From Russia with Malt

Baltika Brewery

There is very little Russian beer on this side of the Atlantic, but Baltika (Пивоваренная компания “Балтика”) is the second largest brewing company in Europe, and the largest in Russia. Its market share in Russia is only slightly lower than AB InBev’s in the United States.

Baltika 3Baltika 3

The aroma is of relatively high malty-sweet biscuit and bread with light corniness. There is a medium low noble-style hop aroma, and just a hint of melon. It pours clear golden amber with a slight orangey note and a medium white head, not very persistent, but leaving a light coating on the glass. The flavor starts with somewhat high malt-sweet biscuit and bread, a touch cloying. The hop flavor is moderate earth and spice, with low bitterness and moderate corn. It finishes sweet, and that impression lingers, though some more hop flavor and bitterness come in on the aftertaste. It’s not enough to balance the sweetness. On the palate this has medium body and relatively low carbonation. It could use some carbonic bite but misses that mark, coming in neither creamy nor astringent, and with a syrupy hint.

It’s a mass market international lager, but I would give a clear edge to Heineken or to Baltika’s parent, Carlsberg. Number 3 needs greater attenuation, higher bitterness and more carbonation. 4.8% ABV

Baltika 5Baltika 5

This starts with a medium low cracker malt aroma, low spicy hops, light yeastiness, and a hint of quince. It’s very clear gold in the glass with a medium foamy white head. The head has medium persistence and rings the glass. The flavor continues the restrained cracker and bread malt. The hop flavor is low, spicy and floral, with medium low bitterness, very evenly balanced. It finishes dry with lingering malt and hops and a hint of stone fruit. The body is medium, leaning toward the full side. Medium carbonation leaves a light carbonic bite, neither creamy nor astringent.

Overall, a crisp and refreshing international lager, excellent in that style. 5.3% ABV

Baltika 7Baltika 7

A moderately high malty sweet aroma greets the nose, biscuit and bread with a light caramel note. The hops are lower, giving earth and spice. There is a faint estery peach hint. Clear golden amber, this is quite effervescent with a medium bright white fine-bubble head. On the palate comes moderate bready malt which starts malty sweet but quickly dries out. This is joined by a low earthy hop flavor, medium low bitterness and a distinct medium low fruitiness like peach or apricot candy. It finishes off dry with lingering maltiness. The balance is malty. The body is just below medium, almost creamy, with medium high carbonation and no astringency.

Baltika ClosureThe beer is a fairly rich malty lager, Dortmunder style, heavier and not as dry as its lighter siblings. This would be better if slightly more attenuated, but it’s a very good beer. It seems heavier than its 5.4% ABV.

Interesting. I have never seen a closure like this one.

Baltika 9Baltika 9

This starts with the aroma of fairly high bready malt, rather low earth and spice hops, plus light fruit like guava. A grainy sweet note develops, starting to hint at problems. The pour is clear gold with a medium low bubbly white head, not very persistent. Trouble arrives with the first sip. There is medium bready malt with a slightly unpleasant sourdough element, then cloying grainy malt sweetness comes in with a clashing honey note. There is medium corniness, high enough to be a flaw. The hop flavor is lost, and bitterness is way too low for balance. It finishes cloying as well, lingering with a metallic note. The medium body seems fuller due to that honeyed quality. It is not creamy, not well carbonated, and quite harsh with lingering astringency.

This is a rather nasty lager, far out of balance. It makes me feel better about my worst homebrew. In fact, I think I’ll dump this in favor of one of those. 8.0% ABV, but you wouldn’t know it under the pressure of that cloying sweetness. Fortunately they can produce far better beer. I saw this recently on a list of the Ten Worst Beers. I was brave and tried it anyway. Brave but schtupid.

Baltika Russian Imperial StoutBaltika Russian Imperial Stout

The first sniff delivers rich port wine, then roasty grain with toast and toffee with low spicy hops. It is almost opaque darkest brown with a medium light tan head, bubbly, ringing the glass. The flavor begins with rich, dark, brown bread with toast and roasty malts. Then caramel comes through with medium high bitterness offset by sweet elements of the malt. Black cherry, plum and ruby port come through with boozy notes. It finishes a hair on the sweet side but that is offset by bitterness. The aftertaste swings back and forth between sweet and roasty. On the palate the body is rich and lightly syrupy with moderate astringency from the roast grain.

This could hardly be farther from dry or oatmeal or milk stouts, it’s much fruitier and port like, a complex and rewarding after dinner sipper. I doubt there are many Russians who have ever heard of Russian Imperial Stout, but this is a fine brew from St. Petersburg. 10.0% ABV

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