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© Photo Dmitry Ternovoy / Courtesy of Moscow Brewing Company

In pursuit of hoppiness

by at 02/04/2012 19:48

The Czech Republic's Pilsner brewery and Dublin’s Guinness storehouse have long been obligatory pilgrimages on the beer-loving traveler’s itinerary. Now a local brewery is hoping to ferment similar interest in Moscow by offering free tours in English and Russian, including beer-tasting and transport to and from the metro.

Moskovskaya Pivovarennaya Kompaniya or Moscow Brewing Company may not be a household name around the world, but its retro-styled Zhiguli brand is a local favorite and an international award-winner. The brewery also produces Mospivo beer, and foreign brands under license including Oettinger, Faxe and Kirin, among other beverages.

The brewery tours show visitors the entire production process from initial water-filtering to final bottling and packaging, climaxing with a beer-tasting session at the end. Some lucky visitors get to try unpasteurized brews available nowhere else, in addition to the regular commercial brands, which not surprisingly taste better freshly poured at the brewery compared to bottles or on tap around town.

Wells of history

Laboratory workers testing the waters for beer and other beverages

© Photo / The Moscow News / Jennifer Chater

Laboratory workers testing the waters for beer and other beverages

Just beyond Mytishchi’s smokestacks at the edge of pristine forests, the brewery is about 15 minutes’ ride from the Medvedkovo station at the far northern end of the metro’s orange line.

The location is not random: the brewery is strategically placed to draw water from Mytishchi’s wells, which have been supplying the capital with drinking water ever since Catherine the Great commissioned the city’s first pipes from Mytishchi to the Kremlin more than 200 years ago.

The brewery itself is no prerevolutionary red-brick beauty, nor is it a rusty old Soviet-era factory. Less than five years old, the gleaming new plant only put out its first beers in 2008. It’s a clean-lined hangar of glass and steel where giant silver mash tanks shine, towering vats soar to the ceilings and whitecoated women examine beakers of mysterious liquids in sanitized labs.

See, taste, smell

Thousands of cans racing along a production line in the filling hall

© Photo / Dmitry Ternovoy / Courtesy of Moscow Brewing Company

Thousands of cans racing along a production line in the filling hall

Our fluent English-speaking guide Alla Larina, head of the excursion project, leads us through a series of large and small halls, an olfactory medley of malt, hops and detergent. Some rooms are balmy hot – up to 50 degrees Celsius in summer -- and others freezing cold with ice-crusted pipes. In one hall we get to taste different kinds of malt grains, their sweetness illustrating why beer doesn’t need any added sugar. We hold and smell hop pellets and learn about this ingredient’s properties as a preservative as well as a relaxant, partly explaining beer’s feel-good qualities. We visit the fermentation cellar and the filtration cellar, learn about wort kettles and whirlpools, and are delighted to hear that local cows and pigs get to eat the sweet grains after they’ve been filtered out from the mash – “they get so used to it because it’s sweet and they refuse to eat anything else.”

The figures are mind-boggling (beer output is 360,000 hectoliters a month) and the scale of production can only be grasped in the filling hall, where we stand on a viewing platform and watch countless bottles and cans racing along seemingly endless production lines like Moscow metro commuters at rush hour. As if pushed by some unseen automated hand, the rejected bottles comically somersault off the lines and into dumpsters – some overshooting to smash dramatically on the otherwise pristine floor. Those that make the grade forge onwards in a throng of thousands, getting washed, capped, labeled and sent out the door in plastic-wrapped cases. Three glass bottle lines together put out 160,000 bottles of beer an hour, while separate lines of similar scale churn out beer in cans, kegs and plastic bottles, in addition to energy drinks, sodas, juices and kvas.

Retro appeal

The degustation bar awaits visitors at the end of the brewery tour

© Photo / The Moscow News / Jennifer Chater

The degustation bar awaits visitors at the end of the brewery tour

The tours aim to promote an educated beer culture, and it is with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the product that we finally reach the degustation bar. The star brew is Zhiguli Barnoye, which the company boasts has become Moscow’s biggest selling beer in half-liter bottles. International recognition of its quality came last year with a gold medal in the Bohemian-Style Pilsner category at the European Beer Star 2011 awards in Nuremburg, Germany.

“Zhiguli is different from all the others on the market,” says our guide Alla. “Why? Because it is done with heart, the love of our brew master.”

We meet the head brewer, Mikhail Yershov, whose trim and youthful appearance couldn’t be further from the stereotypical image of a ruddy-faced, beer-gutted brewer. He modestly says the gold medal was unexpected but proudly lists the reasons for his flagship brew’s popularity.

“First, the design,” he says. “The nostalgic design of the 1970s and ’80s – people don’t remember the bad, just that things were better, the grass was greener. Second, it’s a tasty beer. We tried to make a tasty beer at an acceptable price. So first people buy it for the label, it’s not expensive, they like it, and it became the most popular.”

The retro, nostalgic style isn’t entirely a gimmick. Zhiguli Barnoye is a bottled version of the beer that the brewery makes for the Zhiguli restaurant and bar on Ulitsa Novy Arbat, where even in the 1970s – when the street was called Prospekt Kalinina – a bar called Zhiguli was renowned for its draught beer.

The beer at the brewery’s degustation bar tastes particularly good, and Yershov isn’t surprised. “Beer is tastiest where it’s made,” he says.

And that, if nothing else, is a good reason to go on a brewery tour.


How to join a brewery tour

To register for a free excursion, phone (495) 788 5433, e-mail tour@mosbrew.ru, or fill out the form on the web site www.mosbrew.ru, which also includes excursion details, shuttle bus timetable and other information. Note: visitors must present their passports to enter the brewery.

Moscow Brewing Company, Property 12, Volkovskoye Shossee, Mytishchi, www.mosbrew.ru

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