While the name is more suitable for an abandoned Soviet nuclear facility than a beverage, it turns out Baltika-9 is also more suitable as a life lesson than as something to drink. After lugging the enormous 900mL can to the top of Queen St and drinking its contents, I found myself regretting the entire experience. But as the days went by, I came to realise that Baltika-9 had taught me a valuable life lesson: without pain, pleasure is meaningless.

In my previous run-ins with the Baltika-9, I must have always been too drunk to notice the foul taste. This time I was sober. In the thirst-inducing New Zealand sun, I was confronted with the full taste of a drink which, I can only imagine, is designed for the freezing depths of a Russian winter. It was not a pleasant experience.

The 8% is strong enough that it smells like rice wine. The first sip hit hard. It was super malty but also unpleasantly sweet. As I soldiered on into the guts it became progressively worse. Once you notice the banana taste, it is hard to forget it. It tastes like Baltika-9s are brewed by aging golden syrup, mixing it with vodka and then diluting it with banana fruit bursts soaked in dirty water. An empty stomach did not help things and at the two thirds mark I was feeling pretty crook. Luckily, this was just the point where the standards began to work their magic and after a brief recovery, I finished the warm bottom-third with ease. Given that the can is the size of a small child, finishing it does feel like an achievement.

The mouthfeel of Baltika-9 is slightly syrupy, as you drink it leaves a nasty residue on the back of your tongue. It wasn’t overly fizzy so if you can somehow get past the taste then the skullability is pretty good.

Overall, Baltika-9 was an extremely rough experience. It is probably one of the worst beers I have ever tasted, especially considering the 900mL that needs to be finished off. Many times it took willpower to keep drinking, which should only be the case for a goon. At about $6-7 and 5.7 standards per can it is cheap, but just misses the golden ratio in most supermarket deals. There are nicer beers available for much cheaper.

However, in the days following I began to see the bright side of Baltika-9. I realised that this beer was rock bottom. Anything I consumed afterwards would be an improvement.

Later that night, I drank a warm Southern Gold and by contrast with Baltika-9 it was amazing. I could suddenly taste hops and notes of honey that I had never known existed. It seems now that every beer I have ever grown sick of has acquired a new and fresh taste. The following weekend I enjoyed NZ Lager for the first time since I was a fresher.

Baltika-9 should not be drunk for pleasure, but if you find that you are no longer enjoying beverages that you once loved, it is the drink for you. Without the pain of Baltika-9, the fruitiness of a DoBro, the rich caramel of a Flame, and the subtle smokiness of an NZ Lager were lost on me. Because of Baltika-9 I have grown to appreciate all these once-loved drinks in a new light.

Tasting notes: A challenge. Bear piss mixed with vodka. As bleak as a Siberian winter

Froth level: No pain, no gain

Pairs well with: Hardbass, tracksuits, secret police, bears

Taste rating: 2/10 no bueno

This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2020.
Posted 10:15pm Thursday 10th September 2020 by Chug Norris.