So the chance of a trip to Russia, to present on the subject of cask ale brewing. An opportunity not to be missed. So an eclectic group met at Heathrow in early September, for a weekend in Belograd, working with ZIP Brewing. ZIP manufacture a range of brewing equipment for the craft sector, and there is a growing interest in Russia in the British style of brewing, and in particular cask ale. After ordering a coffee in one of the departure lounge bars, which never arrived, we boarded our flight to Moscow. Four hours later we transferred to a smaller plane for the hours flight to Belograd where the conference was being held. This is quite close to one of the Russian borders, but we were assured we would all be quite safe, just don’t mention certain subjects. A short bus transfer to our hotel, dinner and a couple of beers, and an early night in preparation for the conference.
We had all sent our presentations over some weeks in advance for translation, and as we delivered these they were translated sentence by sentence. I was quite glad to not be on stage until the second day, giving a chance to see how it should be done, following the example of our Chair of the Guild of British Beer Writers Tim Hampson.
There was a clear passion from the brewers present, and craft is certainly alive and well in Russia. Explaining some of the idiosyncracies of British brewing was a challenge, such as single infusion mashing, secondary fermentation, and generally warmer fermentation temperatures. Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius (my normal answer to the question “what is that is centigrade” is to reply “we only brew in Fahrenheit”) was required, as were hectolitres, kilogrammes and so on. Quarters and bushels just caused further confusion. What was very clear was the passion and appetite to learn more.
A gala beer dinner was held after the first day of the conference, in a huge restaurant/bar/nightclub, with a capacity of 1,200, and a brewery on the top floor. And what a brewery! Installed by ZIP, a fully automated brewhouse, and 48 20hl Dual Purpose vessels. Hygiene standards were the highest I have ever seen; lab coats and hair nets, and overshoes. Seeing our host put overshoes on her Laboutin shoes proved that no one was exempt. A range of eight different beers were brewed there, and dispensed direct from conditioning tank. No distribution costs or worries here! Despite being a beer dinner, there was obligatory vodka, which we managed to be fairly abstemious over until about the third course. Hospitality second to none, and a fantastic range of well brewed beers.
The second day of the conference I was reminded of the fact that if I didn’t drink, when I woke up would have been the best I was going to feel all day. But the day improved, and many questions were asked, as well as being invited to visit two different breweries to undertake some collaboration work.
So the largest country in the world is well to grips with craft beer. Some of the delegates had travelled further to the conference within their own country than we had travelling from the UK. And some of the breweries were producing unfiltered unpasteurised beer with a two week shelf life, and still managing effective distribution in this huge country. Despite some language barriers (I found French seemed to be a mutual tongue) it was a fantastic trip, very enlightening, and great to meet so many like minded people. I look forward to a return visit; so far it is looking like Siberia in February.
thank you Tim, Derek, Andreas, Don and Ed for your company, and Anna and all at ZIP Brewing for inviting us and looking after us so well.