Beer: Obolon Magnat
Brewery: Obolon Brewery, Kiev, Ukraine
|Fancy Ukrainian beer! It's "exclusive!" It has gold foil! It's definitely NOT an ale!|
If you want to upset a Ukrainian person, call them Russian. The people of Ukraine have been trying to shake Moscow’s influence since their annexation into the USSR around 1921, and the problem continues today, though Ukraine has been independent for over 20 years now. During the Cold War, Ukraine was the “breadbasket of the USSR,” and was called upon to feed the bellies of millions of impoverished Russian “comrades.” Today, ethnic Russians own half of Crimea, and exert a lot of influence in Ukrainian business and politics, to the chagrin of most Ukrainians.
Despite the Russian encroachment, Ukrainian identity has been, and will continue to be, tied to its fiercely independent mindset, but even more importantly, to its fields of grain. Ukraine should therefore be a great place for making beer. Hops (not a grain) grow really well in the temperate climate stretching from central Europe (around Bavaria and the Czech Republic) eastward toward the steppes of Ukraine and Russia, and Ukraine devotes a greater percentage of its land to the cultivation of barley than any country in the world. Just add water and time, and you’ve got beer.
|See the dark red splotch in Eastern Europe? That's the Ukrainians using much of their land to make barley. Good job, Ukraine. (Map thanks to University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment).|
The result, for me anyway, was Obolon Magnat. I hadn’t thought I would be able to get any Ukrainian beer in San Diego. Last December, during Balboa Park’s wonderful December Nights celebration, I got to sample some Ukrainian beer, poured by a real-live Ukrainian guy, who loved Ukrainian beer, who told me “no, only in Los Angeles!” in a very thick Ukrainian accent, when asked of its local availability. I’m happy to report he was wrong.
|When we're all dead and gone, maybe alien archeologists (or maybe evolved cockroaches?) will use this bottle as a Rosetta Stone to decipher and reconcile the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Maybe.|
Magnat is advertised as an ale on the bottle, but it is anything but. It looks and tastes exactly like every single European pilsner you’ve ever had, which is not so terrible once you get past the disappointment that it’s not going to be anything special. It is made by the country’s biggest brewery, whose history in two sentences sums up pre- and post-Communist commerce Eastern Europe.
|Obolon's attempt at advertising their civic responsibility, mixed with their limited English skills, makes it sound like they want every single man, woman, and child to be drunk on their beer.|
1) In typical Commie utilitarian fashion, the Obolon Brewery was originally named “Kiev Brewery #3.”
2) Upon independence, the brewery quickly became the first private enterprise of any kind in the country, and just as quickly became the dominant brewing operation in the country (though now it surprisingly only has a 32% domestic market share). It's not quite the oligarchic madness that dominates industry in Russia, but having only three breweries in a country with 46 million people and all that barley seems a bit unfortunate.