The Ukraine and beer, at first I don’t really feel they belong together.
I associate the nation in the east of Europe more with vodka, its national beverage.
But my colleague Lyuba enlightens me.
She was born in the Ukraine, and spent the first seven years of her life there before she moved to Germany. Back then, of course, she was still too young to drink beer herself, but since she makes regular visits to her homeland, there’s quite a bit she can tell me about Ukrainian beer culture.
Lyuba comes from western Ukraine, from the vicinity of Lemberg, or as the Ukrainians call it, Lviv, home to the Ukraine’s oldest brewery, where for centuries now water, hops and malt have been made into pyvo, the Ukrainian word for beer. But until a few years ago, the brewery had almost no competitors at all.
This is because in contrast to countries like Germany or Austria, where beer consumption has a lengthy tradition behind it, the beer culture in the Ukraine is still very young. In recent years, however, pyvo has gained steadily in perceived importance. Beers are now no longer being predominantly imported from abroad, but increasingly brewed in the Ukraine itself. And home-brewing, too, is becoming more and more popular – as indeed it is everywhere.
Brewers in the Ukraine of course produce the typical varieties like wheat beer or lager. For some time now, however, beer-based mixed drinks, especially, have established themselves as well. And these are available in really every conceivable flavour. They range from the usual ones like lemon and orange to more out-of-the-ordinary ones like pomegranate and starfruit. These mixed drinks are particularly popular with the younger generation and with women.
But the Ukraine’s definite favourite is “kvas” – a very lite beer, made from bread or rusks, with a flavour resembling a malt beer, “but it always tastes different depending on the brewery involved,” emphasises Lyuba. This beer is often drunk outdoors in the Ukraine, and sold there as well. The salespeople tour the streets in small yellow tanker trucks, offering their kvas. Handy when the beer comes to you and not the other way round, I feel
Overall, though, beer isn’t drunk on every conceivable occasion the way it is here. So the beer cult isn’t really as pronounced after all, explains Lyuba. “At a party you’d hardly ever see a Ukrainian with a beer – they stay faithful to their vodka.”