Russia is a relative late-comer as a beer nation, but as of 2010 it had come to rank as the world’s fourth-largest beer market, after China, the United States, and Brazil. Beer, pivo in Russian, is the second most popular alcoholic beverage, after vodka, and it is generally preferred to wine. Russian beers are mainly lagers, and pale lagers are the most common. In Russia, beer is categorized by color, not by style, or the yeast that ferments it. Beer is therefore looked upon as simply light, red, semi-dark, or dark. Russians purchase beer mostly in cans and PET bottles, and less frequently in glass bottles.

Pivo is often the alcoholic beverage ordinary Russians drink in parks, at sporting events, with shashlik (barbecue), and during the warmer summer months. Kiosks in parks, train and metro stations, and on the street sell several varieties of lager. It is legal to carry open containers in public in Russia; it is not uncommon for someone on his or her way home from work to carry an open beer or to head off to the park, beer in hand.

Modern beer in Russia does not have as long a history as a traditional fermented beverage called kvass. This old beer style has been produced for well over 1,000 years, and it became particularly popular during the reign of Peter the Great, who ruled the Russian Empire from 1682 to 1725. Kvass is fermented from rye bread, often dark, and flavored with seasonal herbs and fruit such as apples or berries, and even with birch sap. It is a sweet drink with aromas and flavors of pumpernickel, brown sugar, and prunes. Today, kvass is usually quite low in alcohol, and it is considered more of an alternative to soda, suitable even for children.

Kvass is sold in bottles or cans today, and, in the summer months, is available from street vendors. It is usually served unfiltered, with yeast still in the bottle or can, for its putative nutritional value. Ochakovo Company is the leading producer of kvass in Russia. Nikola Kvass is another popular brand produced by the Deka beverage company.

Russia’s brewing industry is dominated by Baltika Brewery, which is now part of the Carlsberg Group. Construction on the first Baltika factory began in 1978, but the first beers were not sold until 1990. The company was privatized in 1992. The brewery now operates out of St. Petersburg. Baltika has expanded to 10 factories throughout Russia, and several of these are located in and around St. Petersburg and Moscow. Baltika also exports to almost 40 countries.

Baltika produces 14 different beers, all lagers, from a non-alcoholic pale lager to several dark lagers. The most widely distributed of its brews are Baltika No. 3, a pale lager; Baltika No. 7, a pale export lager; and Baltika No. 9, a stronger lager with 9% alcohol by volume. Baltika also offers beer-mix coolers such as Baltika Kuler and Baltika Kuler Lime.

In addition to making Baltika-brand beers, the company produces beers under the labels of Arsenalnoe, Zhigulevskoye, and Leningradskoe. All these are lagers that are generally brewed in the German tradition. Arsenalnoe Zakalennoye, for example, is a strong version of pilsner with 7% alcohol by volume. Before Zhigulevskoye Pivo became part of Baltika, it was the oldest Russian brewery, built by Austrian Alfred Vakano in the late 19th century.

Moscow’s Ochakovo Company is another Russian brewery of note. It was built in 1978 as a brewery, but then also expanded into the soft drinks market. Today it produces lagers, kvass, and soft drinks. It even operates a winery, as well as other agricultural enterprises that are related to grain production and malting. Ochakovo is the largest Russian-owned brewery today.

Russia has also experienced a rise in the craft beer market, with microbreweries and brewpubs sprouting up in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Especially in St. Petersburg, which has historically been more Western leaning, the number of microbreweries and brewpubs is rising steadily. Several brewpubs in Moscow, however, have closed in recent years.

Tinkoff Brewery started out as a brewpub in St. Petersburg, in 1998, and has since become a chain of 10 brewpubs, located in various cities. In addition, it now owns a large brewery in Pushkin, outside of St. Petersburg, making it Russia’s fourth largest brewery. In 2005, however, Tinkoff was purchased by InBev. Tinkoff now produces German-style lagers at its brewpubs, but bottled Tinkoff is no longer available.

While Russia’s brewing until recently has been dominated mostly by kvass, modern lagers have taken over Russian market share and are even gaining market share abroad, while smaller breweries are producing craft lagers, and some specialty beer bars and restaurants that serve English style ales next to German and Czech style lagers are also catching on in the major cities.