Putin Huilo!

You can basically end the competition right now, because the 2015 award for best beer name has already been decided: Putin is a Dickhead. Go head, brewers. You have nine months to come up with something better. It’s not going to happen.

The team here at Love & Barley have always known that beer is not just your ordinary fermented beverage. It is many things – a social lubricant, liquid bread, to say nothing of being absolutely delicious. But beer also has tremendous symbolic value, relating to the place from where it hails. Where there is symbolic value, there can be pride, be in local, regional or national. This pride occasionally manifests itself in the use of beer marketing to make political statements.

One of the most overtly political breweries in the world today has to be Pravda Beer Theatre, a new Ukrainian microbrewery that recently unveiled its latest triumph – Putin Huilo, which means “Putin is a dickhead.” The name caught the attention of the Internet, with a humble YouTube video, featuring the beer’s glorious label:

Label for Putin Huilo
label courtesy Pravda Beer Theatre

First, a bit of context. Pravda Beer Theatre hails from the Ukrainian city of Lviv. To put this in further context, Lviv is today a heartland of Ukrainian identity. It was Polish between the wars, but after WWII was ceded to the Soviet Union, and population exchanges with Krakow ensured that Lviv had a majority Ukrainian population. Since independence, the city has supported pro-Ukrainian politicians, and represents the heartland of the Ukraine that looks westward to Europe, and away from Russia’s sphere of influence. Love & Barley visited the city in 2012. There was a restaurant called Kryjivka that, in a very kitschy sort of way, required you to provide a password to gain entry – the guard says “Glory to Ukraine” and you reply “Glory to its heroes”. The guard then checks to see if there are any Russians in your party before allowing you to enter. Inside was a celebration of the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA), a guerilla bunker with machines on the walls. In hindsight, maybe it was not all fun and games after all – Lviv is legitimately a stronghold of pro-Ukrainian, anti-Russian sentiment.

Lviv is also a beer town. On our visit, we found four breweries and there was a clear sense that not only was Lviv the best beer city in Ukraine, but that it could be much better going forward. It is against this backdrop that Pravda Beer Theatre opened in December, 2014. Pravda (named for the Soviet propaganda rag) follows the trend of Western-style microbreweries opening in countries all over the world.

Love & Barley spoke with the Yuri, the owners, via email to talk about the venture. Pravda is the beer arm of a company that has aimed to transform and modernize Lviv culture. Lviv was famous for coffee (few cities in Europe have such high standards for coffee), and so Yuri opened a modern roaster in the city. He then turned his attention to chocolate, another Lviv tradition, and one that had been hijacked by multinationals. Likewise, he recognized that while Lviv had nine breweries, they were all pretty much the same, turning out the standard yeasty pale and dark lagers found in brewpubs all over the ex-USSR countries. The city’s big brewery is now owned by Carlsberg and has lost its local identity. So the coffee roaster and chocolatier turned his attention to changing the beer culture in Lviv, with a modern microbrewery.

Yuri used to live in Belgium, and that guided him towards beers inspired by that country’s great tradition. The name is Beer Theatre because “the brewhouse is on stage in the centre of the place”, which itself is located in the gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage old town. In its first few months of operation, Pravda has taken the theatre aspect of its name to the fore, demonstrating marketing flair with its stylish labels and provocative names. In addition to Putin Huilo, there is Obama Stout, and Danke Frau Ribbentrop, dedicated to Angela Merkel. That beer is a reference to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact that Nazi Germany signed with the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939. The treaty included provisions for the two counties to essentially divide the spaces between them, and the Polish city of Lviv was surrounded by Soviet forces three weeks later. Lviv would ultimately be occupied until 1991. The beer’s name references, Merkel’s refusal to address Putin’s incursions into Ukrainian territory in a meaningful way.  The label elaborates:

label courtesy Pravda Beer Theatre
label courtesy Pravda Beer Theatre

Putin Huilo – Putin is a Dickhead – requires significantly less understanding of context.Indeed, the brewery did not invent “Putin Huilo” at all. The term reportedly originated as a football chant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

The slogan became a protest staple in Ukraine.

Then it became a song:

The next thing you know every band in Ukraine is doing it:

Well, it basically has become a meme. And not just in Ukraine, either.

It’s a catchy tune.

A team of Ukrainian astronomers named a star Putin Huilo!

Putin Huilo now has its own page on Wikipedia:

What’s the beer like? While Love & Barley was unable to obtain a bottle for tasting as of press time (not surprisingly, as it’s sold out), the brewery apparently sent a box to the Kremlin for sampling, according to its Facebook page. Putin Huilo is described as a lightly dry hopped 8% blonde tripel. Another batch is on the way, in both 33cl and 75cl bottles from the brewery, as well as on draught at locations around Lviv. The brewery expects to continue making political tribute beers, as a complement to their regular range of Belgian-influenced ales.

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