| Beer

Why I’m giving up my best beers for Ukraine

Loads of people are doing what they can to help Ukraine, and we all have our reasons – from simple compassion and empathy through to personal involvement. I’m auctioning a tasting of the rarest beers from my cellar partly because of a basic desire to do something, and partly because I remember drinking beer in Kyiv and Lviv so fondly. I love these mad fuckers.

Place your bid in the comments on this linked post.

In 2012 – please don’t @ me for this, cider fans – I took money from Carlsberg Ukraine to go to Kyiv and help them launch their Somersby “cider”. The less said about that, the better. But after the launch event, two young Ukrainian beer bloggers hung around and insisted on taking me to the city’s best beer bars.

We had a cracking time – so good that I forgot to make any notes. My abiding memory is of a rather special bar snack – sundried fish. A selection of these sat in a case below the bar in several of the pubs we went to. They were of different sizes and all had numbers written on them in pen. These numbers were how many hryvnia each individual fish cost.

You pointed to the one you wanted, got it served with your beer, tore it apart with your bare hands, and then spent the next week trying to get the smell of dead fish off your skin.

I loved that trip, and would happily launch any number of dodgy cider-derived concoctions to repeat it.

But I didn’t have to.

The following year, the MD of Carlsberg Ukraine, which owns Lvivskie, the country’s oldest beer brand, liked my first book Man Walks into a Pub so much that he arranged for it to be translated into Ukrainian and Russian, to be given out to company employees and their favoured clients. They then invited me over to do some presentations, beer and food matching sessions and interviews.

After some events in Kyiv, I was put on a sleeper train to Lviv, about 300 miles west. Having just seen Kraftwerk at the Latitude Festival a few days before, I was deliriously excited about my own Trans-Europe Express. I was less excited when the train stopped in every single tiny station along the way, each stop accompanied by a loud lengthy PA announcement of all other stops the train was making. Despite being rocked like a ship on a stormy sea, I didn’t sleep.

Straight off the train I was whisked into a live TV interview with Lviv’s breakfast TV station. It happened to be the day after the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child. As a Brit, everyone congratulated me on the royal birth, and the first question on the live TV interview was how I felt about it. Tired and wired, I replied that it had nothing to do with me, and I was prepared to take a DNA test to prove it. They didn’t quite know what to make of me. I’m not sure they nor I knew why I was there.

I was hooked up with a local historian who gave me a tour of Lviv’s best bars. We kicked off with a bar dedicated to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, son of Lviv, author of Venus in Furs, and the reluctant inspiration for the term “masochism”.

The statue of Masoch outside the bar is shiny from constant touching down one side. My guide urged me to put my hand in the statue’s open pocket.

Inside, you can feel his shiny bronze cock and balls.

Place your bid in the comments on this linked post.

My first impression of Lviv was that everyone there was obsessed by pervy sex. When you enter the Masoch bar you get whipped across the arse and snarled at by leather-clad dominatrixes. There was bondage equipment wherever we went, and even the twee chocolate shops sold chocolate karma sutras.

Next, we went to a grand apartment block, up a wide stairwell, and knocked on a door. A man in pyjamas came to the door and shouted at us for waking him up. My guide said something to him which caused him to invite us into his tiny, shabby, cramped apartment. There was a large cupboard on one wall, and my guide opened it, stepped in and invited me to follow him. It turned out to be a secret passageway into a huge ornate bar, an ironic temple to capitalism featuring vintage classic cars, and furniture made out of currency.

Place your bid in the comments on this linked post.

From here, we went to another residential door. This time it was opened by a man in full battle dress, pointing a rifle at us. Again, my guide gave a password, and we were ushered into what turned out to be a resistance hideout that was used last time Russia was occupying Ukraine.

In a courtyard camouflaged by combat webbing, people who hadn’t even been born during that occupation sat and drank beneath propaganda posters, guides to spotting enemy versus friendly planes, and sculptures made from parts of old military equipment.

The memory of resistance was fresh. The people I spoke to regarded Russia with a mixture of ridicule and contempt. I was vividly reminded of them at the start of this war, when the defenders of Snake Island told their invaders to go fuck themselves. This was totally in keeping with my impressions of Ukrainians.

So why was I there? Why all this hospitality? How did translating a book about the history of beer and pubs in the UK do anything to help Carlsberg sell more of a perfectly pleasant but entirely mainstream lager in a country that has little in common with Britain?

The answer is that Ukraine has more in common with Western beer drinking than I realised. My guide around Lviv told me many passages in Man Walks Into A Pub chimed with what he’d discovered about beer in his own country. Those beer bloggers had read my stuff and related to it so much that they came along to kidnap me from a corporate event and show me the good bars.

If any of those guys are still in Ukraine today, they are most likely fighting invasion once again. I wonder where and how they are. When I heard that Putin had invaded a month ago, my first thought was the resistance bar in Lviv. And I said to myself, “Oh, Vlad. This is not going to go as you planned.”

That’s why I’m auctioning the rarest beers I have. For the crazy, sex-mad fuckers I drank with a decade ago.

Place your bid in the comments on this linked post.

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