war on the rocks

1516 Brewery and Pub: Dispatches From the Kremlin

December 4, 2015

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the craft beer scene in Moscow is on the brink of a boom. However, it was not always this way. …

When I first arrived in Moscow in the fall of 2011, I was not a connoisseur of craft brew. All I had at that point was a family that imported different beers from all over the world who had let me sip on a few beers here and there. Heck, until I was sixteen I thought all beer was sour. Thanks Cantillon.

Naturally, I consumed my fair share of frat house garbage during my years at The George Washington University, so I knew what bad beer was like before I experienced it in spades my first years in Russia. However, good (craft) beer was always readily available in the States, if you had the time and the budget. Sadly, that was not the case in 2011 Russia. After my first semester in Moscow, I all but forgot what good beer tasted like.

Fast forward to 2015, and I have become a bit pickier when it comes to my brews (four years of drinking trash followed by a stint at one of the best gastropubs in the United States will do that to you). I think my pickiness stems less from a desire to appear sophisticated (beer in Russia is still seen as a poor man’s drink), and more from a desire to treat myself to something of greater quality. This could also have to do with the fact that I am living through my second major international economic crisis, which for some reason, makes all of us want to drink more craft brew.

Most of all, I have a sneaking suspicion that father time is beginning to take his toll on me, and the question is no longer about how I’m drinking (quantity), but what I’m drinking (quality). After my month without beer, I decided that if I am going to continue drinking brew, I will no longer settle for booze-water, which is essentially what passes for commercial Russian beer. Instead, I want something I can enjoy that won’t make me feel like I was run over by one of those new tanks Putin showed off on Victory Day earlier this year. My go-to spot for such beverage here in Moscow is the remote 1516 Pub and Brewery, located ten minutes from Proletarskaya Metro Station.

Initially, I was uncertain about 1516, as previous brewpubs featured oxidized beers heavy on diacetyl (an undesired chemical which gives beer flavors of caramel and popcorn), leaving much to be desired. 1516 proved to be a refreshing reminder that if you try, you can make good beer anywhere. This sentiment is exactly why my father believes that the “craft beer revolution” has worked out nearly everywhere. I would say that the revolution’s next stop is Russia, and 1516 will hopefully be one of the standard bearers in Moscow.

1516’s decor is nothing special — reminiscent of my time in German bars. There’s a wooden bar and shiny brass brewing equipment, and the fare is mostly German with a Russian twist (read: brats with dill … lots of dill). The beers, as one would hope, are the main reason to come to 1516.

When I first went to 1516, all they had on draft were a pilsner, a hefeweizen, a Belgian blond, an American pale ale, and a stout. The last time I visited 1516 (a month before my Oktnobeerfest), they had added a mild wheat ale, a Russian Imperial Stout, an IPA, a barrel-aged coffee-Sambuca IPA, a limoncello Saison, and most interestingly, a kriek (a style of Belgian Lambic), called “Sundried Elephant.” The pilsner is my personal favorite, as they have hopped it up a bit more than your average German or Czech pils, and thus satisfies my pre-programmed American yearning for hops. American styles themselves are the easiest to brew, as hops can be used to mask any mistakes in the brewing process, but it doesn’t seem as if 1516 has made any blunders with theirs. The American pale ale features Warrior, Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, giving it a fruity nose, but a robust, dry, earthy palate. The APA is their most popular beer in house, and for good reason — Russians love hops too! The IPA features a heavy dose of Columbus, Mosaic, Simcoe, and Summit hops, so if the American pale doesn’t do it for you, you can always up the ante — just be sure you order a taxi before your third beer or you might not make it home.

While more of a traditionalist with beer, I was most impressed by the “Sundried Elephant” kriek, which I was initially very skeptical of. Lambic is arguably the hardest beer to brew, as you cannot simply rely on your skill as a brewer, but must also rely on the environment around you. Luckily for Russia, it’s cold. Cold is generally good for making what we call “sours” in the United States, and it certainly helped out 1516 when they brewed “Sundried Elephant” last November. Barely sweet, it had everything that I desire in a kriek: a slightly sour palate, complimented by subtle hints of fruit and must. Best of all, it was only 5.5% ABV, bucking recent trends of making “interesting” beers that have you on the floor after your first glass. I hope to see 1516 continue to move forward with their “sour” program, but will be happy to sip on a few pilsners while the next batches ferment.

One of the reasons why I like 1516 so much is that it does not feature the loud, somewhat embarrassing expats that flock to most beer places here. This is a brewpub for locals to come to after work and quietly enjoy some good beer. I am happy to see increased numbers of customers there and even the emergence of a delivery car, which I hope will be delivering beers to other Moscow establishments soon. Of course, if they don’t start delivering, you can always take a mini-keg or bottle to go because 1516, despite its semi-inconvenient location, should not be passed up when visiting Moscow. I look forward to returning in the near future and will probably be sneaking a few bottles back to the United States for Christmas.

From Moscow, Za zdorovye.

 

Max Shelton is an American currently living, working, and drinking in Moscow, Russia. In his spare time (while not drinking), he enjoys writing, reading, and watching Better Call Saul. He finished his MA dissertation at Middlebury College in Russian about American intervention in the Russian Civil War between 1917–1922.