of Nevsky Prospect between Mayakovskaya and Chernyshevskaya Metro stations and they are all easily walkable. We visited Beer Geek, Jawspot, Redrum, Beer Diet, Kiosk and Cafe Bakunin in one leisurely afternoon session.

Do they serve local beers on tap, in bottles and cans or is there a mix of local and imported?

Mainly Russian, but I saw plenty of Belgian, German, American and British beers. The local beers are (usually) just as good and people seemed happy to drink those. I stuck to the local stuff. Lots of keg taps and some bottle, although can seems to be more popular. Cafe Bakunin has a handpump for British cask beer.

What style are the bars, cosy or industrial?

A mix, but mainly industrial I would say. Beer Geek is in a cellar and the decor is nothing to get excited about but the beer choice is great. Kiosk is a bright and modern bottleshop/bar. Redrum is quite trendy. Any of them could easily be in London, Leeds or Manchester. All have helpful English-speaking staff. Prices are comparable to the UK or perhaps a bit cheaper. 

Do they serve food?

Most of the above don’t, but Rockets and Bishops by the Gribyedov Canal make excellent burgers. AF Taproom serves street food as good as anything you’d find in the UK.

The only Russian craft brewery I’ve heard of is AF Brew; can you recommend any?

AF is my favourite and has a stunning taproom. It’s in a scary rundown industrial area and needs a bus ride to get there but it’s well worth it. I also enjoyed Bakunin, Jaws, Zagovor and Victory Art Brew. Saldens has some very interesting beers (tomato gose) some of which are excellent and some that aren’t. 

And beer styles, is Imperial Stout still popular?

DDH, Imperial Stouts, sours, Belgian-style beers are all common and all excellent. We drank a caviar beer that tasted like fish food and there was also a full English breakfast beer. A mint and calamansi sour in Redrum was stunning.

Is it like the craft scene in the UK with classic Imperial as well as strong stouts brewed with a range of flavours, vanilla and coconut for example?

Exactly the same. AF brews an excellent popcorn Imperial Stout, Popcorn Pimp 10% abv. The Victory Art Ivan Stout is a classic 13% abv Imperial Stout. I brought loads of that back home.

Photos: Paul Spencer