Beer is very popular in Russia. In the past twenty years beer industry in Russia has been developing steadily. Unlike countries where beer is a national kind of product and has been developing for centuries, in Russia beer is a product borrowed from other cultures. Many international and local beer manufacturers do business in Russia and vast variety of beer products are sold everywhere. However, large brewing factories are built to make profits, not to satisfy tastes. And tastes of general public are not very demanding, because again, beer has been known for last two-three decades only (soviet times do not really count).
As a result of this profit-priority approach and simple tastes of end consumers quality of local beer suffers. In pursuit of profits large manufacturers use imitations and substitutes of wheat and hop, add chemicals to enhance taste and do other nasty things. This is why Heineken from Russian factory tastes differently from Heineken I would have at the hotel lobby in Amsterdam airport. Two visually identical bottles of Czech beer will have different taste because one is local and one is imported (much better by taste but priced four times more). Maybe I am just being picky and subjective, I don’t know.
If you are going for a beer in a conventional beer place or just some cafe or restaurant, they will offer you only factory beer. Conventional meaning pub imitations where they only sell factory beer from big well-known brands and their stock never changes. They might have some imported beer as well, which can be good, but pricey and availability of imported beer is somewhat limited.
About three-four years ago craft beer industry started to pick up in Russia. Small breweries popped up like mushrooms after a good rain and nowadays we have full-scale craft beer industry. If you do not know what “craft beer” means just search it on the web. Together with breweries, craft beer places started to open and now there are dozens of craft beer places all across Moscow.
Craft beer places vary in size and concept. In general craft beer places are simple yet stylish in design and very casual. Casual atmosphere is what all craft beer places seem to proactively establish and maintain. Public in craft beer places is not “traditional Russian”. Although varies in ages, regulars of craft beer places seem to be more relaxed, less formal, more simple and lacking that distinctive and very noticeable tension in their demeanor typically found in people with soviet background. People working in craft pubs are very keen about products they serve. If you don’t know what you want, they can recommend based on your preference or give a small sample to try. Basic information on each brew (ibu, alcohol) is normally written next to a brew name on a special board.
Some craft beer places stock fixed brews, some rotate their stock all the time. Some have good kitchen, for some food is not a priority and you may have something simple or not have any food at all. In most places you can have seating at the counter, have beer in the evening or quickly during the day between events. All craft beer places are self-service – you order at the counter, pay and bring your beer to your seating yourself. If you order food they might bring it to you when it’s ready or just loudly announce it and you have to pick it up yourself.
Below are three places worth visiting based on my own experience.
All three are located in the same nice downtown area within walking distance from each other.
Parka. Cozy place next to Novokuznetskaya subway station (literally across the street). The place has very unique design, build of natural materials – wood and stone. When they just opened, the whole place smelled this distinctive smell of freshly cut wood. Now that smell is almost gone, but the place is still very nice and comfortable. There are three rooms in Parka - one upstairs, at the entrance, and two downstairs with separate bar. They serve some food, which I must admit is good and their menu items are carefully selected to match beer. People working in Parka are young and friendly. Parka serves craft beer domestic and imported from the tap, but they also have huge variety of bottled beers and ales.
Underdog. Very small place located next to Tretyakovskaya subway station. Underdog is a tiny place with bar counter and just a few tables. There are couple of benches on the street and in good weather people have their drinks outside. The place located close to a very busy pedestrian street. The entrance however is hidden in a secluded corner, so if you are drinking outside, no one will see (and this is the reason the place is hard to find). I understand the place is family owned, at least I spoke with the guy tending the bar, who seemed to be the owner. Whenever I stop by this place they always have totally new kinds of beers from their taps. They rotate beers regularly and what you are drinking today might not be available tomorrow. They serve no food (chips do not count). Beer is primarily domestic craft and they have 40 taps.
Pitcher pub. Located on the corner of Pyatnitskaya street and Garden ring. The place is very popular and on Friday and Saturday nights is packed with people. Pitcher pub has live music performances by local bands or solo singers. There are two rooms, one at the entrance and one downstairs. Sitting at the bar counter is also available. Aside from many varieties of domestic and imported craft beers Pitch pub serves food: sausages, burgers, potato wedges, sandwiches and some others. The grill is located behind the counter, so everything is fixed in front of your eyes. Staff is very young, friendly and eager to recommend a specific brew based on your taste and preferences. The pub serves tap beer and bottled beer - there is a huge array of beer bottles behind the counter.
Notes on drinking craft beer in Moscow:
Legal age is 18. You might be asked for an ID.
Prices. Pint of local beer from the tap is roughly 180-300 Rubles. Imported beer is 250-400 Rubles. My own check usually comes to 1500 Rubles (US$25) per visit and that’s including some food. Credit cards taken everywhere.
All craft beer places sell tap beer in plastic disposable bottles - on request, so you can take beer home to enjoy.
Some people tending bar are able to communicate in English with customers. (That does not happen often, because no one speaks English in this country).
All craft beer places are self-service and no tip necessary. However they usually have like a tip box at the counter, so you can express gratitude leaving 50-100 (or more) Rubles if you enjoyed the place.
The law prohibits drinking in public places (on streets, parks, etc) and police really enforces this, at least in Moscow.
Smoking is totally banned from all public places, and you can only smoke outside.
Have a good drink.