The leader of folk rock band Haydamaky tours Ukraine mapping breweries that produce unpasteurized “live beer”*
Poland, historically a country of beers, hardly offers any products from small provincial breweries today after monopolies swallowed them all up. Luckily, this hasn’t happened in Ukraine. The tiny breweries that have managed to survive within their tough local economies have grown more and more popular over the past few years.
I’ve tried to omit widely-advertised brands from my “beer map” of Ukraine. Western Ukraine seems to have the most to offer, but for good reason. From the Middle Ages through the draconian soviet era, beer drinking traditions have largely evolved in territories that had Catholic and Orthodox monasteries. The East, however, was still covered in steppes that would later give way to heavy industry. There, locals preferred horilka to beer. Thus, our route will begin in the western part of the map and move eastward.
We’ll start out in Volyn, where the Prypiat river begins from lake Svitiaz. The most popular beer here is Pavlivske, from the village of Pavlivka in Ivanychi County. In addition to beer, the Pavlivske plant also produces mineral water. Perhaps this is one of their secrets, as beer production relies heavily on the quality of water used. The brewery in Pavlivka was supposedly founded in 1904, or so says the date carved on a stone in the plant’s lager cellar. When Volyn was part of Poland from 1922-1939, the plant was called Porytsk after the then Polish name of the village, and was owned by Earl Chatsky. Its trademark beer today is Pavlivske Light. I first tasted it after Haydamaky played a gig in Lutsk. The waiter brought us beer in liter pitchers which I think is the best size for light beer.
Now a word about Lutsk. The local brewery was founded in 1888 by the Czech-born Vaclav Zeman. It was nationalized when the region became part of the USSR. In 2004, the plant began to produce Zeman beer named after its founder. Its main market is Volyn Oblast but some vendors in other regions also sell this particular brand.
The hunt for live beer takes us to Rivne Oblast next. Riven plant is the most popular producer here. The premises were built in 1900 by the Bergschloss Steam Beer Joint-Stock Plant. The major shareholder was an entrepreneur who had arrived in Volyn in the late 19th century with a wave of Czech immigrants. His production was based on the local homebrew available since 1849. Mr. Bergschloss designed the logo and produced unique bottles with embossed branding. In 1939, the Soviet government nationalized the plant, producing the Zhyhulivske, Ukrayinske and Slovianske beer brands.
The next turn leads to Khmelnytskyi Oblast and its various popular brands. The first one on our way is the Slavuta Beer Plant founded in 1885. Kniaz Sanhushko is a brand that represents the brewery widely on the Ukrainian market. In Kyiv, admirers of this beer have been known to frequent the Trolleybus and Route 66 pubs. It’s become one of my favorites, too. Kniaz Sanhushko is not a light or “neutral” beer—it contains 4.8% alcohol and has a unique taste with a wine-like aftertaste.
Another producer of live or “bottle conditioned” beer is the Khmelnytsky Brewery built in 1901. Its most popular beer is called Proskurivske Light, after Proskuriv, the city’s former name.
Before turning westward to Zakarpattia, we will stop in Zhytomyr, whose Berdychiv Beer Plant is the region’s most popular beer producer. The local brewery was first mentioned as early as 1798. The brewery on Bilopilska street—now known as Karl Liebknecht street—started in 1861, when Stanislav Czep, a Czech colonizer, bought a plot of land there and built a plant that included production facilities and an artesian well.
The ZhytomyrPyvo plant is another famous brand from this oblast. The spot where it is now located has a curious history. A German lady named Paulina Schultz used to own a mill there. In the 1870s, Makhachek and Yansa, two Czech entrepreneurs, transformed it into a brewery. Today, the plant produces Zhytomyrske Light and Zhytomyr Smooth Flow.
We now move on to Uman, the Cherkasy region’s brewing center. The Uman Beer Plant produces Zhyhulivske, the most popular beer in Cherkasy and the neighboring Vinnytsia Oblast, and its Waissburg brand is well-known in other regions of Ukraine. Founded in 1878, the brewery was owned by a group of local merchants. In the early 20th century, the beer plant produced traditional Czech and Bavarian beers. In February 2009, the brewery acquired new German equipment and launched the production of Waissburg.
Finally, we get to Zakarpattia. There used to be a few small plants here but the Carpathian Brewery in Berehove that makes Zip, a brand known all over Ukraine, is worthy of the most attention. Built using equipment brought from Hungary in 1997, it is one of the youngest brewing companies in Ukraine.
From here we move back across the mountains to Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast and its brewery heartland in Kalush. The local beer plant is among the oldest in Ukraine. It was long thought to have been founded in 1649. Later, archival documents were found that proved brewing had flourished in the town since 1565, and this became the founding date of the plant. Under Austro-Hungarian rule, the plant’s products were sold to the far reaches of the empire. Beginning in 1870, the Kalush brewery was owned by the Muhlstein, Spindel & Weissmann company. In 1890, the plant built its own malt house that still supplies it with in-house malted grain.
Kalush beer has a malty taste and high density despite its relatively low alcohol content. You can’t drink a lot of it, unlike Pavlivske or Berdychivske beers, but every sip is sheer joy.
Next we head to Ternopil Oblast. Mykulyntsi Beer Plant is an acclaimed leader in terms of the amount of live beer it brews, but the Opillia brewery in Ternopil is my favorite. Its namesake is shared by several geographic locations and towns in Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. During its 117-year lifespan, the brewery has had Austrian and Polish owners.
After we’ve had enough Opillia beer, we move on to Mykulyntsi. The local beer plant has stolen the spotlight as one of the first independent Ukrainian breweries. 1698 was long thought to be the plant’s starting point. This was the date found in Austrian archives as the rise of brewery in Mykulyntsi. Polish archives later revealed a prior date in the late 15th century. According to the archives, Tieran, a German ally of Jan I Olbracht, King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, stopped in Mykulyntsi and sent some beer to the king to try during the latter’s military campaign against Stephen III of Moldova. This led to the belief that the brewery had been founded in 1497.
Earl Mechyslav Rei became the owner of Mykulyntsi brewery in the late 19th century. His family owned the plant until the mid-1920s. In the early 20th century, the facilities produced three sorts of draught and bottled beer, including Lezak, Original and Bockbier also known as Starkbier. Later, the plant was bought by Averman, Tsikhovski & Co. In 1928, the new owners built an extra cellar, a dry house, and a malt house. When the communists arrived in Western Ukraine in September 1939, they nationalized all of the town’s private production facilities. In 1993, the Rent Enterprise of Mykulyntsi Brewers was set up on the basis of the publicly owned plant. In 1995, it transformed into an open joint stock company and was given its present name Brovar, the brewer.
Lviv is a must for any beer tour of Ukraine. The restaurant network called Local known for its unique design, good selection of modern Ukrainian music and adherence to local culture, invites guests to taste live beer made by the First Private Brewery in Lviv. It is one of the youngest beer plants in Ukraine. In 2005, the owners installed new German filling line equipment. The plant supports an annual rock festival in Lviv called Stare Misto—Old City, after one of its beers.
Kyiv is the final stop on our tour. All local beer fans will declare the Kyiv Beer Plant at Podil their all-time favorite. The generally accepted date of founding is 1872, when merchant Mykola Khriakov bought a mansion and defunct steel works at Kyrylivska, now Frunze Street. Along with his partners he set up the Kyiv Brewery Society and launched production in the one-time foundry using equipment imported from Pilsen, a city in the Czech Republic.
Experts say that one of the secrets that make Podil beer so special is the water from an artesian well on the plant’s territory. These same experts will also point you to a popular dive bar at the crossroads of Nyzhniy Val and Kostiantynivska streets that sells the beer.
There are some other plants known for their live beer, such as in Radomyshl or Poltava. Moreover, pubs brew numerous beers of their own, such as Brovarske, Kyiv Sunduk—“Kyiv Trunk” in English, or Hoira in Chernivtsi. They are too many to list in one article but the above tour makes one thing clear: beer tourism in Ukraine is probably as good as in the Czech Republic or Germany.
* This article is not an advertisement but the result of the author’s aspiration to share information about alternatives to the widely-advertised beer brands that are produced with preservatives and feature long shelf lives.
Russian-Ukrainian relations, increasingly tense since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, plummeted to a new low after Russia’s forcible absorption of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and subsequent invasion of Donbas