Beer giant Carlsberg being forced into selling off its Russian brewing assets for the price of a few barrels of beer brought back some memories. It reminded Sideways Glance of the early 2000s when Edinburgh’s Scottish & Newcastle plc not only owned the Kronenbourg and Newcastle Brown Ale brands but had a significant stake with Carlsberg in the massive Baltika beer brand.
Baltika has one of the biggest breweries in the world in St Petersburg making seven different Baltika variants of difference strengths. These were then sent across the multiple Russian time zones in a large fleet of refrigerated freight trains. It was an impressive enterprise, later sold off by the Scots.
What was most interesting was that certain Edinburgh business worthies attended several sumptuous events to meet the mayor of St Petersburg in the grand setting of the Hermitage. The mayor was always rather coy about attending such events and sent along his deputy, a certain Vladimir Putin, who was usually in attendance, shaking the hands of the Scots.
Mr Putin loved the Baltika beer company because alcohol was a taxable product bringing in valuable roubles for the state – and with beer less potent than the home-made vodkas which sozzled the nation’s industrial workforce, there was hope it might improve Russia’s dismal record on drunkenness and productivity. One person who met the Russian despot told us that that they remember his cold, dark eyes and far-away gaze.