Headless Stepan inspires a Porter
The Imperial Stouts or strong Porters of St Petersburg proved a threefold pleasure.
The best was at the city's oldest, and second largest, brewery, Stepan Razin. This brewery is named after a 16th-century folk hero, a Russian Robin Hood. A champ ion of the people against Tsarist rule, Stepan Razin was martyred by beheading, and his story inspired many drinking songs.
The brewery was founded by a German, Abraham Friedrich Kren, in 1795, with the approval of Empress Catherine II. The original establishment is believed to have been a brewpub.
The first equipment is said to have been of British design. Or does that story perhaps refer to the technology installed when the brewery moved in the mid-to-late 1800s to its present site?
The brewery is near the centre of St Petersburg, in an old warehouse district on a canal linked to the river Neva.
The original buildings, in imperial yellow, still stand, behind ornamental railings, with a 1960s maltings opposite. It was for many years known as the Kalinkinsky Brewery, after the neighbourhood, but adopted the name Stepan Razin during the Communist period. The anti-authoritarian name has been retained, but the brewery is now a public company ("with
no foreign capital," I was proudly told).
In the brewery's small museum, a turn-of-the-century rice-list shows meads in three fruit flavours, a White Beer, Bohemian and Bavarian styles, both in dark and pale versions, and an Export (presumably of the Dortmunder type).
In the brewery's small museum, a turn-of-the-century rice-list shows meads in three fruit flavours, a White Beer, Bohemian and Bavarian styles, both in dark and pale versions, and an Export (presumably of the Dortmunder type). There is also a Pale Ale and two Porters.
One, described as "English Porter", is believed to have been modelled on British Stouts of that period. Another, more expensive, and identified simply as Porter, is thought to have been more of a "Russian Imperial".
The current range stretches to a good half dozen lagers, including a Marzen, which in Russian looks something like Maptobckoe. With an original gravity of 1058, but allegedly only 4.5 per cent, this emerged with a reddish amber colour, and a smooth, lightly chewy maltiness.
It has a slatey black colour, a spicey aroma, a firm body, bitter chocolate flavours and a warming, liqueur-ish finish.
Porter was a regular product until the 1960s, and continued to be made for New Year and Communist holidays. It is now once more a year-round product. The style has a small market, but is readily available. Stepan Razin Porter, at a hefty 1080, has an ABV of 7 per cent plus. It has a slatey black colour, a spicey aroma, a firm body, bitter chocolate flavours and a warming, liqueur-ish finish.
It has three malts: the Pilsner-type made across the street, crystal and roasted. The beer is said to be matured for 80 days.
The Vienna Brewery, the city's third-largest, also has a strong Porter. This brewery is linked to Sinebrychoff, of Finland, and Danish Carlsberg.
The smallest brewery in the city was founded under the name Bavaria. During the Soviet period, it became Red Bavaria, celebrating the German land's brief period of Communism. The brewery is once more called Bavaria. It is independent and struggling and makes no Porter.
I was unable to visit either of these breweries in the time available, but tasted Vienna's winey, fruity, nutty Imperial Porter at a judging in Moscow. More on that next month.
Published Online: DEC 23, 1998
Published in Print: FEB 1, 1998
In: What's Brewing
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