Ukraine used to be referred to as the “grain basket of Europe” but, unfortunately, now it’s better known for the war it is going through.
With the anniversary of the start of Putin’s “special military operation” (hey, remember it’s not an “invasion”!), let’s take a look at some of the fine beers Ukraine has produced, (and, in some cases, is still producing) over the years.
In 2022, shortly after the “special military operation” began, Anheuser Busch announced they would be bringing one of Ukraine’s most popular beers, Чернігівське (Chernigivske, pronounced churnee-iskay), to the US where it would be brewed under license in New Jersey.
Sold on draft in New York, Phoenix, LA, Houston, and Chicago, all the beer sales will go to Ukrainian war relief efforts with Anheuser Busch also donating a further 5 million dollars to humanitarian aid organizations.
Anheuser Busch isn’t the only US brewer championing the cause of the Ukrainian people and to some extent the Ukrainian beer culture.
The Boston Beer Co (brewers of Sam Adams and Dogfish Head beers) is the latest US craft brewer to join the Resolve beer project, which raises funds to support the humanitarian relief projects in Ukraine.
Over 30 brewers worldwide have signed up to brew these Ukrainian recipe beers under the Resolve label.
Can beer make a difference in the war effort? Or at least help support the victims of “war”? What Ukranian beers have we got to look forward to when/if the conflict ever ends?
Is Ukraine a Land of Vodka or a Land of Beer?
When you mention any of the old Eastern block countries which used to make up the Soviet Union, the first thing most people think of is vodka.
Yes, Ukraine produces a lot of vodka – their largest domestic brand, Nemiroff, dominates most bars and the duty-free sections at their major airports.
But step outside in the capital city of Kyiv, or even regional capital cities like Zaphorizhia, and you will find a booming beer scene (even in the smaller suburbs too).
On my previous visits to Ukraine, I have been amazed to find most of the world’s popular beer brands stocked at affordable prices in the majority of shops and bars – everything from Budweiser and Corona to Belgian beers like Lindeman’s and Boon or the Pilsners of the Czech Republic (one of my Ukrainian fiance’s favorite beers is actually Staropramen!).
It seems perestroika didn’t just break down barriers in society but also tore down the strict import rules of the Soviet era (remember – much of the current conflict is about Ukraine wanting to join the open market of the EC and eventually NATO!).
But Ukrainian beer culture isn’t just about imported beers, the Ukrainians actually brew quite a lot of their own beers, from wheat beers to pale lagers.
And homebrewing is very popular in Ukraine too, and why wouldn’t it be with all that grain to use?
The Grains of Ukraine
Ukraine boasts some of the most fertile lands on the planet, with its rich black soil, chernozem (from the Russian for “black dirt”), perfectly suited to growing grains.
With higher levels of humus (a non-living organic matter containing nitrogen and phosphorous), it can help crops to survive in climates with short-lived summers and icy cold winters.
The high moisture storage capacity of chernozem produces high agricultural yields of grain such as barley, rye, oats, and of course wheat (the staple behind vodka).
More than 70 percent of Ukraine is made up of agricultural lands with around 32 million hectares of land cultivated each year.
Ukrainian farmers grow crops for export across the European Union as well as China, Turkey, India, Egypt, and Africa (well, at least they did prior to the 2022 Russian invasion!).
The Beers and Breweries of Ukraine
Although the oldest brewery in Ukraine dates back to 1497, Mykulynetsky Brovar, until recent years it pretty much had very little competition.
The beer-drinking scene in Ukraine is relatively young, just dating back to the ’80s, immediately before the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Mykulynetsky Brovar (Микулинецький Бровар)
Mykuynetsky Brovar has been brewing beer since a German ally of the King of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth stopped in the town of Mykulyntsi and sent some beer back to their leader during a military campaign.
A slogan still used today is “Beer Brewed for the King”.
After the Communist takeover of 1939, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, the company was privatized and now trades as Brovar or brewer.
All the Brovar beers are made with their own malt using locally grown raw materials and none of the production line is pasteurized, as many Ukrainian consumers believe this to be healthier.
The brewery’s most popular beer is Mykulyn, which is a pale lager with a strength of 5.1% ABV, with Mykulyn 900, a rice beer, also being popular.
They also brew Pilsner-style beers, including Kaltenberg Royal Lager, under the license of the Munich brewer Konig Ludwig, along with a selection of fruit beers including a Blanche Orange or Raspberry, a honeyed ale, a seasonal winter brew, and a dark beer simply known as Ukrainian.
The Lviv Brewery (Львівське)
Generally accepted to be the oldest brewery of modern-day Ukraine, the Lviv Brewery, or Lvivska Brewery, started in 1715 and is now part of the Carlsberg Group (previously Baltic Beverages Holdings) which also owns the Slavutych Brewery in Kyiv.
The first industrial brewery appeared in Lviv when the Polish Count Stanislaw Potocki issued a permit for Jesuit monks to build a brewery in the Krakow suburb of Lviv.
Under the rule of the Soviet Union, the Lviv Brewery became state property and was renamed the Kolos plant. However, the beer Livivske received its official trademark status and became known as the best beer in the Soviet Union.
After the break up of the Soviet Union, the Kolos plant was renamed once again the Lviv Brewery and became part of the Carlsberg Group in 2008. In 2015, they celebrated their 300th anniversary.
As a brand, Lvivske has been the sponsor of many international events and festivals including the 2012 European Football Championships and the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017, to name but two.
In 2021, Lvivske became the national sponsor of the Ukraine National football team in a deal that is set to last until 2025.
in 2018, Lvivske Dunkel won the award for the best dark lager at the East European Beer Awards and by 2021 the brand Lvivske became the market leader in Ukraine with a market share of 14.6%.
The flagship beer of the Lvivske Brewery seems to be Lvivske 1715, a Pilsner-style beer of flawless quality brewed to an ancient recipe that has been passed down by word of mouth from father to son over the years.
A lightly hopped beer, it has a pure malt aroma with an inimitable taste for the devotees of this classic brew.
Lvivske’s other beers include Lvivske Veseliy Baytar, an unfiltered light beer (ABV 3.8%), Lvivske Dunkel, a dark lager with a pronounced caramel taste (4.7% ABV), and the Lvivske Porter, a dark beer with a wine flavor at 8% ABV, to name but three of the line-up.
Chernigivske (Чернігівське) – SUN InBev Ukraine
Originally brewed as a gift to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the city of Chernihiv in 1988, Chernigivske is one of the most beloved brands of lager produced in Ukraine.
Owned by SUN InBev Ukraine, a subsidy of AB InBev, it’s produced at three breweries across the country located in Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Mykaolaiv.
Types of Chernigivske produced include the standard light 4.8% ABV brew, a Premium at 5.6% ABV, a Strong at 7.5% ABV, and Dark and White versions at 6.0% and 5.0% ABV respectively.
In April 2022, the breweries in Ukraine stopped operating due to the Russian invasion but AB InBev continues to pay the staff at each plant.
AB InBev also announced they would be producing the Chernigivske beer with proceeds going towards supporting the humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine, in countries including the USA, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, and Germany.
Try and pick up a bottle of this refreshing pale lager in your local store or craft hang-out bar if you spot it. Not only is it a decent lager, but you’ll also be supporting a worthwhile cause.
Obolon Joint Stock Company (оболонь)
Obolon JSC is Ukraine’s largest producer of beverages, beers, low-alcohol drinks (cocktails), soda, and locally extracted natural mineral waters as well as a major malt producer.
Based in Kyiv, the Obolon Company has sites across Ukraine and employs several thousand people.
The main plant in Kyiv is the largest brewing facility in Europe by installed capacity, and in 2008 the facility was Europe’s largest single beer producer in terms of volume.
Obolon’s plant in the Khmelnytskyi Oblast also holds a record as the largest malting facility in Europe by installed capacity (sometimes I think people forget just how large Ukraine is!).
Originally built in 1980 according to designs by Czech engineers, the company’s main brewery was located near an artisan well in the Obolon district of Kyiv, and was originally called Kyiv Brewery #3. It didn’t acquire the name Obolon until 1986.
In 1992, Obolon became the first privatized company in the newly independent Ukraine, and in 2011 it changed its ownership to a public joint stock company.
Molson Coors Brewing Company has since announced commercial cooperation in Ukraine, which led to the legendary Carling beer being launched in Ukraine.
Obolon is the largest Ukranian exporter of beer (or should we say was!), accounting for up to 80% of Ukranian beer exports. They were the first Ukrainian brewery to export to the US and as of 2020, they exported to 33 countries, even including China.
Obolon Premium, their best-selling beer, is a Euro Pale lager that is especially refreshing, with a pronounced taste and pleasant bitterness.
In addition to the traditional ingredients of water, malt, hops, and yeast, rice is also used for a lighter taste. It’s one of the more popular lagers in Ukraine due to its milder taste.
Other beers Obolon produces include Obolon Wheat, Obolon White, an Obolon Extra Strong, and a Zhygulivske Svitle, which harks back to the days of the Soviet era with a more malty taste.
They also produce the incredibly popular fruit malt beer range of Hike, and beer mix cocktails like Cola-Lime, Lemon, Cherry, and Raspberry flavored malt beverages.
They even produce a Golden Castle Export, especially for the export market to Canada, which combines a fresh hop taste with subtle hints of a maple aroma in a refreshing 4.8% ABV brew.
Other Breweries and Notable Beers of Ukraine
Another brewery that is now owned by the Carlsberg Group is the Slavutich Brewery based in Kyiv but also with a brewery in Zhaporyzia as well.
Slavutich is the main brand produced by the breweries with a relaunch in 2007 pushing it to the number four position in the Ukrainian market by volume sold. Other Carlberg Group brands like Tuborg, Baltika, and Holsten lead the premium market.
Other multinationals have also been quick to invest in the ever-growing beer market of Ukraine, with SAB Miller acquiring the Donetsk -based CJSC Smarat in 2008.
Local breweries operating before the 2022 invasion by Russia included:
- Bredychiv Brewery
- Kalusky Brewery
- Karpatska Brewery
- Kreminsky Brewery
- Krym Brewery
- Lyspy Brewery
- Luhansk Brewery
- Melitopol Brewery
- Opillya Brewery
- Nova Bavaria
- Shale Brewery.
When the “military operation” ever ends remember that list, and let’s see how many of them resume operating.
What Type of Beers Do Ukrainians Drink?
On the whole, lagers and typically low-alcohol lagers remain popular.
Many of the smaller local breweries will produce slightly more malty lagers which are often sold in plastic, unlabelled pet bottles at small beer shops in the town centers.
Fruit-based beers or mixed drinks are increasingly popular and come in all varieties, from Lemon and Orange to the more out-there styles of pomegranate or starfruit.
There’s even been a surge in beer-like malt-based beverages which mimic cocktails. I mistakenly ordered a pint of gin and tonic at one beer shop due to my really bad grasp of the Ukrainian language – it was only 11 o”çlock in the morning.
For rich amber beers, stouts, IPAs, or other specialty beers you need to be looking for the brewpubs you would find in major capital cities such as Kyiv.
Many of the breweries in Kyiv have town center taprooms where you will often find up to 24 craft beers on tap, both international and local.
At the time of writing, I believe the Mokhnatyy Khmil (Woolly Hops) taproom in the Velyka Vasylkivska street neighborhood is still open, with its 20 taps offering local craft beers.
Maybe when the war is over, I’ll write a guide for the best brew pubs and craft beer bars in Kyiv – it really can be a beer lover’s paradise.
What is the Ukrainian for Beer?
If you should ever make it over to Ukraine, you are probably going to need to know the word for beer (it’s always the first word in a language I learn when traveling to foreign lands).
beer = пиво (pivo)
cheers = будьмо (budmo)
pronounced bud more
What is Kvass?
If you have ever been to Ukraine or have a Ukrainian colleague, you will have no doubt heard the word kvass mentioned in relation to beer.
One of Ukraine’s favorite styles of beer, kvass is a very lite beer made from bread or rusks with flavors reminiscent of a malty beer, and it can taste very different according to which brewery produces it.
Many people even make their own kvass at home using bread.
Basically, the word kvass means sour drink or something fermented and is derived from the Russian term “kwasit” meaning to acidify.
This beer is often drunk outdoors, especially in those hot summer months, and is sold by vendors who tour the streets in small, yellow tanker trucks.
Although I’m not too sure about the idea of “bread beer”, I do like the idea of the beer coming to you rather than having to go find it yourself.
Beer In Ukraine and The Russian Military Operation/Invasion of 2022
Brewing in Ukraine obviously isn’t seen as a priority at the moment, with the country facing the ordeals of war or invasion every day. In some areas, alcohol has even been forbidden.
When the war first broke out, the acclaimed Pravda Theatre Brewery of Lviv shifted from making beers to producing Molotov cocktails.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has continued, however, the Pravda Brewery has opened up its base recipes and artwork to the craft brewers of the world in the Brew for Ukraine Campaign.
It has always been a mission of the Pravda Brewery to ensure people drink true beer, being very dismissive of some of the multi-national owned beers now brewed in Ukraine.
They brew a range of beer styles from classics to sours, adding a Ukrainian twist to many like the “100 Rokiv UNR”, an Imperial Stout, which is infused with smoked pears and prunes.
There’s even a beer called Putin Huylo which is a dry-hopped strong ale and translates as Putin is a Dick.
Many of their beers have won international awards in the seven years they were in operation and are famous in different countries and continents too.
Pravda Brewery hopes that some of the 10, 000 breweries across America will carry on the tradition of Pravda beers, and in return, all the Pravda Brewery asks is they make donations to the Ukrainian relief fund efforts.
Resolve Ukraine Beer Project
Another brewers project which recognizes the close-knit community of the craft beer industry is Resolve, an open-source collaborative beer that aims to recognize the determination of the Ukrainian People and to aid the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts.
Ukrainian-born brewer Naz Drebot helped kickstart the 42 North Brewing Company in New York in 2015 and now he’s co-founded 2085 Brewery in Kyiv to make a beer called Resolve, with proceeds from the beer going to help those citizens of Ukraine and refugees who have fled to Poland to escape the Russian invasion of the country.
Basically, two recipes from the 2085 Brewery in Kyiv (an India Pale Kellerbier) and 42 North Brewing Company in Buffalo, New York (a Freedom Kellerbier) have been made public online and craft brewers are invited to brew them, donating the proceeds to a designated not-for-profit partner.
Craft microbreweries can even host a charity night in their taprooms to raise awareness.
All breweries which sign up to brew the beer are asked to be listed on the website and, although the majority of them are in the US, you will now find Resolve beers in countries such as Germany, Hungary, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, and even some of the brewers in Ukraine have taken up the cause too.
For more details on how you or maybe your local brewery can help click here.
The last words go to Yuri Zastavny, the founder of the Pravda Brewery of Lviv, who on the website says:
“As peaceful craft brewers, we want to return to normal life asap and enjoy brewing and drinking…..Soon we will win this war and have a good beer. The Beer of Victory”
I hope Yuri is right and that it is soon, for I can’t wait to be back in Ukraine as a free country again, sampling their ever-growing range of craft beers among some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I have ever met.
Äs peaceful craft brewers, we want to return to the normal life äsap and enjoy drinking and brewing…..Soon we will win this war and have a good beer. The beer of victory!”