Beer is everywhere being probably the actual drink of choice of the majority of modern-day Russians (while vodka is such a clichéd stereotype). There is no escaping beer in Samara where one of the oldest Russian breweries opened in 1881. It still sits in the same beautiful spot on the Volga shore in the same 19th c. red brick walls. But so much beer has flown out of these walls that it might fill a huge lake.
Zhiguli Brewery was a child of an Austrian national who found himself in provincial Samara for reasons that might be disputed based on your politics. Whether or not Alfred von Vacano actually spied here his legacy lives far away from the realm of politics. His brewery is still the pride of town despite the fact that the same people who are proud of the brand are sceptical about the quality. It wasn’t the first brewery in town (even built on the site of another one) and since a few years ago it is not the only one here (Baltika has a plant in the region), but it is the place you cannot escape on your tour of the city. By the start of the WWI (when prohibition came to Russia) it was the third largest beer manufacturer in Russia with plants and warehouses across the country.
No matter who you ask for a short list of sights to see in Samara, Dno (Bottom) – a kiosk with a line of people filling their gallon-plus plastic bottles with local beer – is sure to make way somewhere to the top of this list. Theories differ on why the place was called Dno. Some say that it is located at the bottom of the hill (funnily enough the hill-side is occupied by a nunnery). Others argue that the very poor – people at the bottom of the social ladder – used to buy beer here back when Vacano was still alive and at the head of his business.
Viennese Beer gave way to Zhigulevskoye after the Revolution to get rid of a foreign brand. Thus, the most well-known Soviet brand of beer was born. It was brewed in many places, which led the Samara Brewery file a bunch of lawsuits after the collapse of the Soviet Union when brands started to bring money to their owners. I am sure that most manufacturers keep brewing Zhigulevskoye against all odds and our brewery wish. Attempts to trademark the brand are said to have failed, probably due to the fact that this low fermentation lager brew was standardised across the country when everything was planned from Moscow and is being produced by hundreds of breweries.
Recently craft beer has come into fashion in the circles of young and middle-aged creative people, hipsters, yuppies or whatever is the name du jour. They will still take you to Dno with some maniac pride in the drink they have abandoned. Sometimes you will read local guides or articles on what to see in Samara and the Zhiguli Brewery mentions will have an effect of having drunk too much and ready to throw up. But what else would you expect with such history and heritage.
I don’t drink beer and would only take visitors to Dno for the sake of covering it all. Besides, the brewery is gorgeous architecturally and sits in a prime location with great views on the Volga and the Zhiguli Hills (called mountains in Russian) on the other bank of the river. But that is another story.