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Almost all beers, especially lager beers I've had in ex-soviet countries have a slight honey taste to them. I'm sure this is not intentional. It could be due to Pentanedione but why in this region?

Let me specify that I do not think that honey is used in the brewing process. I see the sickly sweet honey taste as an off-taste and I wonder how this could be explained in the case of a whole region having it.

It turns up in regular lager beers as well as darker things. It also turns up in former soviet EU countries that are not very russian and have their beer tradition rather from germany.

Examples:

  • Almost all Saku beers (Estonia)
  • Almost all A. Le Coq beers (Estonia)
  • Švyturys Ekstra (Lithuania)
  • Baltika (Russia)

And more...

  • @JamesHenstridge - I wasn't quite sure whether to accept or reject your edit. I believe "sovjet" is a valid spelling of "soviet," and 2,3-pentanedione and 2,4-pentainedione are distinct chemical compounds, but I personally don't know which is related to brewing. If you insist on the edits, please try again and this time I won't interfere. Thanks. – Andrew Cheong Feb 28 '14 at 8:29
  • @acheong87 generally US spelling is preferred. – wax eagle Feb 28 '14 at 16:46
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    2,3-pentanedione is a fermentation by-product. – mdma Feb 28 '14 at 17:39
  • @actimel Since when is Czech Republic ex-soviet? – markus Mar 10 '14 at 19:31
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    @markus it was part of the eastern bloc/Warsaw Pact/soviet sphere of influence. Some use the terms interchangeably. – LessPop_MoreFizz Mar 11 '14 at 12:35
5

First, let me state that I'm a 4th generation Italian American; I know nothing about Russian customs other than what I learned in a Russian history class (humanities requirement) a few semesters ago. With that said, I could probably shoot an email to the professor who I took the class with if you want more info, but I think my answer will suffice (but please let me know, he is a pretty cool guy).

Anyway, I would presume it has something to do with Russian culture and the importance of honey in that part of the world. I remember when I was a kid (like 2nd grade I think), we read a collection of short, non-fiction stories of a Russian girl and her grandfather, who was a beekeeper. I cannot remember what the name of the book was nor the author nor whether or not the stories took before or during the Soviet era; but I do remember that honey played a really important role in most of the stories.

Of course there is other more concrete evidence other than my childhood reading material. For instance, just take a look at Russian cuisine. They have a mead-like beverage called Medovukha, which is made with honey and yeast. It's apparently a traditional drink at weddings over there. Also, you've got Russian honey cakes and other food based items. Finally, honey is also a good preservative as it's antibacterial, so it was often mixed in with jams back in the day to preserve them.

So I'd be surprised if many of the ex-soviet brewers didn't use honey as an additive to their beer. Especially if the beers you have in mind are bottle conditioned, they would need to add a sweetener of sorts for proper carbonation. I've used honey in two of my home brews and I like it.


Perhaps some substantiating points:

  • Baltika Medovoe Light seems to be a popular "first Russian beer" to try. It's a pale lager with natural honey added.
  • Indeed honey does seem to have played a central role in Russian culture.

    Like the Assumption, the three "Saviors" (Spas), August 1, 6, and 16, were associated with the fruits of the earth. The first was called the "Honey" (medovyi) or "Wet Savior" (mokryi Spas), signifying either the gathering of honey or the religious procession and blessing of the waters traditional for this day.

    Ivanits, L. "Russian Folk Belief." [http://books.google.com].

    According to Russian historian Vasili Kliuchevskii (1841–1911), we must learn about the Russian forest, river and steppe in order to understand the Russian people. [...] "The forest provided the Russian with oak and pine to build his house, it warmed him with aspen and birch, it lit his hut with birchwood splinters, it shod him in birch bast sandals, it gave him plates and dishes, clothed him in hides and furs and fed him honey. The forest was the best shelter from his enemies."

    Riordan, J. "Russian Fairy Tales and Their Collectors." [http://books.google.com]

    It's notable how closely intertwined honey and their ideals of paradise were, as found by a search for the term "honey" in "The Paradise Myth in Eighteenth-century Russia: Utopian Patterns in Early Secular Russian Literature and Culture" (Baehr, S. L.).

So, though still conjecture, it may be so that Russian culture has had a higher demand for honey notes in their foods and beverages, naturally selecting those tastes.

Frankly, it may simply be the case that there's not an objective ("provable") answer to this question.

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    Well, I am russian, and I am quite surprised with your interpretation. I've never heard of any beer brewing company here using honey during brewing or for bottling purposes. But I have one friend who tried to start brewing beer, so I'll ask him if that is relevant for the process here. It's always interesting to know something new about native country from unexpected sources =). – DarkDeny Mar 1 '14 at 16:51
  • @DarkDeny I've never heard of any either, but then again I've never had Russian beer. The OP never mentioned any specific beers, so it didn't leave me much to go by. The above are just my assumptions based on what I know about Russia and honey in general. – audiFanatic Mar 1 '14 at 17:49
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    This is absolute 100% conjecture. – LessPop_MoreFizz Mar 2 '14 at 15:01
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    I don't agree with @acheong87. a) you all seem to confuse ex-soviet with Russia, a big mistake. b) I'm talking about an off-flavour and I'm pretty sure there's an explanation. But you're right that I should probably add a list of beers and countries that have the problem. I'll try to work on it. – markus Mar 6 '14 at 8:37
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    @audiFanatic There is no traditional russian counterpart of the Russian Imperial Stout. This style was always an English product, made for export to Russia. The high alcohol content is partly a necessity for transporting the beer through the cold baltic sea. – markus Mar 6 '14 at 8:39
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There was a national drink called "Medovukha" (Med - honey).

Nowadays it is very rare drink, meaning that few people consume it. The drink has almost same properties and is brewed just like beer. So, I suppose, this drink has influenced Russian tastes. And during soviet times Russia have shared this tastes around all Soviet block. By the way, I'm sure not all beers have honey flavour, however almost every brewery makes as well honey flavoured beer.

  • Please see my previous answer regarding this before answering. – audiFanatic Mar 26 '14 at 2:54

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