Mention alcohol in connection with any of the post-Soviet states, particularly Russia or Ukraine, and Westerners usually envision copious amounts of vodka being consumed by raucous and sweaty men. Like all stereotypes, the typical Western perception of drinking in Russia and Ukraine contains some elements of truth, but while vodka is still very popular here, it is beer which is the drink of choice for most young urbanites, especially in Kiev. Though I was initially a bit surprised to learn about the popularity of beer in Ukraine, being a beer lover myself I resolved to try as many of the country’s brews as possible during my stay in Kiev. Below is a brief guide to the popular kinds of пиво (beer) that are consumed here in Ukraine and that I have tried so far.
Beer in Ukraine is almost always sold and consumed in bottles—either standard glass “long-necks,” or larger half- or full-liter plastic sizes, which are often purchased to be shared by family and friends. The aluminum beer cans that are so ubiquitous in America are a relatively rare sight, at least in Kiev. Also, the drinking age is 18, and there are no public consumption laws, so it is not uncommon to see youths drinking next to pensioners in the park. In general, Ukrainian beers are cheap, affordable, and high-quality; however, should you find yourself really craving a Budweiser, “The King of Beers” recently entered the growing Ukrainian beer market (although it is marketed as simply “Bud” here – an older Czech brand already had the copyright on “Budweiser”), and while the brand is not a staple of the average street vendor, you can usually “grab some Buds” at any alcohol or grocery store in Kiev. But why waste your time and money drinking cheap American beer when you can drink Ukrainian beer for the same cost?
Ukrainian Original Brands:
– Львівське: As the beer’s name suggests, “Львівське” hails from Lviv in Western Ukraine. One of the most popular beers in Ukraine, it is often sold in very affordable liter-sized plastic bottles in grocery stores.
– лагер (lager; a light beer): smooth light lager taste; slightly stronger flavor than Белый Медведь (cветлое), but not as “hoppy” as an export beer such as Heineken or Tuborg; 4.2% alcohol.
– Stare Misto: Another popular brew from Lviv, Stare Misto (which uses Latin letters to spell its name and which translates as “Old Place”) is easy to find and often one of the most affordable Ukrainian beers. Look for the image of a lion on a gold-colored bottle.
– Stare Misto (light): smooth and easy-drinking, with a slightly more mellow taste than Львивське; 4.8% alcohol.
– Чернігівське: Named after a town in northern Ukraine but brewed and bottled in Kiev, Чернигивськe (or “Чернигивськe” in Russian) is extremely popular. I’ve been told by other Americans that it’s the Ukrainian version of Coors Light, both in terms of taste and affordability—which, if true, means I need to drink more Coors, since Чернигивськe “свитлое” is the best light beers I’ve tried here in Ukraine. It is also brewed in a darker version that I’ve not tried yet.
– свитлое (light): light and with a less hoppy, “export” flavor than some other Ukrainian beers; easy on the palate and the wallet; 4.6% alcohol.
– Оболонь: Оболонь is proudly brewed in Kyiv and is named for a type of tree here (the sapwood). There’s also a city district in Kyiv of the same name, although I think the city neighborhood predates the beer. It is one of the most popular beers not only in Kyiv but throughout Ukraine.
– Оболонь (light): smooth, light, with a well-balanced taste; comparable to many of the other standard Ukrainian light beers.
Brands Popular / Brewed in Ukraine
– Белый Медведь: One of the most recognizable brands of Ukrainian beer, “White Bear” features a Polar Bear as its logo and marketing mascot. Polar Bears are actually called Белые Медведи in Russian. Look for huge posters in many metro stations, and look for the beer almost anywhere alcohol is sold. Brewed in two main types, light and unfiltered, this beer is originally from Ufa, Russia, but is also brewed in Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine and considered thus by many Ukrainians to be a “local beer.”
– светлое (light): smooth, light, not very “hoppy”; 4.6% alcohol.
– живой (living/fresh): the “living” version of Белый Медведь is “нефильтрованное,” or unfiltered, giving it a darker and more complex, amber taste than most Ukrainian beers; 4.4% alcohol.
– Балтика: This Russian brand is also brewed and bottled in Kiev for the Ukrainian market. With a wide range of types and strengths, there is a Балтика for every beer drinker.
– №7 Експортное (export): One of the only beers from the post-Soviet space that I had tried in America prior to arriving in Ukraine, Балтика’s “export” brew is very well-balanced with a clean and crisp flavor; 5.4% alcohol
–Tuborg Green: Tuborg is also not a Ukrainian beer, although some of it is brewed locally near Kyiv. However, it is without a doubt one of the most popular beers in Ukraine. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuborg is widely available and widely consumed by Ukrainians, and worth a try by Americans who might not be able to easily find this popular European brand back home.
– Tuborg (export): Lives up to its status as a Danish export beer with a stronger flavor and a more “hoppy” finish than any Ukrainian beer; more like Heineken, though Tuborg seems to have a stronger flavor; 4.6% alcohol.
These are but my own personal opinions about some of the most popular beers in Ukraine—both local and imported. Yet, this list is by no means exhaustive—there are many other brands and varieties available here, from the dark Guinness that is a staple at every Irish-themed bar in Kyiv (and the world), to Бочкa (another Russian brand), the dark version of which I tried at the Бочкa Bar near Khreschatyk metro station. And, as with any aspect of studying abroad, Ukrainian beer is often best experienced in the company of friends and host family—and don’t forget, the third toast is always to love!