I last wrote about Ukraine for this esteemed publication in 2013 – I booked a follow-up trip for 2014, and two days later Russia invaded/liberated (delete as applicable) Crimea, and by the time we were due to fly from Donetsk airport it had been reduced to rubble. The Curse of Unpro strikes again! I then planned a trip in 2020, didn’t end up going, can’t remember why… then last month I was idly browsing Skyscanner for inspiration when I saw Manchester to Lviv, out that Friday morning, back Monday night, fiver each way – I couldn’t say no!
I’ve never been a fan of morning flights, I’d have far rather flown Thursday night, but beggars can’t be choosers and all that… the 0245 alarm to get up for the 0325 train to the airport did nothing to change my opinion though! Flight was pretty empty and so I took advantage of a row of three seats to get my head down for a couple of hours. Landed on time at Lviv airport, showed my passport and vaccination certificate and I was in, no longer have to fill in any forms unlike previous visits. Got some cash out as wasn’t sure how widespread card use would be (practically non-existent apart from bigger hotels and restaurants in 2013) and bought a SIM card (200 hryvnia/£6 for 20GB valid for a month, bargain) from what looked like a market stall selling knock-off DVDs, then went outside and summoned an Uber to town for the princely sum of £3.
I’d done some preliminary research on Ratebeer and Untappd, and for Friday focussed on Untappd ‘verified venues’ (i.e. ones with real time taplists so knew what beers were available). First up was the Drunken Duck, nestled in the old town, a smallish place but with about 16 taps and a fridge of interesting cans and bottles, the food looked good but I didn’t have time to partake. As well as the 0.3l and 0.5l measures seemingly standard in Ukraine, they also offer 150ml (just under a third of a pint) so I set about trying as many as possible in the time, as well as grabbing a couple of ‘train beers’ for my journey to Ivano-Frankivsk. I tried a couple of sours, but they missed the mark a bit with some odd aftertastes, several stouts and porters, and a somewhat bizarre Borsch (yes, as in the beetroot soup!) gose from Red Cat.
From here it was a short walk to Choven, a few steps down from the street in an old building, and with 18 taps of local craft. I didn’t have long here so I focussed on having a beer from each brewery I hadn’t encountered at the Duck. This led to a variety of IPAs, an imperial stout from Gentlemalt, and the best beer so far Ten Men Not For Breakfast, a raspberry sour absolutely packed with fruit.
Third and final bar for the day was Lviv Craft Beer University of St Christopher, another downstairs bar, where among others I had Double Travmato from Didko, Hot Salsa V3 from Hoppy Hog and Blackberry Rolls stout from Kyivska Manufaktura. The former was one of several beers I found made with tomatoes, seems to be a big thing over there, but what can I say when I just brewed a Branston Pickle beer…
I then took the train to Ivano-Frankivsk, again far easier than previous trips – in 2013 you could book online but had to take the booking to a ticket office to get the actual ticket issued, and in 2008 there was no online booking at all, you had to go to the ticket office to try to communicate what you wanted, and if you resorted to writing it down it had to be in Cyrillic… now you simply book online and show your ticket on your ‘phone to the provodnik/provodnitsa (each carriage has its own attendant) along with your vaccination certificate and you’re good to go. Another advantage of the online booking is you can choose your place, so I’d made sure to pick a compartment with nobody else in. Drank my train beers, an excellent Black Bean tonka imperial stout from Varvar, and Apricot Sorbet Sour from Underwood.
Arrival at Ivano-Frankivsk was around half an hour late, unusual for Ukraine, and by the time I’d walked to Hotel Nadiya and checked in it was past 11pm and as I’d been up since 3am I called it a night rather than seeking any of the bars, even though they were close to the hotel.
Saturday I partook in the excellent buffet breakfast at the hotel (it cost 50p more to book with breakfast than without so I had to get my money’s worth…) before heading out to explore the surrounding area – train to Vorokhta, another to Kolomiya, then a third back to IF to complete a triangular trip. Not much beer-wise at Vorokhta but was a scenic journey. At Kolomiya there’s nothing on Ratebeer or Untappd, but I stumbled upon Beer Zhe (Beer Men) opposite the station, a ‘draught bottling’ bar similar to the one I discovered in Luhansk in 2013, where beers are dispensed from kegs into PET bottles between 500ml and 5 litres, so I got a couple of small bottles for the next leg of the journey, nowt special, just a couple of pale beers from a local brewery.
Back in Ivano-Frankivsk, I had intended to go to the Tsypa Taphouse, the highest rated bar on Ratebeer, sadly at some point in the last two years it seems to have closed down. However I found a few other bars to keep me occupied for the evening and Sunday. First up was Pivni Klub Desyitka, an underground bar with a glass street level entrance not much bigger than a ‘phone box, indeed I walked straight past it before I knew what I was looking for, once inside it’s got a kind of German brauhaus feel. Only three craft beers so didn’t stay long, these were Hoppy Lager and Milk Stout from Varvar and Kohane lager from the bar’s eponymous local brewery but not actually onsite.
I then went in search of brewpub Pinta Pab, I found a pub in the right place but called Fyst Pab, guessing recently taken over as Untappd still showed the former identity. Similarly the house beers appeared as Moi brewery but on the beer menu were shown as Fyst Pab. Of their own I tried IPA One, a fairly 2005-era East Coast IPA being dark amber with sweetness and bitterness, and Stout, then from the guests had Apache red ale from Stanislavska Galba and Medova Rosa amber lager by Good Brewery.
Gost Bar is a fairly modern looking bar and has a couple of craft beers on draught, I had Gonir IPA before moving to the fridge or bottles of MOVA Stout V and CNR IPA. I got chatting to a local at the bar who spoke very good English, and she told me a couple of other places to try that weren’t on my radar. The first of these was Prom Bar, in a multi-outlet factory conversion – from outside it looks almost derelict with almost every window on the lower floors smashed, but the top floor has been renovated in a similar vein to Cutlery Works. At the far end is the bar, I only had time for a quick sour from 2085 brewery before they closed at 2100.
I ran out of time to visit Copperhead brewpub but had tried a couple of their beers in Lviv at least so my final stop was another brewpub, Bartik. The brewery is visible behind the bar, and a number of beers were available. Luckily they did a ‘desyitka’ (tasting board) of 6 x 150ml, unluckily it included the Ginger Ale! The beers were fairly German in style, apart from the last one I tried, Kriekbier, it lacked the sourness I could tell it was aiming for but was at least not alcoholic cherryade as so many non-lambic ‘krieks’ seem to be.
Sunday night I took a train back to Lviv, alas rather busy so I couldn’t get a compartment to myself, but still managed some sleep. After three days of cold but crisp dry weather, Monday was decidedly damp and later turned to snow. I spent the morning being touristy before heading to Re:Bro for lunch. This is a fairly modern setup, with a kitchen offering a wide range of traditional Ukrainian dishes as well as burgers, pizzas etc, and a bar with a dozen taps. Unusually, 0.5l is the only measure offered, but as prices were around 70-80 hryvnia (less than £3) it was no big deal, just meant I didn’t get to try as many beers as I would otherwise, just had the two sours: Didko Never Again, a citrus sour, and the slightly crazy Odd Brew (aptly named!) Smth Odd: Sea Buckthorn Tonka Lactose El Dorado Sour, which was very fruity, slightly sour with a sweet edge from the lactose and tonka.
Next I walked to Lemberk, only to be defeated as the opening hours on google turned out to be incorrect, and it wasn’t open. Luckily, next door was Krani, another ‘draught bottle’ shop plus also had cans and bottles in fridge. I bought three draught and a couple of cans, drinking the draught ones as I walked to the next bar as I’m classy like that…
One of the few Ukrainian breweries known outside the country is Varvar, not seen them on sale in the UK but used to be able to order from Dutch website Beerdome until they stopped shipping to the UK for some reason… They have a taproom in Lviv (as well as at least Kyiv and Odesa), Mad, which is arranged over 5 floors, the concept being each floor up is higher in alcohol, so the beer bar is on the ground floor, then the wine bar, finishing with a spirit bar on the top floor. On this occasion I stayed on the ground floor, trying a couple of Varvar’s IPAs and taking away a bottle of a barrel aged wild ale which I ended up drinking at the airport.
100 yards from Varvar and opposite the impressive Town Hall in Rynok Square is Pravda Beer Theatre, formerly a brewpub but with the beers now brewed elsewhere. Beers are mostly served from tanks, and many are Belgian styles, not really my cup of tea but I had to try a couple, plus a mint wheat beer!
Less than half a mile from there are two more bars on the same pedestrianised street, where I was to finish my trip. First up, Bratyska is a fairly industrial looking bar, a dozen taps, I went for Copperhead Triple Berry Sour, Kyiv Local Mango & Passionfruit Sour and MOVA C.C.Citra IPA. Finally a few doors down is Zolotij Kolos (‘Golden Ear’), a beer and pizza place with a superb range of both, but one thing missing – seats! I’d been looking forward to sitting down with a few beers and a pizza but they only have standing tables, bizarre. Still the pizza was good, and I had some good beers including Volta Sangrita Red Orange Gose, Bad Beaver Double IPA, 2085 14 Kveik Vanilla Lemon Tart sour and finishing on another excellent smoothie sour from Ten Men, my favourite brewery of the trip, Berry Smoothie: MBR Blueberry Raspberry Marshmallow Gose.
All that remained was a Bolt to the airport, drink my remaining bottles and cans, and fly home… on the Saturday I’d seen the news that the PCR test scam was coming back and this time with quarantine requirement until result, fortunately by Sunday it had been clarified this would apply from 0400 Tuesday, so I beat the deadline by just a few hours! Another quiet flight back, making the last train to Sheffield by the skin of my teeth (why TPE can’t run a later train I don’t know, given how many flights land late at night…). An excellent trip overall, I’ve always enjoyed Ukraine and now it’s easier than ever to get to, and easier when you’re there (Bolt and Uber so much easier than communicating directly with drivers who speak no English, cards taken most places, SIM cards easy to acquire so can use google maps etc), and still cheap as chips with craft beer mostly under £3 for half litre (and unlike the neighbour to the west, smaller measures are correctly priced pro-rata), good hotels around £20 a night, a 12 hour overnight train in a sleeper around £20, Uber/Bolt £1-2 a ride, local trams and buses 25p a ride, etc. I can thoroughly recommend a visit and intend to head back early next year, Covid-permitting.
Budmo! Dave Unpronounceable