Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Arsenalnoye Extra Lager

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I mailed out wedding invitations well over 15 minutes ago and many of you ingrates have yet to R, which has her convinced that none of you are coming. This would SVP me just fine, because as much as I enjoy your company, if you don't show, hey, more bride and meatballs for me. But Emily wants you all to be there and thinks your micro-delayed oui means non, so I've tried to reassure her that you just haven't gotten around to answering because answering is not fun; you'll come through when it's time for the eating and drinking and joking and judging, though, because that stuff is fun.

Emily's standard operating procedure is to do everything that needs to be done, even the things that don't taste good or make her laugh, and she does so in the most efficient order possible. I admire this strange tic, because it's what makes her special and also what keeps our electricity turned on, but sometimes I get tired of explaining the rest of the universe to her. She struggles to relate to our sane and lazy way of doing things, so I have to keep reminding her that her friends will be there because they are kind and caring people, my friends will be there because there's an open bar, and my sister will be there because she likes the ocean. It will all work out just fine.

She still doesn't believe you're coming, but she's accepted my argument that regardless of whether any of the intended guests show up, our part of that case is closed—we stuck Post-Its with time and date under your windshield wipers; it's out of our hands now—so we can move on to planning the honeymoon.

We hadn't talked much about the honeymoon until last night, partly because of Em's preference for addressing things in a chronological order—she was hell-bent on finding a wedding venue, for example, even when it would have made much more fun-sense to finalize the song sequence and chicken wing flavors—and partly because we started off with conflicting priorities. Emily loves sand and water and sun and fruity drinks; when the topic was broached in February, I thought I only liked the last item on that list, so I recommended we compromise by going to a nice, dry, landlocked North American city with a thriving Mai Tai scene.

I've never been a big beach guy, because although I am very lazy in many ways, I don't enjoy the sit-still-for-hours kind of leisure. This is probably because I have an easy life; whatever the reason, just kinda sitting in the sand all day has never struck me as an ideal break from my comfortable reality. But after Sunday's trip to Revere Beach just north of Boston, I am now full onboard with the beach lifestyle.

You see, what I didn't realize is that in addition to sitting in the sand, you are also permitted to eat fried clams and conquer the ocean. I was always dimly aware of the pleasures of the clam, but I had never previously considered that it might be fun to mess around in the whale water. But man, I had a blast sorta swimming, intermittently floating, and not once drowning or being eaten. So a beach honeymoon it shall be.

The one thing that could have improved our trip to Revere would have been a small bit of beer. I don't want to get all trashy drunk on the beach, lest I horrify the children or anger the sharks, but I don't think a few gentle beers would have hurt anything. So now that I've acquiesced to Em's island fantasy, all that's left, other than the small matter of deciding which island, is figuring out the ideal beer for a week of beach drinking.

I tried one potential contender last night: Arsenalnoye Extra Lager, from Russian superbrewer Baltika, entered the competition as a dark horse due to its high (7%) alcohol content and its presumed scarcity on the tropical paradise of San Playa de Cabo What Have You, but it has one very compelling advantage: $4.99 gets you a 1.5 liter plastic bottle. That's 51 ounces of beer in a lightweight, unbreakable container that seems perfect for resealing throughout a short afternoon's beaching.

This is strange stuff. I should start off by disclaiming that I have no idea how long my sample bottle sat around the store before I bought it (though at least it was refrigerated). This isn't to say it tasted stale or past its prime, but rather an acknowledgment that it's so unusual that I can't say for certain if Baltika intended for it to taste the way it did by the time I got to it.

It didn't resemble standard lager in any obvious way; it seemed more like a cider/beer hybrid, with strong suggestions of malt and cider vinegar, very little hint of grain, and no hop character at all. All that said, I kinda dug it. It was refreshing and light, at least considering its high-end alcohol content and low-end packaging.

It turns out that Arsenalnoye Extra is a little too weird to rely on for an entire week's drinking, but I recommend giving it a quick go should you ever stumble upon it.