A Tour of Europe’s Largest Brewery

By Linda Pianelli

Baltika Brewery, Russia’s largest beer manufacturer, is located in St. Petersburg outside of the city center. It has 11 breweries in Russia with a production capacity of 5.2 million hectoliters. Baltika exports its beer to more than 70 countries worldwide and is one of the three most valuable brands in Russia. During my stay in St. Petersburg, I had the opportunity to take a tour of Baltika’s main factories.

To get to the brewery, my group and I had to take the subway to the outskirts of the city, where many of the apartment bedroom communities are located.

At the subway stop we waited for the Baltika Brewery bus to pick us up and drive us to the company’s facility. Taking private bus is the best way to get to the facility, as public transportation is not widely available. Visits to the brewery must be arranged ahead of time and, if you are not a local resident, a passport may be required.

When we arrived, we were asked to sit in the waiting room while they arranged for a tour guide. Expecting a Russian speaker, we were surprised when our guide spoke English. This worked out well for Natasha, our coordinator and translator, as she didn’t have to translate back and forth.

We first walked through a hallway dubbed the “Gallery of Glory.” This hallway showcases all of the brewery’s awards that have been received from major beer festivals such as: World Beer Cup, Beer Oscar, European Beer Star and International Beer Summit. After walking through this hallway we were lead into another hallway, this one very cold. Here we could see the room that housed the tanks that contained the beginning mixture for Baltika’s beer.

Our tour guide explained to us the process of making beer. To start you need only a combination of malt, hops, water and yeast. The equipment they use is from 1998, although two older copper kettles remain. At one time all the kettles were copper, but they required cleaning more often and were more labor intensive than the stainless steel kettles currently used.

After the fermentation room, we entered the control room where the beer masters monitor temperature and ingredients during the finishing process of beer making. These beer masters also experiment with making new types of beer and smaller batches of craft beer. After the beer is finalized the next step is bottling.

Baltika Brewery uses 50 percent recycled bottles, required by recent bottle deposit legislation. Recycling also become more accepted in recent years. The factory not only uses glass bottles, but also cans and plastic bottles. Many Russians like the plastic bottles because they are cheap. However, there are no deposits on plastic to encourage recycling.

The bottling process is very impressive. The facility’s production rate is 120,000 bottles per hour or 60,000 cans per hour. The finished cans and bottles are packaged and stacked in a warehouse, where they wait to be delivered.

Baltika brewery produces and bottles more than 30 brands of beer and 11 non-beer brands. Some of the most popular beers include Baltika #3 Classic, Baltika #4 Original and Tuborg (although Tuborg is not owned by Baltika it is produced and bottled there).

You don’t have to travel to Russia to experience Russian beer. With distribution in over 70 countries, there is a very good chance you may notice it in a supermarket near you. If you see it, put down the Bud Light and give Baltika a chance. Russia not only makes good vodka, but also great beer.