We thought we might have discovered a new beer style yesterday – one not covered by the Great American Beer Festivals 75 (75!) categorisations. This style is “Baltic mild” and we discovered it by drinking “Ochakovo premium dark” yesterday.
On our never-ending quest for Baltic porter in London, we had examined a bottle of this in Utobeer (the excellent beer shop in Borough Market, featured in this blog a couple of weeks ago). However, from what we could decipher of the bottle (it’s all in Russian), it didn’t seem like it would be a porter, particularly at 3.9%. So we put it back and went for something else. We may have even made some unfair assumptions, along the lines of “it’ll only be another tasteless dark lager”.
However, we then went to the Rake bar, Utobeer’s “sister” pub round the corner. What started as a swift half or two rapidly became a session. (A table came free. It was a sign)
We noticed the Ochakovo in there and asked the knowledgeable barman about it. He hadn’t tried it either and wasn’t sure what style it would be. We tried to decipher the label but there were no obvious clues. So we gave it a go.
It looked good – very dark-brown colour with burnt meringue head. The aroma was very tempting too – dark sugar and slight chocolate notes.
As for the taste – it initially tasted strongly of molasses; sweet, but not overly so. It was hardly bitter at all, and not particularly fizzy for a dark lager. The bottle didn’t say whether it was top or bottom fermented, but we assumed bottom. A medium-full body – pretty good for something that’s only 3.9%. It was very drinkable – could definitely have drunk a lot more of these.
The seemingly-contradictory “light” reference in the title comes from the Russian description on the label and is presumably a reference to its “weak” strength. At the risk of making gross generalisations, it’s rare to find good Eastern European beers under 5% (at least in the UK), and certainly rare to find one this tasty.
So: dark colour, weak strength, low bitterness, strong malt flavour, probably lagered – ladies and gentlemen, I give you Baltic Mild.
Of course, on sober reflection the next day, I think this probably falls fairly and squarely into the category of “Schwarzbier”;
“These very dark brown to black beers have a mild roasted malt character without the associated bitterness. This is not a full-bodied beer, but rather a moderate body gently enhances malt flavor and aroma with low to moderate levels of sweetness. Hop bitterness is low to medium in character. ”
But if the good folks behind the Great American Beer Festival can define a new style on the basis of one or two beers, then so can I.
- The Rake is at 14 Winchester Walk, London SE1 9AG (near London Bridge). It’s an excellent but tiny pub / bar, set up by the people at Utobeer. They have around 10 beers on taps, in different styles, and probably a hundred in bottles. Friendly staff too. Beers cost around Â£3 – Â£3.50 a bottle. They do not appear to have a website, hence no link – will happily add one if someone can provide!
- Internet searches have revealed that Ochakovo are based in Moscow and are one of Russia’s biggest beer producers, but exports so far seem to be limited to the ex-Soviet Union. Haven’t had any of their other stuff, but I note that they were experimenting with an unfiltered, unpasteurised beer that lasts no more than 14 days. So perhaps we can add Baltic “real” ale / lager to the list too? You can currently get Ochakovo premium dark from Utobeer and the Rake bar, together with another pale beer they do.
- The beer classifications comes from the Great American Beer Festival’s listing, which I found here. There was a good debate on Lew Bryson’s blog (Seen through a Glass) about the US v UK approach to categorising beer. Personally, I’m not too bothered about styles when I’m drinking beer, but I find it useful to read about more detailed classification systems when trying to brew the stuff.