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Pub/Bar of the Month December 2010: Brasserie de Metropole, St Petersburg

Brasserie de Metropole, St Petersburg

Wherever you drink in St Petersburg, there’s an elephant in the room.

Brasserie de Metropole St PetersburgBeer in this stunning, historic Russian city is dominated by the local brewery, Baltika, although local is perhaps not the best adjective to use.

Baltika is not just the biggest brewery in St Petersburg, or indeed in Russia. It’s the biggest brewery in all of Europe.

With 3,000 employees it’s an enormous, fascinating and hugely impressive complex, covering a staggering 74 acres. Its beer range varies from commodity to connoisseur and you won’t struggle to find examples if you’re ever in this part of the world.

There will be more about Baltika and its fine beers in due course on this very website but the purpose of this particular feature is to prove that you can look beyond the elephant and find other beers in St Petersburg.

In fact, the size of Baltika somewhat obscures the fact that the city is rapidly becoming a beer boomtown.

I’m told that there are now no fewer than 30 breweries or brew pubs in and around the city, a situation fostered by a core of beer enthusiasts who are fighting to raise the profile of beer in a country where vested interests in the vodka industry do so much to demonise the drink.

In the company of one of those enthusiasts, Yuri Katunin, I spent a day touring some of St Petersburg’s high spots. We visited Dickens, a British-style pub with all the familiar trappings of a London boozer abroad, but with the saving grace of a range of cask-conditioned products, some from local breweries and one from Adnams.

We also stopped by Nutcracker, a self-service, fast food restaurant on one of the main squares, where the newly-opened Goffman brewery, hidden behind, provides an unfiltered lager and an easy-drinking weizen.

We also visited a Soviet-era theme pub and finally wound up at a German-style brew pub called Grad Petrov (City of Peter), across the river from the Hermitage art museum. But the place that really caught my eye was the Brasserie de Metropole, a palace of a restaurant with a long and impressive history.

Poets and Politicians

Situated across the street from Gostiny Dvor, the 18th-century ‘first department store in Russia’, and just off Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare, the Metropole is a large palace of a building. It opened in 1847. Before the Revolution it was the haunt of Russian poets; in Soviet times it once hosted a dinner for Brezhnev and Reagan.

Most of the action takes place on the first floor. Here is the main restaurant, an elegant and elaborate dining hall that, with its high, ornate ceilings, balcony and giant pillars, exudes all the pomp of the Russian empire at its height.

The 1847 interior has been cleaned up and beautifully restored, with an intricately decorated circular bar holding court at one end.

Down the corridor is the pub section, two long, rectangular rooms where Bruegel-esque paintings adorn the walls.

Just in case the Flemish influence is somehow lost on you, waitresses dressed in monk’s habits attend to the tables and there’s a chance to play sjoelbak, a sort of Dutch version of shove-ha’penny.

You can eat here, as well as in the restaurant, and the menu majors on Belgian-style cooking, with mussels and rabbit featuring prominently. What’s really of interest, however, is the range of beers.

Deep in the bowels of the building, at the end of a labyrinth of corridors, sits a small but perfectly formed, Austrian-constructed brewhouse, presided over by Belgian brewmaster Guillaume Denayer.

Brasserie de Metropole St PetersburgGuillaume (pictured left) used to work at Caracole in Belgium, then moved to Rochefort, so his hands-on work experience is second to none.

Fancying a change of scenery, he spotted an advert for the new brewer’s job at Metropole and made the not inconsiderable move to St Petersburg.

He likes to quip that in his last job he worked 60 metres from home. Now he works 3,000 km away.

For the customer, Guillaume’s relocation means that a real, fresh taste of Belgium is now available in Russia.

His range of beers extends from a crisp, clean, lemony blonde, through a sweet, spicy brune with a burnt toffee note in the finish, to the suitably complex, but not too heavy, beer he calls ‘Trappiste’.

There’s a blanche sweetened – and given a Russian twist – by the addition of birch sap and a kriek so full of cherry and almond flavour it tastes like liquid Battenberg cake. It’s not lambic based but I’m told Guillaume has now introduced his own take on the lambic style as well.

Being brewed on the premises, all the beers remain unpasteurised, and bottle-fermented ales are also available.

The Metropole is a great discovery and a bold enterprise. Having been closed for three years, it only re-opened in May 2010, its rejuvenation symptomatic of the way St Petersburg is blossoming again, and the way beer and beer lovers in Russia – against the odds – are fighting their corner.

Sadovaya 22/2, St Petersburg 191023
Tel. (812) 571 88 88
Opening Hours: 12–11 (1am Friday and Saturday)

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