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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Icon: Zhigulyovskoye

Itar-Tass
Given the vast variety of local brews now available, it may be hard to believe that there once was a near monopoly when it came to beer brands: Zhigulyovskoye. Before the free-market flood of amber ales and sweet stouts, the beer of choice for many generations of Soviet citizens was this once-ubiquitous light lager.

Zhigulyovskoye's origins, however, date back to tsarist times and, what's more, an Austrian founder -- Alfred von Vakano. In 1881, on the grounds of a small, unused brewery in Samara, von Vakano opened the Zhigulyovsky Brewery, named after a forested ridge by the Volga River. Shortly afterwards the brewery released two varieties of draft beer: Venskoye for 1.05 rubles a bucket (approximately 10 liters) and Venskoye Stolovoye for 1.40 rubles a bucket. Initial production consisted of 75,000 buckets per year. By 1913, production had grown to 2.5 million buckets per year, distributed to 60 cities across Russia, Central Asia and even Persia. The beer won numerous international accolades, but after the 1917 Revolution von Vakano returned to Austria and the brewery was nationalized.

The legend goes that the beer acquired its present-day name in 1934 when the Central Committee member Anastas Mikoyan visited the factory and asked why the beer bore such a bourgeois name as Venskoye ("Viennese"). As a result, it was rebranded as the more patriotic Zhigulyovskoye.

Too good to be brewed at just one brewery, Zhigulyovskoye was eventually manufactured at more than 100 breweries across the Soviet Union -- but this didn't stop beer lovers from seeking out Zhigulyovskoye brewed namely at the original Samara brewery.

The brand's continued popularity has led to post-Soviet conflicts. Since 1992, when the Zhigulyovsky Brewery registered the trademark, the brewery has been in constant court battles to defend exclusive rights to one of the Soviet Union's best-known brand names.