Beer Review: Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer

2 February, 2012

IF you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve also read my ancient Innis & Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer ‘review’. And judging by the comments, you loved it as much as I did. So, here it is again…

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask bottle

Or is it? At first glance, it looks nearly identical to its Scotch inspired cousin. The same little bottle with much the same labels. Examine it a little closer however, and you realise that this is going to be a different type of first-class beverage. That comparing this to its cousin would be like comparing a Gieves & Hawkes suit to hedge fund. That said, I did purchase both (the Innis & Gunn beers, not the tailoring or investments) from Tesco at well under the £2 mark.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask neck label

Oak ageing is to be encouraged. In fact, so enthusiastically have they been encouraged by Innis & Gunn’s lead, that other brewers now make similar ale. Which means that Innis & Gunn is no longer “Oak Aged Like No Other Beer”.

Assuming you didn’t notice the different colour (which I didn’t); it’s only when you reach the main front label that you notice the difference. Not even I missed the fact that this beer was oak aged in rum casks.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask front label

To its credit, practically everything you want to know about ‘Rum Cask’ is right there on the front labels. Including that it’s “Brewed In Small Batches” and “Hand Crafted Scottish Beer”. Helpfully, they even print basic tasting notes. In this case (or should that be ‘cask’), they describe it as “Fully Bodied Scottish Beer Bursting With Fruity And Spicy Notes”. Experienced ale drinkers will think that looks like the tasting notes for hoppy English ale. Is that what it tastes like?

Down here, we spot another important difference between Rum Cask and Original.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask lower front label

Original was matured for 77 days. Rum Cask here was matured for 57. Are those missing twenty days important? If you think they are, then you know what to do in the comments section at the end of this post.

Rotate the bottle one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, and you find a neat little semi-transparent rear label.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask back label

It begins with a helpful blurb. From this blurb, we learn that Innis & Gunn have been experimenting with variations on the theme of oak barrel maturation. That this one, Rum Cask, is one of their favourites. Apparently, they use American oak and rum infused oak. And that this “has impoarted this beer with a delicious warming character that is bursting with fruit and lively spiciness”. That sounds delicious on a cold winter’s night like this one. But I can’t help wondering if they’ve inadvertently re-invented the hoppy English ale. Whatever the case, I can hardly wait to find out.

Next, they helpfully suggest a serving temperature. In this instance, between 4 to 6 degrees C. I guess that equates to room temperature in my cold London flat. Americans and Australians, you might want to store it in a refrigerator during the summer months. It’s also worth pointing out how blindingly obvious it is to put serving temperatures on an expensive bottle of ale. So obvious, that most brewers don’t. So well done Innis & Gunn for being user-friendly.

Even further down the back label are the vital statistics and small-print. First, the alcoholic volume which is a hearty 7.4%. In this 330 millilitre bottle, that equates to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. Or in the vicinity of half of what doctors say you can safely drink per day.

Next, there’s Innis & Gunn’s contact information. For the obsessively curious, it gives their Edinburgh address. For the casually curious, it gives their web address of www.innisandgunn.com. On their helpful and interesting website, you’ll find their Rum Cask product page at http://www.innisandgunn.com/the-range/rum-cask.aspx

The last nuggets of useful information on the back label, are that Rum Cask is a “Product of Scotland”. That it is “Strong Beer”. And that it “Contains Barley Malt”. Nothing surprising at all.

So at long last, here is the bit where I open the bottle and use words to describe what the contents smell and taste like. If you scrolled straight down to this bit, I don’t blame you. So, using the wrong type of glass, chilled by my chilly flat, here is Innis & Gunn Rum Cask poured.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask poured into a glass (out of focus, sorry)

Pouring was a doddle, thanks to a very controllable head. The cream coloured head, once poured, reverts back to liquid within two or three minutes. With other beers, that would be an annoyance. But with Innis & Gunn Rum Cask, it feels more like a feature, designed to make you wait, and savour it properly.

In the glass, the colour will come as no surprise. I’d call it somewhere between red and brown. Not quite copper, but not far from it. What does Innis & Gunn Rum Cask smell like? It’s pungent enough to hit your nostrils during the pour, but working out what it is you can smell is puzzling. The first impression you get is that it smells light and fresh. Some thorough sniffing later, and all I can discern are a sort of fruity vanillaryness. In short, it smells intriguing and delicious.

Abandoning my attempt to understand the odour, I turn my attention to how Innis & Gunn Rum Cask taste. Remembering that the label used words like “warming”, “fruity” and “spicy”, I’m delighted to say that the very first sip delivered precisely those three words. And so does the second sip. And the third. It’s not at all the variation on English hoppy ale that I was expecting. But as with the smell, finding words to describe it within the limits of a single little bottle are difficult. If you’re lucky enough to have had a few of these, add your own insight in the comments below.

To pull this ‘review’ back from that cop out, I’d describe the flavour as being almost absent. There are some very mild hints of savoury, oaky, fruity, initial bitterness. But Innis & Gunn Rum Cask comes alive with the aftertaste, finish and feeling it gives you. It is dominated by a rich, smokey, oaky, somewhat spicy, fruity and mildly bitter finish. Rich and momentarily intense, but not strong, not overly bitter or too long lasting. And yes, after a good few sips, you even I can detect a tiny taste of rum. All of these qualities make for a warming and distinctive drink.

What am I enjoying about Innis & Gunn Rum Cask so far? As you can probably tell, quite a lot. I love how unusual the taste is. It provides a much bigger taste experience than the Scotch based Original. Oversimplifying, it’s taste of oak and rum is unique, as far as I know. The taste matches the bottle label descriptions, which was unexpected. It is rich and warming to drink, which makes it a great autumn and winter beverage. At 7.4%, I’m discovering that this small 330 millilitre bottle is adequately strong for a weekday evening drink. It’s relatively hard to find, which makes it exclusive and makes you look like a connoisseur. And if you can find a supermarket like Tesco that sells it, purchasing it won’t empty your wallet.

What am I disliking about Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? Not much. To pad out this paragraph, only nitpicking really. A sweeter, fruiter flavour could have been welcome. Or any real flavour, for that matter. But it’s hard to see that playing well with the massive aftertaste and finish. It is however, quite dry, and would be a challenge to drink a lot of over a single night. Nevertheless, I’m up for that challenge. Lastly, price and availability appear to depend on chance and where you live.

How can I sum up Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? It turned out to be completely different to the taste of hoppy ale that I was expecting. It delivers everything it promises in the taste and character departments. By loading the aftertaste with rum driven fruitiness and spiciness and oak powered smokiness, it is bonkers in a sophisticated way. Like Timmy Mallett becoming Chairman of the English National Opera. Personally, I loved it. But not everyone will. If you like intense originality, then add Rum Cask to your ‘to do’ list. If you’re not so keen on that sort of thing, wait until autumn or winter, and then give it a try. If you’re timid, then try the Scotch based Innis & Gunn Original and you’ll love that.

Have you tried Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? Then share your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, in the comments section below.

Beer Review: Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer

23 September, 2011

IN late 2010, a new category of lager started appearing in London. Sandwiched between the Premium Lagers and the Super Strength Lagers, the Very Strong category sought a new sweet spot. At around eight and a half percent alcoholic volume, could you enjoy the potency of a Super with the drinkability of a Premium? Here’s what I discovered.

If you like playing along at home, you’ll be wondering which products I’m describing. They are:

Kolson SuperKolson Super

Kolson Super 8.6% by Royal Unibrew from Poland. I bought this one from a convenience store on Old Street in Shoreditch, east London.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer front of can

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer 8.5% by, Oranjeboom from the Netherlands. I bought this one from a convenience store on Bethnal Green Road, east London.

Good luck finding them. They both disappeared from shop shelves a matter of months after appearing, thus rendering this review useless. Nevertheless, I shall press on by telling you that of the two, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer was the best. That’s why the rest of this post is about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer and not it’s slightly stronger and less pleasant rival.

What can I say about the can? Well, it’s not as cool as the Kolson Super. The Kolson can is minimalist and elegant. The Oranjeboom effort looks like the designer couldn’t stop designing.

On the plus side, everything you need to know about it is right there in front of you. The strength, where it’s from and who manufactured it. The Oranjeboom logo is there, featuring an orange tree. Of course. Well it is from the Netherlands. And there’s the date that, presumably, the Oranjeboom brewery dates back to. 1671 was a very long time ago, even by continental beer standards.

Incidentally, I spent two minutes researching Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer, by which I mean I used Google. They do have a UK website at http://oranjeboomlager.co.uk/ which is very interesting. Apart from the lack of explanation for the orange tree logo, and the mention of this particular Strong Beer. It’s almost as if they’re doing a Carlsberg and are embarrassed by it.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to know how their sausages are made, you can discover a few more facts about this beer. They describe it as being an “Original Dutch Recipe” that includes “Pure Natural: Choice Hops, Finest Malts and Grains, Clear Water”. Notice the absence of syrup. Carlsberg Special Brew this is not. On one of the sides crammed with multilingual text, there is an official ingredients list. Astoundingly, this is less informative than the list on the front I quoted from.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer ingredients side of can

Let’s see if the other side of the can is any less useful.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer barcode side of can

Nope, just a barcode and another impenetrable block of multilingual text. Nothing to see here. So there we have it. A can covered in text that only conveys the basic details. Now there’s no excuse for not pouring it into a glass, and trying to write words to describe it to you. This is why you can now see a photograph of this can, poured into a mismatched pint glass.

Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer poured into a glass

Pouring was a doddle. There was very little head, and what little there was, quickly dissipated. Right now, there’s a thing, white, patchy layer of foam. The lager colour is gold, and is bubby with carbonation.

What does Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer smell of? This is easier to describe if you’ve already smelt the generic malted barley of premium lager and the strong whiff of a super strength. That’s because Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer smells part way between the two. Not as off-putting as the 9% super-strengths, but getting there. Honestly, the smell lets it down. It’s too close to super smell for my liking.

What does Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer taste like? Coming straight from the fridge, the first gulp isn’t bad. Much better than the smell would suggest it is. The second gulp confirms it. At fridge cold temperature, Oranjeboom Strong tastes more like a normal, everyday premium lager, and only marginally like a super-strength monster. From the third, pleasantly painless gulp, I can start to make sense of the taste. First, as you’d expect from most lagers, there’s no flavour to speak of. Normal lagers give you a mild, bitter aftertaste. Supers give you an overpowering, synthetic aftertaste. Oranjeboom Strong gives you, guess what? Something half-way between the two. What you feel is a moderate bitterness, followed by a moderate wave of strong, thick super-style aftertaste. Not overpowering, mind you. Just a moderate wave of that sensation that, surprisingly, does not linger.

What do I like about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? As you can probably tell, I’m impressed by the combination of strength and drinkability. As long as you don’t breath in while sipping or gulping it down, you could convince yourself you’re drinking a regular premium lager. The short-lasting aftertaste even gives it a hint of refreshment. At least while cold. Also likeable is that it’s not over carbonated, so you don’t suddenly start burping. Another big plus is how well it warms up. Even at near room temperature, it is sill drinkable. Other lagers would have given up and become revolting by this point. From the outside, it looks like a normal lager, helping you hide your alcoholism. And, being somewhat hard to find, it earns you one hipster point for drinking it.

What don’t I like about Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? The smell. It’s much too near to the odour of the ghastly super-strength lagers. We all know how smell triggers memory, so as soon as some people smell this, they’ll be put right off and not even try it. The aftertaste, until you get used to it, will be too much for some timid drinkers. And to nit-pick, the design of the can lets it down. If you just want a nice tasting beer however, then you can easily find ale much much more delicious than this.

All in all, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer is a very easy way to get lamp-shaded quickly. It is barely less drinkable than most premium lagers, yet nearly as strong as the horrifying super strength lagers. If you like lagers, strong beer or Dutch brews, it is worth trying. If you can find it.

In fact, I was so impressed by Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer, I decided to up the stakes it put it to the biggest test of the year; celebrating the start of 2011 on the Embankment near Big Ben and the London Eye.

The night would involve many hours of standing in a humungous crowd of people, armed only with the food and drink you could carry and limited access to disgusting public porta-loos. New Year in London calls for drink that tastes good and is strong. That second point is very important. First because it’s bitterly cold outdoors at night in the middle of winter. Second, because you don’t want to lug around heavy bags of drink. And, most importantly, you want to get drunk without constantly needing to use the filthy porta-loos.

How did I and my Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer fare on the night? Outstandingly well.

To surmise, Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer is an affordable (if you can find it) lager that hits the right spot between drinkability and strength. Think of it as two ordinary Dutch lagers in one can.

Have you tried Oranjeboom Imported Strong Beer? What did you think? What reputation does it have in the Netherlands? Where is this beer available to buy? Leave your comments, corrections, advice to others and other nonsense here in the comments section.

Beer Review: Švyturys Baltijos

29 March, 2011

SOME people complain that my recent reviews have all been East European beers. So, to correct the balance, here is a bottle of Švyturys Baltijos. From Lithuania.

Švyturys Baltijos bottle

Truthfully, this is one of the most requested and recommended beers out there. Thanks to the brisk growth of East European shops here, I’ve ended up trying a few Švyturys bottles. And each time, the comments section has filled with recommendations for Baltas, and for Baltijos. Commentors; you were right about how good Baltas was. Now you’ve got a reputation to uphold with Baltijos.

For the curious, and those in East London, this bottle came from Russkij Bazaar. The excellent East European shop on Cambridge Heath Road, near Bethnal Green underground station. The price was £1.70 pence, which could have been worse.

Luckily, I didn’t have to ask for it by name. Which would have been a problem. I think it’s pronounced Bal-Tee-Oss. But I’m probably wrong. Much more fun is my botched Anglicisation, in the form of Balty-Joes. As usual, leave your corrections and interpretations in the comments section.

I make a point of doing zero research with these ‘reviews’, hopefully persuading brewers to design more useful labels. With only a tiny scrap of foil around the bottle neck however, much of it in Lithuanian, I broke with tradition. You can read the description and see a photo of it in a fancy glass on the official Švyturys website at http://www.svyturys.lt/produkcija. Then, you either need to ask a Lithuanian friend to translate it for you, or, use Google Translate, which spat out the following:

“Lighthouse in the Baltic (5.8%) – dark dreams / Oktoberfest camp,”Lighthouse “collection of traditional beer, brewed since 1965 Ethnographers believe that this “fighting ” style of beer its color and taste of the coming of the first “lighthouse” of beer in 1784 proposed brewery founder of German merchants Rainkės. Baltic beer category has its won the World Beer Cup Bronze Medal, and the international “Siberian Fair” at the time – the great gold medal. “Dark red, amber-colored beer is sweetish, rich, mouth, long lasting caramel taste. “Lighthouse Baltic aroma and flavor characteristics of the best demonstration of it in a special tasting glasses – large, bubble or tulip-shape with a strong leg. “Lighthouse” Baltic beer in perfect harmony with game, dark meat, oily fish dishes, a strong blue cheese flavor and hard, sweet desserts, predominantly caramel and chocolate combinations.

I don’t think I need to write any more. No one can possibly top that translation for entertainment value. To paraphrase the gist of it, Švyturys Baltijos based on the very first beer introduced to Lithuania by Germans. It’s won lots of awards and is yummy. Or is it? This is where I thrust my subjective opinions into the background noise of online beer reviews.

Starting with the bottle, it’s the same gorgeous bottle that Švyturys use across their Traditional Beer” range. The intricate embossing is exquisite. It looks great, but all the details is squeezed onto a flat of neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltijos front of neck foil

In fairness, almost everything you want to know about it, i.e. whether you’d like it, is in English, on the front of the foil. As well as the usual logos and medals, it describes it as “Dark Red” and “Made with Caramel Malt”. For an East European beer, this is surprisingly helpful.

It goes downhill from there.

Švyturys Baltijos left of neck foil

On the left is a multi-lingual block of text squeezed into a small, undulating foil flap. Some squinting reveals this to be a 500ml bottle with an above average alcoholic volume of 5.8%. The ingredients are water, barley malt, caramel malt and hops.

The other side is even more futile.

Švyturys Baltijos right of neck foil

It has a barely visible web address of www.svytusys.lt. And the out of context detail that Švyturys Baltijoshas been pasteurised. Don’t think about those details. Concentrate instead on the fact that my last mention of “caramel malt” was way back on Ukrainian Obolon Velvet. And that was marvellous.

Will Švyturys Baltijos be as tasty as Obolon Velvet? Will it live up to the hype? And, if you’ve never tried it before, should you go through the hassle of buying this expensive bottle? To attempt to answer those questions, I cracked open the bottle and poured it into the wrong shape of Pint glass. Well it’s all I had available. Okay?

Švyturys Baltijos poured into a glass

Pouring it, my first impressions are how different is looks to the photo on the official website. There’s almost no head, just a few thin cream coloured patches. The hue of the official photo is well off, too. Instead of the near-blackness of the official website photo, in reality, it’s red, dark red or copper.

Next, the fun and subjective opinions. How does Švyturys Baltijos? Rich, malty and slightly hoppy. I found it triggered memories of British ales. Not what you’d expect, but then I like the unexpected. Since you’re reading this blog, you probably will too.

What does Švyturys Baltijos taste like? The translation-mangled official description uses words like “sweetish”, “rich” and “long lasting”. I can’t disagree with any of them. The first couple of sips were very nice. I’m going to add “complex”, because you need much more than a couple of sips to figure out what you’re tasting.

On the flavour side of your gulp, Švyturys Baltijos is finely balanced between sweetness and sourness. When the aftertaste kicks in, you can’t miss it. A humungous hit of maltiness swooshes into your mouth and refuses to leave until long after your gulp. You can taste some caramel in the finish, but only if you pay attention. At one third of the way through, Baltijos has turned into a very rich, malty, drinkable beer.

What am I enjoying about Švyturys Baltijos? It’s not just different to other Lithuanian or East European beers, it is truly distinctive. You won’t easily confuse it with anything else. I love it when a brewer takes a risk or tries something new. Švyturys Baltijos with its heavy maltiness and hints of caramel does that, and it as ancient as flint arrowheads. I like how it manages to be a dark, heavy, full-on beer, and yet is still easy to drink. I like how accessible it is by not being bitter. The “sweetish” flavour could even help it pass the female test. And I like the exclusivity of having something hard to find.

What don’t l like about Švyturys Baltijos? That strong taste is going to put some people off. That’s the hazard of taking risks and being principled. Either the flavour-phobes who love lager, or ale fans that can’t stand rich sweetness could object to it. Then there’s the light flavours and massive onslaught of malty taste. Not smooth. And surprisingly burp-filled for a beer with little visible carbonation.

I tried to compare it to Ukrainian beer, Obolon Velvet. Sorry, but Švyturys Baltijos can’t quite match it for unqualified deliciousness. But that’s unfair. It’s the wrong product comparison. Švyturys Baltijos is more like British ale. And yes, I’m as shocked as you are.

How can I sum up Švyturys Baltijos? Not easily. It is special and well worth your effort to track down. It is even worth spending money on. For Lithuania and Eastern Europe, it is remarkable. I can see why so many of you recommended it. You can easily compare it to the great ales from Britain. And that’s the problem. Because that’s where I live, I can easily find good bottled ales for the same price, without the iffy availability of East European shops. That suddenly makes your location important. No wonder so many Americans are nuts about it. In summary: surprising and satisfying.

Rating: 4.175

Have you tried Švyturys Baltijos? Think you can you correct my mistakes? Leave your comments, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.

Cider Review: Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy

8 November, 2010

I STOPPED trying to review cider for good reason. Trying to review them was like comparing potatoes. There’s not much to choose between them, and at the end of it all, you wish you hadn’t bothered. Nowadays I only bother if I find one that is genuinely different and closer to the mythical ‘Real Cider,’ or if it’s been recommended in the comments section. With both of those conditions being true, feast your eyes upon this: Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy.

Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy bottle

Look carefully, and you’ll spot the reasons why I couldn’t miss the chance to try Old Rosie. First is that it’s cloudy. You can see sediment at the bottom of the bottle. That’s not something you see in many, if any bottled ciders. Second, this Old Rosie is Westons Old Rosie.

Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy neck label

Readers who have bookmarked or subscribed here might remember way back how much I liked Westons Premium Organic Cider and Henry Westons Vintage Special Reserve Cider. What you can’t see on the bottle is the price tag. I procured this bottle from Nisa Local on London’s Old Street for the exorbitant price of £2.25 pence.

Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy front label

For that wallet-emptying price, you get front and back labels that are clear and straightforward. On the front label, there are simply the facts you need to know, to help you decide whether to buy it or not. And, for some reason, a picture of a steam roller. I can only guess that they are working through clip-art of traditional imagery, and that the next product will feature an anvil or a turnip. Nevertheless, this press release answers some questions.

Seam rollers aside, it says everything you need to know. Specifically, that it is “Cloudy Scrumpy” called “Old Rosie” that has been “Inspired by Tradition”. Toward the bottom are the vital statistics and a brief description. Westons describe it as “ lightly carbonated traditional scrumpy cider fully matured in old oak vats”. Even as just a part-time cider drinker, I like the sound of that. Those vital statistics are that this is your regular 500ml bottle and that the alcoholic volume is a heady 7.3%.

Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy back label

The back label is off-putting until you realise that nearly all of it is taken up with foreign language translations. Nevertheless, there are a few details worth reading. There is at the top a more detailed description of Old Rosie. They describe it thusly:

“A light, crisp and dry lightly carbonated scrumpy cider. Allowed to settle out naturally after fermentation to retain its cloudy appearance. Gently invert to ensure an even distribution of natural apple sediment.”

I don’t normally copy entire descriptions verbatim, but then I’ve never tried a cider that has so much to explain. Who am I to argue with the label? I will try holding it upside down for a minute or so before opening.

After that, we quickly reach small-print details, which I shall reel off in quick succession. The web address is www.westons-cider.co.uk. The Ledbury, Herefordshire postal address is on there. The cider does contain “sulphites to preserve freshness”. It is best served chilled and is suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs. Westons are a member of The National Association of Cider Makers. And, at 7.3% alcoholic volume in a 500ml bottle, it weighs in at 3.7 UK units of alcohol. So women, even a single bottle of this stuff it too much for you. Not that the women of Cardiff or Scotland will pay much attention to that.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time for the fun part and the reason you’re reading. What does Westons Old Rosie taste like? Will it be noticeably better than the big-name brands? Will it be worth the huge premium? The only way to find out will be to hold my fridge cooled bottle upside down for a minute and crack it open. When it’s the right way up, obviously.

Westons Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy poured into a glass

The whole process or turning it upside down for a couple of minutes was an interesting one. You could see the sediment slowly tumbling downwards to the top. Careful balancing, and you can get the bottle to sit upside-down on its top.

Pouring it was no problem. Westons Old Rosie is so lightly carbonated that there is no foam whatsoever. In fact, I can hardly see any bubbles in it at all. In the glass, it is the cloudiest and most naturally looking hue of straw-yellow I’ve ever seen.

How does Westons Old Rosie smell? Mildly of apples. Just as you’d hope for. But there’s a difference. Many ciders smell of apples in the same way that air-fresheners can smell of alpine berries; artificially. Old Rosie on the other hand smells like there are squished up scrumpy apples in the glass.

How does Westons Old Rosie taste? The first sip was an easy and pleasant one that made me burp moments later. As did the second one. But the taste is worth it. The label described it as “light, crisp and dry lightly carbonated”. I can’t disagree with those words. It is quite simply all of those words, together with a natural taste of apples and the tangy, citrusy quality that goes with it. The flavour is a light one of apples. And the aftertaste is a strong one of apples, bitterness, tanginess and citrus. Imagine eating a scrumpy apple. Drinking Old Rosie is a little like that, but in pleasant liquid form.

What am I enjoying about Westons Old Rosie? In two words, a lot. This is the most natural, proper and closest to ‘Real Cider’ that I’ve had the pleasure of trying. I like how natural it smells. I like that you can taste the sediment in each sip. I like very much how natural and apple-y it tastes. Yes, it does have a slightly bitter aftertaste, but not an off-putting one. If it was a beer, I’d describe it as well-balanced or bittersweet, because it’s neither very sweet, not very bitter. It’s not too gassy, with the burps soon subsiding. I also like how strong it is at 7.3% and the exclusivity of it.

What am I not enjoying about Westons Old Rosie? Unless you hate all cider, it’s difficult to find any reason to dislike Old Rosie. If I had to nitpick, I could say that the strong-ish finish to the taste could put off some girls and alcopop drinkers. I don’t think lager drinkers will be fazed by the aftertaste one jot, though. It is a palaver to find somewhere that sells it, and to serve it at the right temperature with the turning the bottle upside down first. But the biggest complaint is the price. Old Rosie may well become my favourite bottled cider, but at this price, I won’t be buying many bottles to take over to friends and family to spread the word.

How can I sum up Westons Old Rosie? It has completely won me over. By some distance, it is better than any other cider I’ve reviewed so far. I may not be able to tolerate mainstream cider ever again. Yes, it’s scarce and expensive, but that natural scrumpy taste and cloudiness make it worthwhile. Yes, it is that good.

Rating: 4.45

Have you tried Westons Old Rosie? What did you think? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Švyturys Baltas

30 October, 2010

IT’S a good day on this blog when I can tick-off a ‘must-try’. Today is just such a day. That is because I have here a bottle of Švyturys Baltas, bought for £1.70 pence from nearby East-European supermarket, Russkija Bazaar. Why is Baltas a ‘must-try’ in the first place? Well, it’s an unfiltered wheat beer and it comes highly recommended by you. Few other beers have been recommended by so many people in the comments sections on my other ‘reviews’. Švyturys Baltas even got a mention in a recent edition of Fuller’s First Draught magazine. It is, apparently, Lithuania’s most popular beer, and has won lots of awards. It’s taken years to finally find a bottle, so let’s get straight down to business.

Švyturys Baltas bottle

This Švyturys goes for the neck-foil approach, showing off their excellent embossed bottle. It’s a good looking thing, with an embossed Švyturys logo with the 1784 established date, and predictable hops and barley imagery at the bottom.

Švyturys Baltas embossed front logo

If you know your beer, it won’t be that which catches your eye. What you will notice is that it’s not dark or transparent, but opaque and white. Very noticeably so, when next to other bottles on the shop shelf. Who can blame Švyturys for wanting to show it off with as little obscuring it as they can get away with.

All the way up on the bottle top is the name “Baltas” and the words “Kvietinis Alus”. “Kvietinis” sounds a little like “wheat” and “Alus” I know means beer. So by clever deduction, “Kvietinis Alus” must mean “Rhubarb Crumble”. Or “Wheat Beer”, which frankly, is much more probable.

Down on the front of the neck-foil, in English, is pretty much all you need to know about Švyturys Baltas. Under the Švyturys logo are “White” “Baltas” and “Unfiltered Wheat Beer”.

Švyturys Baltas front neck foil

If you couldn’t already tell by the opaque white hue of the bottle, those words confirm it. If you like your beer cloudy and wheaty-white, any lingering uncertainty about choosing Švyturys Baltas will have just vanished.

The neck-foil doesn’t end there. It wraps around on both sides with some very hard to read text on both sides. For the benefit of the detail junkies out there, here is a photo of the right-side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas right of neck foil

The only interesting things I can read on it are that it’s best stored, or served, I can’t tell for sure because of wrinkles in the foil, at between 2 and 20 degrees C. Also, that it is pasteurised. Now that is a surprise. Under my admittedly limited knowledge, I would have thought that an unfiltered wheat beer wouldn’t be pasteurised. Shows how much I know.

For completeness, here is a photo of the other side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas left neck foil

This side has the vital statistics. That Švyturys Baltas has an alcoholic volume of 5% and that the bottle is 500ml. Next, in a multitude of languages, comes the list of ingredients. For the incurably detail hungry, they are “water, wheat malt, barley malt, hops, yeast”. Credit where it’s due, these imported bottles do a better job of the ingredients list than most domestic ones. Lastly, that imported status is confirmed with “Product of Lithuania” and a web address of www.svyturys.lt. A spot of clicking through product pages featuring photos of other Švyturys that you want to try finally brings me to the Lithuanian language product page for Švyturys Baltas: http://www.svyturys.lt/index.php/produkcija/91.

At long last, I’ve reached the good bit. What does Švyturys Baltas taste like? How will it compare to the other wheat beers that I love so dearly? Will I like Baltas as much as all of my blog commentors do? I’ve no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out. So, from fridge-cold, here is Švyturys Baltas poured into what is probably the wrong glass, but will have to do because it’s all I’ve got.

Švyturys Baltas poured into a glass

After an easy, non-glugging pour into my pint glass, everything looks and smells delicious. Unlike some other wheat beers, you can’t see yeast floating around. Instead, you get a vivid straw colour with a thick white head. Helpfully, everything fits neatly into a pint glass, so I’m happy.

What does Švyturys Baltas smell like? Beer writer Richard Morrice described as smelling of vanilla. I’m not so sure. It is vanilla-like in how immensely rich, fresh and uplifting it smells. I think it smells wheaty and citrusy. Like bread baked with oranges and lemons somehow stuck in the dough.

What does Švyturys Baltas taste of? One gulp and a sip in, and first impressions of Švyturys Baltas are that it is another example of good wheat beer. On the flavour side of the gulp, everything is light and mild. Pay close attention, and you notice wheat and malty, leading to a taste of fruit. This then smoothly transitions into the aftertaste and finish which taste of… Almost nothing, strangely. Okay, there is a light, beery, maltiness, but the bitter finish of nearly every beer I’ve ever tried is nowhere to be seen.

What am I enjoying about Švyturys Baltas? A lot as there is much to enjoy. I’m loving how light, refreshing and easy to drink it is. This is compared to other wheat beers, to lagers and so much else. This has to be down to the distinctive and unusual way it tastes. Yes, it tastes somewhat like most other wheat beers at first, but it has almost no bitter aftertastes. This makes it supremely easy to drink and no wonder it is so popular. Švyturys Baltas can easily be drink of choice for the boys and the girls. And it manages it without being sugary sweet and syrupy. I also love how good it smells. That it’s not gassy at all, so no big burps to worry about in social settings. It is rich and thick enough to feel like you’re drinking a real beer. And, outside of Lithuania, you get a sense of superiority by drinking something exclusive.

What don’t I like about Švyturys Baltas? If I had to nit-pick, I’d start with parts of the taste. Is the absence of aftertaste deliberate or an accident? What would it be like if that gorgeous wheaty-fruitiness lasted longer? Then there’s availability. The exclusivity, outside of Lithuania is awesome, but even my persistence was tested with trying to find a bottle. At least the price at £1.70 pence isn’t bad.

To sum up, Švyturys Baltas is one of the more distinctive and easy to drink wheat beers I’ve tried. In fact, it’s one of the most easy to drink beers I’ve tried. It’s right up there with watery lagers for being easy to drink, yet it is a ‘proper beer’. No wonder it’s won awards and become as popular as it is. You can glug a bottle down in a minute or savour every sip. And with no bitter aftertaste there’s nothing holding non-beer drinkers back from trying it. Švyturys Baltas is practically a beer without drawbacks.

Rating: 4.45

Have you tried Švyturys Baltas? What did you think of it? Can you translate the Lithuanian? Do please share your comments, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Batemans Combined Harvest Multigrain Beer

22 October, 2010

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you brewed ale using every grain type available? I have, but that question has thus far gone unanswered. Now however, from a Nisa Local shop on Old Street, London, comes the answer, in the form of this bottle:

Batemans Combined Harvest bottle

It is what I presume, Bateman’s standard issue, built-like-a-tank brown bottle. Embossed around the shoulder is the Bateman’s name, their windmill logo and “Est 1874”. There’s a strange, lumpen bulge around the neck of the bottle. Presumably it has something to do with stopping the beer ‘glugging’ when you try to pour it. It’s certainly not there for reasons of elegance.

Good news on the labels begins immediately with the neck label.

Batemans Combined Harvest neck label

“Gold Winner” at the “International Beer Awards” is something to be proud of. No wonder they advertise the fact right at the top of the bottle. Expectations are rising.

The main front label is a picture of idyllic, rural, agricultural imagery.

Batemans Combined Harvest front label

The top has the main facts. The name of the brewery, the name of the beer and the alcoholic volume are plain to see for anyone browsing the shop shelves. I’m surprised it’s not a little higher than 4.7% alcoholic volume, but why quibble over a few decimal points when the taste is as good as I’m imagining it will be.

The main part of the front label is a take on the roundel. Except this time, the roundel-y shape is made up of illustrations of hops and grains and other crops. Supposedly, the same things that went into this ale.

Helpfully explaining for dummies like me, why this is called “Combined Harvest” “Multigrain Beer”, are the names of the different arable crops that went into it. “Barley” is the staple. No surprise there. Then there’s “Wheat” which I remember from most of my all-time favourite beers. “Oats” and “Rye” are the surprises, and al combined, make you wonder what the heck it tastes of.

Fortunately, a back label crammed with facts helps you get to grips with what “Combined Harvest” is all about.

Batemans Combined Harvest back label

Not only do they have an exceptionally detailed description, but also a taste profile box. I love it when brewers don’t skimp on detail. With so much to get through, I better start at the top.

They open by describing it as “a unique combination of barley, oats, wheat and rye”. That it appeals to lots of different groups of drinker because of its “subtle, smooth bitterness”. We also learn that Batemans is “one of the few remaining family brewers”, having been brewing since 1874. And that they’re brewery is in the old windmill of the logo, “on the bank of the river Steeping”.

Then they take it up a notch. Instead of writing a description of the brew themselves, they instead print an independent description by celebrity beer writer and socialist, Roger Protz. Unlike me, he is an old school beer writer, so here he is quoted verbatim from the label:

“A bronze pale ale brewed with pale and crystal barley malts, combined with malted wheat oats and rye and hopped with Phoenix and Target varieties. The superb aroma is dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness, with a bready note from the rye. As it contains no fish based firings it is vegan friendly”.

He does rather well with that description. And so have Batemans for using it. It sounds as interesting as you can get.

Before reaching the taste profile chart, they also describe Combined Harvest as “an ideal accompaniment to most dishes due to its well balanced delicate flavours”. On to the taste profile chart itself, and I love these devices. Okay, it’s not called a ‘taste profile’ this time, but Badger who use it most consistently across their range, do. So what does this ‘taste profile’ tell us?

This ‘taste profile’ tells us values from one to ten for aroma, bitterness, fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. The main points we can take from the chart are that it has fruitiness and spiciness in abundance, and that it’s also quite malty and strong smelling. The fruitiness, spiciness and maltiness would come from the all of the grains squeezed into the bottle, and from strong hoppiness. The rest of it, I can’t wait to discover for myself.

Then we reach the small-print. For the curious, this is a 500ml bottle, which with its 4.7% alcoholic volume contents, comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol. In you want to write them a letter, their address in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire is printed. As is their web address of www.batman.co.uk. A website best described as trade orientated. Persevering with their website which looks like it was developed in 1999, I managed to find the Combined Harvest homepage at http://www.bateman.co.uk/BeerF.htm. If you want to subject yourself to the horror of a website that still uses frames in 2010, then go to http://www.bateman.co.uk/HomeF.htm.

On to the last bits of small-print, and there is a Vegan Society logo if you happen to be the sort of person who looks for such things. They also recommend that you “Serve Cool”. Not knowing whether my fridge counts as ‘cold’ rather than ‘cool’, I’m going to leave it in the fridge for just an hour or two before drinking it.

So what does Combined Harvest taste like? Finally, I’ve reached the part I’ve been looking forward to. With ale this complex, the only way to answer that question is to crack it open, so let’s do just that…

Batemans Combined Harvest poured into a pint glass

Pouring was no problem. The funny shaped neck causes it to come out in lots of tiny ‘glugs’ before settling into a smooth pour. In the glass, my fridge cooled Combined Harvest is a copper-amber colour. The head has depleted down to a patchy layer of white foam. And you can see a fair bit of carbonation in the glass.

How does Combined Harvest smell? Rogre Protz described the aroma as “superb” and being “dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness”. I’m going to ignore all that and describe it as smelling strongly of bread. A few more sniffs, and I’m figuring out that the breadiness comes from the wheaty maltiness. After getting used to it, a few sniffs later, I’m starting to fall into line with beer guru Roger Protz. I am now smelling a citrusy fruitiness that can only come form hoppiness.

What does Combined Harvest taste of? The ‘taste profile’ chart hinted at bags of fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. Beer legend Roger Protz didn’t describe the taste in his description. What a pity. That means you’ll have to go by mine instead.

So what does Combined Harvest taste of? The first gulp is an easy and yummy one, leaving the first impression of that this is going to epitomise what a British ale could and should be. A couple more equally easy and pleasant gulp confirms the direction in which Batemans Combined Harvest is going.

On the flavour side of the gulp, you have a nice, light, savoury maltiness. On the aftertaste and finish side of the gulp, you have a smooth, gentle bitter finish and the taste of that maltiness, carrying with it hints of the taste of all the grain types that went into it. None of them are overpowering. You begin to think of bread, but then the citrusy, spicy, hoppy bitterness creeps in. All of which leave your tongue swiftly, making Combined Harvest very easy to drink.

What am I loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? I’m loving that they took the risk of putting every grain they have into it. I like the distinctive taste experience it gives you. And I love how, despite being a complex, unusual beast, it remains immensely light and easy to drink. Well balanced is another way of putting it. There is no strong bitterness to scare you away. I also like that it isn’t too gassy. And I like very much how good the bottle labels are.

What am I not loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? It is not perhaps, the taste explosion that I was expecting. There’s no in your face flavour. Eight out of ten for “Fruitiness” on a ‘taste profile chart’ from other brewers might have produced much fruitier results. It’s also very hard to find and quite expensive. At least here in London.

To conclude, Batemans Combined Harvest will remind you why you love British ale. It takes chances, it does things differently, it’s delicious and very drinkable. If you can’t tell, I like it.

Rating: 4.3

Have you tried Batemans Combined Harvest? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.

Snack Food Review: “Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post”

30 September, 2010

AN unusually quick review this evening. Mostly because there’s not much to say about this particular snack food. Why post at all? Because I know there are a LOT of people out there who love their pork scratchings as much as I do, which is why I picked up this enigmatic bag whilst in Cardiff recently.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” bag

At a stall in the temporary outdoor foot market in Cardiff Bay was a purveyor of pork scratchings. For £2 per bag, you get this large, transparent bag. The only thing to describe about it is the business card contained within.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” card

There you have it. Going by their pricing, what looks like good value pork scratchings by post. You have to admire the ambition of calling them “Britains Best Pork Scratchings”.

The Yahoo.co.uk email address hints at the fact that they don’t have a website. And the “quite” typo which should probably read as “Keep the old man quiet gift”, confirming that these aren’t the product of a large manufacturer.

Every single one of these packaging quirks and shortcomings can be immediately forgiven if the scratching are delicious. I’m looking for decent sized pieces, flavour and taste without excessive-salting and a generously sized bag. Well, we’re off to a flying start with that last point.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” close up

Here’s a photo of the first few pieces I grabbed. Hoping that they’re representative, you’ve got to say that they haven’t skimped on size. The porky and seasoned smell is not bad either, plus they’re not too greasy to the touch.

What are they like? Some pieces are hard as granite, some have soft porkiness. Seasoning, if there’s any at all, is light and I can barely taste the salt.

What do I like so far? I’m loving that they are straightforward, uncomplicated, good value pork scratching. The variety and hand-made feel are all good.

What don’t I like so far? If you’re looking for a sophisticated, seasoned snack, this isn’t for you. Some of the harder bits are also nearly as hard to chew as boiled sweets.

To sum up, these seemingly unbranded pork scratchings “by post” are good. If you like your pork scratchings to be traditional, straightforward and uncomplicated, these are for you. If you do have a dad or uncle who likes traditional pork scratching with a bottle of ale, I’ve no doubt these would be a great little gift. Now I’m going to stop eating, and save the rest of the bag for when I have a beer to enjoy them with.

Have you tried these? What did you think of them? Are you the man who made them? If so, then leave a comment below!

Beer Review: St. George Beer

24 September, 2010

MONTHS ago, I vowed not to ‘review’ the national beers of hot countries anymore. Inevitably, once away from their home country, those beers lose what makes them special. Then I compare it to high quality ale and lager, and then people from the beer’s country of origin take it as an insult, and express their disgust in the comments section.

Sometimes however, curiosity gets the better of me. That’s exactly what happened when I found an Ethiopian shop in central London (WC1) near King’s Cross. There was no way I could miss the opportunity to try an Ethiopian beer. So, cast your eyes upon St. George Beer.

St. George Beer bottle

The bottle is generic and brown. There is only one label; the yellow one on the front. And I don’t care about those things, because it’s come all the way from East Africa and it still only cost £1.29 pence.

St. George Beer front label

The label has just enough English language for you to guess what you’re getting. The top corners for instance give the alcoholic volume as 4.5% and the contents as being 33cl. They describe it as a “Premium Lager Beer”. And, best of all, it is “Ethiopian Beer Brewed & Bottled by BGI Ethiopia”. I’m just glad it is genuinely imported.

The most confusing thing about the label is the name and logo. It has a Medieval knight, apparently engaged in dragon slaying. And it’s called St. George Beer. Why is this? None of that imagery is African. Nor is it a colonial remnant, because Ethiopia was, according to this website, never colonised.

The rest of the writing is, I assume, in the Amharic language. Translators, if you can translate what it says, leave a comment at the end of this post.

There is not, it seems any official website for this beer. But I did find a lot of questions answered about Ethiopian beer at http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/ethiopian_beers.html. The most shocking fact of all, being that Ethiopia has a well established brewing industry. I’m truly impressed.

With no more labels to write about, it’s time for the taste test. It doesn’t say “serve cold” anywhere, but I’m going to guess that if you’re in Ethiopia, you’d want your beer to be a touch chilly. With that in mind, this one has been in the fridge. Now let’s crack it open and try some Ethiopian beer.

St. George Beer poured into a glass

Even with the rough ride home I gave the bottle, it didn’t froth up. In fact, it was easy-peasy to pour. In my half-pint glass (which wasn’t big enough for the full 33cl), this fridge-cold St. George Beer is clear, carbonated and yellow. A thin, patchy layer of which foam sits atop the liquid.

What does St. George Beer smell like? A variation on the same malted barley formula that all Pilsner style lagers smell off. This one however, does seem to have a richness and intensity to the smell that is uncommon.

For the taste, because it’s a lager, I’m looking for a clean, crisp and refreshing character. A distinctive hoppy finish is an optional bonus. So, what does St. George Beer taste like? The first gulp went down without problem. So did the second. First impressions are that it’s going to be a solid, normal lager.

Being a lager, there’s nothing on the flavour side of the equation, but there is on the taste and aftertaste finish. With St. George Beer, the transition is smooth, but prompt and definite. You know you’ve reached the aftertaste by the malted barley taste. A taste that starts mild, but keeps on building, somehow becoming more evident with each gulp.

What am I enjoying about St. George Beer? I like how it seems to be a perfectly acceptable, honest, well made lager. Why do I think it’s well made? Because, at least whilst cold, it is pretty clean, crisp and refreshing. And it wouldn’t be those things with good ingredients. It also scores points for being all the way from Ethopia.

What don’t I like about St. George Beer? It did make me burp a lot, but that could be down to the bottle riding in my back pack on the walk and bus ride home. The main grips is that taste. It’s not quite a love it or hate it lager, but it’s nearly there. That rather intense malted barley taste won’t be for everybody. A few more touches like a hint of hoppiness would be nice too.  Still, St. George Beer is all the way from Ethopia.

How can I sum up St. George Beer? Ethopia has produced a lager and it’s perfectly fine! So it’s lacking in sophistication and you could lump it with other hot country lager beers. But come on.  It’s not from South-East Asia or South America. It’s from Ethopia in East Africa, on the doorsteps of one of the world trouble spots. It’s like Luxembourg starting a space program. I’m just impressed that it exists and that it’s perfectly drinkable.

Rating: 3

Have you tried St. George Beer? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the label?

Do please leave your comments, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Pacifico Clara

14 September, 2010

YES, I do read your comments. That’s why, whilst browsing the shelves of the Bethnal Green Food Center, the name Pacifico rang a bell. That means I open this post with a thank you to the people who recommended Pacifico in the comments section of my reviews of Mexico’s lack-lustre big-name beers. For those of you, like me, who’d never heard of it before, here’s what it looks like. At least in its export version, Pacifico Clara form.

Pacifico Clara bottle

It’s a svelte, un-fussy, brown bottle. The big yellow label is equally straight forward.

Pacifico Clara front label

It’s yellow. So you can guess that it comes from a hot country. The only graphics are an illustration of a life ring with an anchor and what looks like a silhouette of land in the background. This compact square inch of nautical imagery leaves me baffled until I realise that Pacifico refers to the Pacific ocean.

That same poor grasp of Spanish comes in handy with the rest of the label. I’ve done enough of these labels now, to know that “Cerveza” means “beer”. That “Clara” means “clear”, hinting that there might be a dark version of this beer out there. And the slogan “La cerveza del pacific” means “The beer of the Pacific”. Unless, of course, I’m wrong, in which case, leave your correct translation in the comments section.

The vital statistics are clear enough for even me to read easily. This is a 35.5 cl, 355 ml bottle, and the alcoholic volume is an unremarkable 4.5%. Under all of this, it quickly becomes a dense block of multi-lingual small print and symbols. Because of the gold on yellow colours, this is nearly unreadable.

Fortunately, I can make out the main facts. First, it really is “Imported Beer from Mexico”. Not some domestic imitation of a Mexican beer (I can’t think of anything worse). Lastly it has 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

What;s on the back label? This is what’s on the back.

Pacifico Clara back of bottle

With that out of the way, we can get to the interesting part. Will Pacifico Clara be the best Mexican beer that I’ve tried? Let’s find out. For this test, I’ve cooled it to fridge temperature and I won’t be adding any lemon or lime. Because Pacifico Clara will almost certainly be a pilsner style lager beer, I’ll be looking for clean, crisp refreshment and ease of drinking.

Pacifico Clara poured into a glass

If you do what I did and try and pour it into a half-pint glass, the first thing you’ll notice is that 355ml won’t go. Seeing as most people will probably be swigging it from the bottle, that won’t be a problem.

In the glass, it looks like any other pilsner style lager: yellow and fizzy. This one does lack a head though with just the odd patch of white foam. Pacifico Clara doesn’t smell surprising either. The only odour I could detect was a variation of the same malted barley blend that all lagers have. Quite strong smelling too, I must say.

What does Pacifico Clara taste like? The first gulp was a, easy one. So was the second. No surprises and so far, everything much as you’d hope for from a lager from a hot country. If you’ve ever tried a pilsner style lager (you’re reading this blog, therefore you have), then you’ll know what to expect from the taste and flavour. That frees me up to focus on the minutiae that pleases the detail freaks so much.

There is no flavour. No surprise there. There’s almost no taste and aftertaste either. The transition from where the flavour would be to where the aftertaste is, is so gentle as to make you think you missed it. There’s a gentle, slight bitterness. That mild bitterness fades away to almost nothing. Then a barley-malt powered, mild bitterness pops up out of nowhere, leaving a surprisingly long finish. This is the most noticeable part of the entire gulp.

What am I enjoying about Pacifico Clara? Well it is clean, crisp and refreshing. It’s also very easy to drink. These are undeniable facts. It possesses all the qualities that a hot country lager is usually judged by. I like the straightforward honesty of the beer and the bottle. And I like the reports that it’s what the locals would probably choose.

What don’t I like about Pacifico Clara? The cleanness, crispness, refreshment and drinkability come at a price. And that price is watery-ness and lack of taste and character. If you want a thirst quenching, refreshing and drinkable beverage, tap water is an option you may want to consider instead. It would have the added benefit of being less gassy than Pacifico Clara.

To sum up, Pacifico Clara is different to the big-name Mexican beers by being a trade-off. It trades taste for drinkability. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it for that. On a hot day, no one would complain about a cold bottle of Pacifico Clara. In a rainy, autumnal London however, there’s something seriously lacking. All of which means that Pacifico Clara is pretty good and doing what it does. Even if few of us love it for that.

The closest competitor I can think of is Aguila from nearby Colombia. That too, opted for the watery drinkability compromise. And I’m sure you can think of others.

Is Pacifico Clara my favourite Mexican beer? On a hot day in Mexico, probably. At least until I try one that I can really love. When that happens, you’ll read about it here.

Rating: 3.3

Have you tried Pacifico Clara? What did you think? Leave your translations, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Badger Cricket

5 September, 2010

THIS year’s meagre summer has made a feeble reappearance this week. Seizing the moment, I bought a bottle of one of this year’s Badger summer ales from the Hall & Woodhouse stable. This one is called Cricket, and cost an outrageous £2.29 pence from the Bethnal Green Food Center.

Badger Cricket bottle

I love Badger ales. Not only are their beers high quality and quirky, as all British ale should be, but they get how important a useful back label is. How is Hall & Woodhouse one of the only industry players who understand that value of this? How?

The neck-label gets things going marvellously.

Badger Cricket neck label

I like the summer-y yellow, and the pictures of musical notes and hops floating around. But most of all, I like that they sum it up with two simple words: “Beautifully composed.” Simply because when you’re glancing at a shop shelf full of bottles, you need something to tell you something about the character of the beer you’re looking at. From those two words, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be a well balanced, solid all-rounder.

The sense of Summer and of fun continues on the front label.

Badger Cricket front label

There’s a jolly, if frightening image of, presumably, a cricket. Who, for some reason, is playing a fiddle, amidst a backdrop of falling leaves and hops.

Sticking with Badger conventions, the vital statistics are exactly where you expect them to be. In the corners, one can easily identify this as a 500ml bottle, and that the beer within is a moderate 4.4%.

Toward the top, they elaborate somewhat on the description, with “Harmonious Notes of Lemongrass”. Straight off, I can’t remember what lemongrass is supposed to taste of. Maybe if I shopped in Islington, I would do. For now, I am content that lemongrass sounds like the right sort of flavour to have in your summer salad or ale.

Again, sticking to Badger tradition, the back label is outstandingly helpful.

Badger Cricket back label

The ‘story’ opens by explaining the connection to crickets. No, they’re not an ingredient. Rather “the hum of crickets on a summer evening” is “the perfect background to enjoy this fresh, zingy ale”. They go on to describe it as “ well hopped with a depth of character complemented by harmonious notes of lemongrass”. Sounds lovely. They even suggest that it would go “well with barbecued Tiger prawns or a light Thai curry”.

This being a Badger, they go one step further, with their immensely helpful taste profiles. If this is the first Badger ale you’ve seen, have a look at the close-up below. They describe how it looks, smells and tastes, and rate the bitterness, sweetness, hoppiness, maltiness and fruitiness from 0 to 5.

Badger Cricket back label taste profile

The taste profile pretty much backs up the “Beatifully composed” quote. It does look like it’s going to be a fruity, balanced ale.

Down in the small-print, there’s the usual smattering of facts and warnings. For those that care, Cricket’s combination of bottle size and alcoholic volume means that it has 2.2 UK units of alcohol. The full Dorset postal address is on there, in case you want to write them a letter. And their website is given as www.badgerales.com.  A quick browse of which leads us to the homepage for Cricket at http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/beers/badgerales/lemonycricket.asp on which for some reason, they refer to it as Lemony Cricket.

Does Cricket taste as good as I’m expecting it to? How close are the label descriptions to what I can taste? Let’s find out.

Badger Cricket poured into a glass

Nowhere on the bottle did it say “Serve Chilled”. Being a summer ale I took a chance on leaving it in the fridge for a while. If you know the right temperature to serve it at, leave a comment at the end.

Cricket was easy to pour. Even I was able to decant it into a pint glass with minimal glugging, leaving a patchy covering of foam, sitting atop the brew. What does Critcket look like? The taste profile describes it as “Tawny, golden brown”. I can’t disagree. That said, the word that popped into my mind was “copper”.

What does Badger Cricket smell like? The taste profile describes it as “Robust citrus hop and lemongrass”. First impressions are that it’s not a simple smell. There’s a lot of complementary odours buried in there. Which is what you want from ale. I’ll describe the smell as like that of a hedgerow. Agricultural with lots of foliage. Specifically, a zingy hoppiness. I think it smells lovely. Like a proper old ale.

What does Badger Cricket taste like? The taste profile describes it as “Malt with citrus undertones”. And of course there’s the rest of the label description and taste profile to go on. Once again, those Badger label copywriters are spot on. What you taste is exactly how they describe it. A fact that renders this review unnecessary.

That aside, first gulps of this fridge cold Cricket are that it’s easy to drink and tastier than those ciders that get all the attention at this time of year. On the flavour side of the gulp, there’s little to report. On the taste and finish side of the gulp, you feel how well balanced it is. You can taste the maltiness, hoppiness and some citrusy zing, subtly coming together. All of which leaves your mouth with a long lasting, slightly dry, bitter finish, that’s balanced in a way that makes it more palatable that it sounds. The main impressions it leaves you with is how malty, zingy, light and refreshing it is.

What am I enjoying about Badger Cricket? I’m liking how they’ve somehow managed to fuse rich, ale-like qualities, with a light, refreshing summer ale. For ages, I complained that the summer ales all stuck to the same old formula. Cricket does something different. At last! I also like the zing, the smell, and how it doesn’t make you burp,

What am I not enjoying about Badger Cricket? I want to say that it would appeal to more people if it was sweeter and fruitier. But Badger already does ales that are like that. A little more citrusy zing and a little less malt perhaps? Unless you take the view that the genius behind Cricket is that it has complex maltiness in a refreshing summer ale form. Something we call all agree on is that it is too difficult to find and the £2.29 pence I paid for it is shocking.

How can I sum up Badger Cricket? It is a proper ale, that’s also a summer ale. A niche that’s remained unfilled for too long. I’ve complained here time and again that every brewer produces nearly identical summer ales. Well, here’s the answer. It tastes malty and hoppy, and it looks the right colour. Yet it also has some zing, and it’s light, refreshing and very easy to drink. All of which scores it serious points.

Rating: 4.275

Have you tried Badger Cricket? What did you think of it?

Have you got anything to add or correct? What about your own recommendations and places to buy? Leave your comments here!

Beer Review: Ursus Premium

29 July, 2010

AFTER the disappointment of Timişoreana, can Romania redeem itself? Hopes are high for this promising looking green bottle of Ursus Premium. Again, bought for about £1.59 pence from the Romanian shop in Edgware, North London.

Ursus Premium bottle

It’s called Ursus Premium, but how premium is it? Well, it has neck-foil. The beer bottle equivalent of pleasing, melodic front door bell.

Ursus Premium neck foil

Down on the front label, and Ursus Premium sports a conventional roundel.

Ursus Premium front label

The bottom border say “King of Beer in Romania”. Whilst the top border has “Regele Berii In Romania”, which, I think, both mean exactly the same thing. In the middle, “Foundat 1878”, making a wild guess, could possibly mean “Founded 1978”.

Elsewhere, things are kept clear and uncluttered. In the bottom half, there are what look like medals. Squinting closely, it looks like they won the prestigious Monde Selection, international silver medal in 2005. I can tell you, having seen that sort of award on bottles before, that only the good ones get it. Expectations are rising then, for Ursus Premium.

The top half of the roundel has a picture of a bear, for some reason wearing a crown. Head-wear aside, two seconds of Googling reveals a Wikipedia page here, enlightening us that “Ursus” is Latin for “bear”. We can only speculate if either the “King of Beer in Romania” or the Ursus bear was crowned, only after a typo.

Over on the back-label, things are the way I like them. Impossible to understand. Translators, I need your help again. What does it all say?

Ursus Premium back label

There are however, a few things even I can pick out from the label. It’s pasteurised, not draught, for instance. The official Romanian website for Ursus is at www.regeleberii.ro. Which doesn’t work. So go to http://www.ursus.ro/ instead. It’s a 0.5L bottle, and the alcoholic volume is the usual 5%. Lastly, Ursus Breweries is part of the South-African beer monster, SAB Miller.

In short, there’s nowhere near enough understandable detail on the label to quench my curiosity. So I spent a couple of minutes doing research. By which I mean Googling to read what strangers had to say. A process which quickly led me to the Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursus_%28beer%29. Upon which we learn that Ursus comes from the city of Cluj, and that they do make beers I want to try but can’t. Ursus Black, dark lager and Stejar strong beer, for example.

Until those beers turn up in a London Romanian shop, it looks like the medal winning Ursus Premium will be the best we can get. Which returns to my original question… How good is Ursus Premium? What is it like and should you buy it? This is probably a Pilsner style lager, so I’ll be looking for clean, crisp, refreshing, hop tinged, easy to drink beer. So let’s crack it open and see if it is…

Ursus Premium poured

Fridge cold, my bottle of Ursus Premium was easy to pour. The white froth, filling my pint glass to the brim perfectly.

In the glass, the yellow, gold coloured liquid looks clear. And it would be, were it not for the massive carbonation. In the time it’s taken to get this far in the description, that full, white head of froth is already half what it started out as. Hopefully it won’t decay any further. I think it looks good. For a lager.

What does Ursus Premium smell of? Lager. Predictably, it has that familiar odour of blended malted barley, that most big-name lagers suffer from. Living up to its Premium billing, that smell is more delicate and ever-so-slightly more hoppily tinged than it’s cousin, Timişoreana.

Finally, you’ve reached the part of this review that you skipped the rest for. What does Ursus Premium taste like? The first couple of gulps were uneventful. So uneventful, it may be difficult to think up words to describe it. First impressions are that it’s lagery.

To elaborate, my fridge chilled Ursus Premium has a neutral, tasteless impression on the palate. But that’s ok. Most lagers don’t try and do anything there. Instead, it hinges on the all important aftertaste and finish. And Ursus Premium’s aftertaste rolls onto the tongue smoothly, but with increasing intensity. You can feel the carbonation, and you’re left with a long-lasting lagery bitterness.

Where Timişoreana was like being hit in the face with a brick made of taste. Ursus Premium is like that first big drop on a rollercoaster. It starts off slowly and smoothly, but a moment later everything’s intense, and you’re either loving it or wanting to stop.

What am I enjoying about Ursus Premium? A premium Pilsner style lager is usually supposed to be clean, crisp and refreshing. Bonus points if it’s also easy to drink and has some distinctiveness like hoppiness. Ursus Premium, to its credit is pretty clean, crisp, refreshing and easy to drink. At least while cold. Lager boys will like it’s lagery taste, an might even call it distinctive, compared to the big-name lagers. I’m just pleased to have found a drinkable Romanian lager. And that will earn you social points for originality, should you decide to bring it to a social gathering or family occasion.

What don’t I like about Ursus Premium? Not everyone is going to like that taste. I can’t imagine many girls enjoying that intense, bitter taste. That strange ‘taste curve’ it has probably won’t go well with curry, although leave a comment if you’ve tried it. It is one of the fizziest beers I’ve ever tried, so it will make you burp. And, if you’re not in Romania, it’s going to be imported, hard to find and very expensive. For the premium you’ll pay, there will be much better tasting ales to buy instead.

To sum up, Ursus Premium is a perfectly drinkable, strangely tasting lager that I’ve warmed to over the course of this review. Nearly at the bottom of the glass now, and I’ve gotten over that unusual bitterness rush. If you’re in Romania, I have no problem recommending it. If you’re anywhere else though, there are much better beers and ales for the price. And that makes it one mostly for the beer explorers and Romanian ex-pats.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Ursus Premium? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the labels? Got and recommendations of your own, or places to buy? Then leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Timişoreana

22 July, 2010

HAVE you tried Romainian beer? Neither have I. To remedy that, I brought back two interesting looking bottles from the Romanian shop in Edgware, North London. This is the first one, Timişoreana.

Timişoreana bottle

Breaking with Big Log tradition, I did some research first. And by research, I mean spending a couple of minutes Googling what strangers have to say. The net result is that the official Romanian language website is at http://www.serbariletimisoreana.ro/. And the best English language summary is on the Real Beer Blog; on which we learn that this is probably Romania’s oldest beer (or “bere” as they prefer to call it). And that it’s now owned and run by the makers of the Romanian beer that I’ll post about next. Everything else, we can glean from the bottle labels themselves. I hope.

Timişoreana neck label

The neck label has a picture of a frothy tankard and some writing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “Anno 1718” means that’s the date the brewery dates from. Quite impressive for the region.

Down on the main front label, they’ve opted for a big roundel with an even bigger letter “T” in the middle.

Timişoreana front label

In the middle of it all are what look like medals. The one of the left looks like a prize from “1891”. The big middle one is a “Grand Prix” from 1908. And the one of the right is un-readably small.

I learnt somewhere that the Romanian language is much like the Latin world languages of Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Let’s put that, and my limited knowledge of Latin Indo-European linguistics to the test by attempting to make sense of the words around the edges of the label. The bottom one, I think, means something like “Best” or “First” “Made Beer in Romania”. The top border might mean something about “Very” and “Traditional”. Translators, help me out. What does it all mean?

If the front label left me struggling, I might as well give up on the back one.

Timişoreana back label

Translators, I need your help again.

Ignoring the writing, there are things even I can understand. The 5% alcoholic volume for instance. The web address of www.serbariletimisoreana.ro and telephone number. The best before date. That this is a 0.5 litre bottle. And that it’s owned by Ursus Breweries and brew-zilla, SAB Miller.

Digging a little deeper into the Romanian language, I spot the words “Bere Blondă Pasteurisată”. So, it’s pasteurised, not draught. Fine, but “Blondă”? Is this going to impress me by being a blonde ale and not a Pilsner style lager?

Next comes the address of the brewery. Timişoara must inspiration behind the name Timişoreana. Then comes the list of ingredients, and I’m all out of linguistic talent again.

So, big thank you to the translators out there who’ve done most of the describing for me, this time around. Now it’s on to the fun bit. What does Timişoreana taste like?

Timişoreana poured into a glass

I take a chance on it being a lager, and wait until it’s fridge-cold until opening. Pouring is a doddle. That big frothy head is as controllable as any, so no counter tops to wipe down afterwards.

In the glass, it’s a very fizzy looking yellow, gold colour. The head is snow white. On the nose, you get a big whiff of that malted-barley formula that most big-name Pilsner style lagers deliver. Quite grainy and ever so slightly hoppy. I’d describe it as lagery.

What does Timişoreana taste like? The first gulp was easy enough. So I promptly took another swig. Then the aftertaste hit me. First impressions are that Timişoreana is going to be a lager as subtle as Mel Gibson.

On the flavour and taste side of the equation, you get a reasonable sourness and initial bitterness. This you can skip by gulping it down, if that’s your style. On the feel and aftertaste side of the equation, you get hit by just a block of lagery, malted barley bitterness. No quirks or flourishes. Just a block of simple, lagery bitterness. So brute force is it, that it’s a long lasting finish. No hoppiness as far as I can tell. Just that another twist on that familiar malted barley formula.

What am I enjoying about Timişoreana? Cold from the fridge, it’s easy enough to drink. It’s an honest, simple, down to earth lager. That taste is distinctive. And if you judge your beers by quantity, Timişoreana could easily be your friend over the course of a football match or night out.

What don’t I like about Timişoreana? It’s not the most sophisticated lager I’ve tried. That taste is as enjoyable as meningitis, and only gets worse as it reaches room temperature. A good lager is clean, crisp and refreshing. Even while cold, it is barely refreshing. After a couple of bottles, your mouth would quickly feel like a muddy puddle. It’s a little on the gassy side, too.

How can I sum up Timişoreana? If you’re in Romania, where, hopefully, it’s much cheaper than it is here in Britain, and you want a sub-standard lager, this is the one for you. If you have no choice and you prefer quantity over quality, Timişoreana is adequate. For the premium you pay in this country, and even in the depths of Romania, it’s hard to think of a reason to choose Timişoreana over something better. If you can think of a good reason to buy Timişoreana, leave a comment. Otherwise, treat yourself to something less ghastly.

Rating: 2.1

Have you tried Timişoreana? What did you think of it? Can you translate the labels? Then leave a comment here!

Beer Review: Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer

26 April, 2010

A NEW beer turned up in the Brick Lane off-license a few months ago. Taking the spotlight from, but not replacing the colourful, mock-Bengali curry beer, Bangla Premium Beer, is another beer designed to compliment your curry. Costing a national deficit creating £2.95 pence, here is a bottle Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer bottle

Nowhere near as bright as Bangla, there’s no mistaking the India and curry connection. It might say “Premium” on the label, but it looks economy. Even so, we know better than to judge a beer by its bottle.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer neck label

The neck-label hints at why it really is “Premium”. “Slow brewed in India” is why I hope it’s going to be worth your time.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer front label

It’s called “Taj Mahal” and has a photo of said Indian landmark to prove it. To hammer home the point of this beer, the label background seems to be taken from the wallpaper from a curry-house.

Cosmetics aside, it does say everything you need it to say. It has the word “lager”, so you’ll know where to align your expectations. It’s a big 650ML bottle and the alcoholic volume is 4.5%. Normally I’d be moaning about it not being very high, but this is a curry beer. Trust me, the last thing you want to cool your mouth down with is Robinson’s Old Tom Strong Ale.

Then there’s the few more hints about why I’m hoping that Taj Mahal is going to turn out well. “Slow brewed in India from the finest malt & hops”. First, it’s brewed in India. Not a deceptive pretend-foreign beer like so many others. Second, fine ingredients are always good. There are still a lot of questions though. Let’s see what the back label has to say…

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer back label

Quite a lot, apparently. All of which I’d class as small-print. I know you love details so, (takes a deep breath), here goes…

Ingredients are “barley malt, adjuncts, hops for bitterness”. Some hoppiness is good for a lager. But what the heck are “adjuncts”? Leave a comment if you know.

It’s “best served chilled” and you need to “consume within day of opening”. Whether that means it’ll still be good to top-up your hangover with your Pot Noodle breakfast the next morning is unclear.

It is, I’m utterly delighted to report, “Produce of India for export”. It was even “Brewed under license from United Breweries Limited, Bangalore, India by Blossom Industries Ltd., Village Jani Vankad Nani Daman 396 210”.

Also on there are the details of the imported and exporter. The Hertfordshire based importer is SOP International Ltd, with a website at www.sopinternational.com and a homepage at http://www.sopinternational.com/d-chi467-taj-mahal-taj-mahal-premium-lager-beer/. The Indian exporter is UB Global with a website at www.ub-global.com and an interesting beer page at http://www.ub-global.com/beer.html.

And that’s all the small-print. So, what does Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer taste like? How does it compare to the other curry beers? Not just the against specialists like Bangla, Cobra and Kingfisher, but the ones that get it spot-on by accident, like Grolsch and Holsten Pils. It’s time to find out.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer poured into a glass

This fridge cold bottle poured so easily, not even I made it glug. Much. For those of you, like me, who don’t do Euro measuring, 650 millilitres (the size of this bottle) is more than a Pint glass can hold. As I discovered.

What does Taj Mahal look like? In the glass, it’s predictably Pilsner lager yellow. Very carbonated, yet it only manages a thin, patchy layer of foam. It really is very fizzy. So much so, the fizzing is audible.

What does Taj Mahal smell like? If you’ve ever sniffed a Pilsner lager before, you’ll have a good idea. It has that familiar whiff of malted barley. At this stage, I was hoping to smell at least a some hoppiness. But alas, I can detect none.

What does Taj Mahal taste like? The first two gulps are easy ones. Being a lager, especially one for your curry, you might not expect it to have flavour. And… it doesn’t.

A good curry beer needs to be refreshing, clean and crisp, ideally with a mild, bitterness. And a few gulps in, that seems to be what Taj Mahal is. While it’s cold, it feels refreshing, clean and crisp. But does it have the bitter, hoppy finish? It is slow brewed and even mentions “hops for bitterness” on the label. Apparently, they didn’t add all that many hops. You just can’t taste them. You do get one of the gentlest, mildest bitter finishes of any lager, ever. Will that be enough to soothe your mouth from chilli agony? Only partly, I suspect.

What am I liking about Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? While it’s cold, it is supremely easy to drink. Even not beer drinkers will be fine. It is very accessible to the curry munching masses that frequent Brick Lane every evening. If you like your lagers to be clean, crisp and refreshing, Taj Mahal fits the bill nicely. Rather surprisingly, it’s not gassy. And it’s one of the few that comes in bigger-than-a-pint 650ml bottles.

What am I disliking about Taj Mahal? That drinkability and refreshment comes at the expense of watery-ness. It is very light and watery. Normally I like that in a lager. But for something that’s “slow brewed” and so bloody expensive, you expect more than fizzy water. And that leads onto the next issue. The price. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was exclusive ale brewed with myrrh. But it’s a curry beer, to be drunk in vast quantities because your mouth is on fire. With so little in the flavour and taste department, it’s also lacking anything to differentiate it, or to add any charm. And, as it gradually reaches room temperature, which it inevitably will, it loses some of the crisp, refreshing-ness.

How can I sum up Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? I would like to try it with a curry because it would probably do rather well. At least while it’s cold, it is crisp and refreshing enough to extinguish the inferno raging in your mouth during a curry.

Compared to my other curry favourites, it’s no failure. But neither does it win. It’s just lacking something in the taste department that the others have. Something hoppy. If you’re having a night out, need a beer for your curry and have the money to spend, Taj Mahal is perfectly fine.

Normally, I like simple, cheap, watery lagers. They’re honest and drinkable, so I rate them highly. Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer though is slow brewed and expensive. Sure, Taj Mahal is fine, but cheap lagers a third of the price are at least as good. For that, I’m rating it low.

Rating: 2.3

Have you tried Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your comments and recommendations down here.

Beer Review: Starij Melnik Gold

1 April, 2010

BAD news for fans of high-brow British and European ale. I’ve got my hands on another obscure Russian lager. Still, that’s good news for fans of unusual East-European beers. It’s also a chance to re-try something I haven’t had since my gap-year travels when it looked like this…

Old Starij Melnik bottle in Siberia, Russia

From local East-European wonderland, Russkij Bazar, here is a bottle of what I think is called Starij Melnik Gold. Self-evidently priced at £1.65 pence.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle

First impressions are of how different it looks to the one I had in Siberia. If you know the difference between the Gold I have here and the other one I tried, do please leave a message in the comments section at the end of this post.

Second impressions are that they’ve put effort into it. Have a look at these grips. Should your bottle be wet, or your drunkenness highly advanced, it won’t slip from your grasp as easily.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle grips

The side-effect is that the back label small-print has been squished into a crowded neck-label.

Starij Melnik Gold  left neck labelStarij Melnik Gold middle neck labelStarij Melnik Gold right neck label

After pouring over it with an electron microscope, I’ve been able to glean some facts. The ingredients are “water, barley malt, glucose syrup with malt sugar (wheat, maize), hops” and it is “pasturized”. It has an alcoholic volume of 5.2%. And, unhelpfully, it has the web-address of www.monolith-gruppe.eu. Unhelpful because it’s no longer obvious where Starij Melnik Gold comes from. The Italian language section mentions a Moscow based Efes Moscow Brewery, but the word “imported” is proving elusive. Leave a comment if you can shed some light on this mystery.

Starij Melnik Gold front label

Translators, do you thing in the comments section! As labels go, this one is basic. The imitation stamp in the corner says something about tradition. And I’m not entirely sure that the name translation on the label is correct. On the neck label, it translates the name as Starij Melnik Gold. But the first word, I’m nearly fairly sure, it more like “Smarij”, not “Starij”. Translators, what is going on here?

And because that’s all I can translate, it’s the end the boring description bit. What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? How does it compare to other lagery beers and should you bother buying it? Let’s twist open the bottle top and write some opinionated hyperbole.

In a pint glass, this fridge cooled bottle of Starij Melnik Gold looks much like any other lager. The long neck of the bottle makes it almost impossible to pour without glugging, so you end up with a head that somehow completely fills but doesn’t overflow a pint glass. Now that’s foresight.

The liquid itself is yellow and fizzy. The head is white. Even a few minutes after pouring, it’s still topped by a thick layer of foam. Not bad at all.

Have you ever sniffed a cold glass of any mainstream lager? Then you’ll know what to expect from the smell. An unremarkable blend of malted barley.

What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? Two easy gulps in prove it to be a perfectly acceptable pilsner style lager. First impressions are that it’s going to be unremarkable, but hard to fault.

At least at fridge temperature, there’s no flavour and virtually no taste whatsoever. Taking a few more gulps to investigate, reveals only the most delicate of lagery tastes. In a very smooth introduction, your tongue will barely notice the savoury, bittersweet finish. I’m struggling to taste anything at all here.

What am I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? It is ridiculously easy to drink. There is nothing to deter even the most timid drinker. It’s very clean and refreshing. That means it would probably go well with a hot curry. Just make sure your Starij Melnik Gold is well chilled.

What aren’t I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? In the taste department, it’s in the same league as Tesco Value Lager. Even most mainstream lagers manage a hint of hoppiness or a taste of malted barley. This has almost no identifiable taste. The lightness and drinkability come at the cost of making it watery. The quibbles are that the labels aren’t at all clear, it’s expensive and a little gassy.

How can I sum up Starij Melnik Gold? If you want a bottle of water but only have this, then don’t worry. Starij Melnik Gold will do fine. It’ll also go down well with spicy food. If you actually want to taste something however, then buy almost anything else.

Rating: 2.7

Have you tried Starij Melnik Gold? What did you think? Can you translate anything or resolve the mystery surrounding this bottle? Then leave a comment below. Every one of which I read and will bear in mind next time I buy a bottle of Russian beer.

Snack Food Review: Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins

12 March, 2010

A QUICK post for the handful of other people who are searching for the perfect pickles. Here is a jar of Monolith Isumrudnye.

Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins jar

I choose it from the shelves of Russkij Bazar in London’s East-End because it looked genuine, what with the Cyrillic. It turns out to be fake Russian, made by German manufacturer and distributor Monolith Gruppe for the huge East-European market in its backyard. Or so I was told by the pleasant lady who runs the shop.

Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins front label

With a label like that, how would you know it’s not actually from Russia? Or Belarus? Or Ukraine? Or Bulgaria? Or… are those all the countries that use Cyrillic? If you know what any of those words or names mean, leave your translations in the comments section below.

Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins back label

The sneaky depths of the product deception are revealed on the back. No more traditional looking Cyrillic. Just your typical multi-lingual EU product label. Monolith’s German address and web address are on there (www.monolith-gruppe.eu in case you were wondering).

The ingredients are cucumbers, spirit vinegar, sugar, salt, spices, acidifying agent, citric acid, oak leaves and flavour. That’s right. This jar contains tree foliage. I’m sold on the idea. Next I want to find one with pine cones and barn owl. It does mean however that it shouldn’t be too salty, unlike the last ones few I’ve tried, thank god.

So what do Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins taste like? How do they compare and should you get some?

I like ‘em. They’ve got a nice, savoury taste. A hint of vinegar and a mildly salty finish. None of which are overpowering. They’re quite crunchy, though could be crunchier, and about the right size to be a good finger food snack.

Comparing them to the salt gherkins would be like comparing tangerines to oranges. But I will anyhow, and declare Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins one of the best I’ve had for some time. Try them if you’re not so keen on salted gherkins.

Have you tried Monolith Isumrudnye Pickled Gherkins? Can you translate any of the words or names on the front label? Then I want to hear from you. Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations, insights and places to buy, in the comments section below.

Beer Review: Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager

4 February, 2010

REGULAR Budweiser Budvar lager turned out well in the end. Especially after discovering that it needs to be cooled to Arctic temperatures to taste good. So it’s with lots of optimism and some trepidation for the comments section that I face a bottle of Budvar’s cousin; Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager. From one of a growing number of London shops that sells it, for a price I can’t remember. It’s also my first dark lager.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager bottle

So far, so similar. It looks just like ordinary Budvar, but with a black bottle and matching neck foil and labels.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager neck foil

The front label is little changed either. Apart from the colour scheme and words “Imported Dark Lager”.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager front label

All of which is good news, because it means I don’t have to describe every little detail again. And again. Instead, we can go straight to the back label.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager back label

Same layout as common Budvar, but this time with enough changes to warrant a little more of your time until we get to the interesting bit.  That’s because this one has a completely different story behind it. This one talks about “finest available ingredients”, “devotion to the brewers art” and “an inimiatable flavour straight from the heart of darkness”.

Down on the ingredients list, and here’s the first sign of what the alcoholic volume is. At 4.7%, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Why are they hiding it?

The ingredients, which if you bought this kind of beer, you’re probably interested in, do indeed look good. They are “water from artesian wells, barley malt (Pale, Munich, Caramel, Roasted), Saaz hops.” That’s the sort of ingredients list you’d expect of ale. Not a lager. So I’m guessing this will take the route of being a lager that wants to be ale. Like the sublime Pilsner Urquell or Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

For the detail fanatics, this Budvar has the same EU Protected Geographical Indication as the other Budvar. It has the same UK importer. And the same web address, which is www.original-budweiser.cz. It’s in the same 500ml bottle. Surprisingly, it is a little weaker at 4.7% alcoholic volume instead of 5%. And like its cousin, the label shouts at you to “Serve Cold!” After last time, I intend to do just that.

So here’s the interesting bit. What does it look like? What does it smell like? How does it compare to normal Budvar and to the other best lagers the world has to offer? I can’t wait to find out.

Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager poured into a glass

First impressions leave me speechless. It’s by far the darkest lager I’ve ever seen. It’s dark ale, porter or stout darkness. I thought the bottle was brown or black, but it wasn’t. It’s a normal green Budvar bottle that happens to contain the only lager I’ve seen that you could mistake for the famous Irish brew. Apart from the head. It’s a patchy, creamy white. Nothing to worry you during pouring.

What does Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager smell like? A quick sniff promptly reveals that familiar odour of roasted barley. Again, just like a dark ale, porter or stout. Incredible for a lager. Though I should have seen this coming. The ingredients list did say it had roasted barley malt. It goes to show what an immense difference that little fact makes.

So, what does this cold, nearly full pint of Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager taste like? The first gulp is a very satisfying one. And one that seems a million miles from any over lager experience. Is this really a lager? It tastes like a dark ale, porter or stout. Which shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as it looks and smells like one.

What can I taste exactly? A few more gulps in, and I’m beginning to make some sense of it. On the flavour side of the equation, you’re reminded that this is indeed still a lager. There’s little more than a slight savoury bitterness. Quite light, clean and refreshing. Then, smoothly arriving, is the aftertaste. This goes into a mixture of lagery bitterness and long lasting ale, porter or stout style roasted flavour and taste combo. It’s dry and mildly bitter, but without the sharp “bite” you get with lots of lagers. It also tastes much more full bodied and heavier and more syrupy than most lagers. More like, you guessed it, a porter.

What am I enjoying about Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? As already worked out, I’m thoroughly enjoying this perplexing brew. Partly because it is such a mystery. If you insist on calling it a lager, it is the most un-lager like I’ve ever tasted. You could give it to an ale pan, tell them it’s a porter and most probably wouldn’t argue. With that potential for mischief and the originality and distinctiveness, Budvar Dark is off to a flying start.

I love how it’s got some of the best of ale and lager. It’s crisp and refreshing but also rich, tasty and satisfying. I like very much how smooth and easy to drink it is. It’s not too gassy. And you can just tell it’s well made with excellent ingredients.

What aren’t I enjoying about Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? Not much. What little I can find is mostly nitpicking. Because it feels so much like ale, I’m left wishing it had more interesting and unusual flavours. Like an ale. If you really like ale, why not buy a real one with the complexity you get with it? Also, that roasted taste is going to quickly stop feeling refreshing, and it’s still expensive and hard to find here.

How can one possibly sum up Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager after just one bottle? Which reminds me, I better buy some more. So far, Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager is possibly the most intriguing, distinctive and delicious lagers I’ve ever tried. It’s firmly up there with the favourites. It’s also a great stepping stone for you to wean your friends off big name lager and onto proper beer. Outstanding lager action. But if you love this stuff, why not just get dark ale, porter or stout instead?

Rating: 4.3

Have you tried Budweiser Budvar Imported Dark Lager? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Marston’s Oyster Stout

10 January, 2010

THE streets outside are covered with snow. The temperatures are freezing. What I need is a rich, warming, Winter drink. What I have, is a bottle of Marston’s Oyster Stout which cost a whopping £1.99 pence from the Bethnal Green Food Center.

It’s not the first Marston’s I’ve tried. Pedigree and Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale were both perfectly fine. Just completely unmemorable. This though, is a stout. And stouts can be much more fun.

On the neck of the Marston’s bottle, is the Marston’s neck label. Cricketests might be interested to know that Marston’s is the ECB “Official Beer of England”.

The front-label is a traditional beer bottle roundel. It’s all very traditional and very Marston’s. The alcoholic volume is 4.5%. It’s “Brewed at the Marston’s Brewery, Burton Upon Trent”. And they describe the stout tersely with three simple words: “Dark” “Rich” “Smooth”. All the kind of words you want to sum up your stout to be.

Then it all gets a bit different. I’ve never put the words “Oyster” and “Stout” together in the same sentence before. And the pictures are positively coastal. A long way from the industrial west-midlands that strings to mind with Marston’s.

Let’s see if the back label can proffer some explanation.

Yes it can. Albeit it a tenuous one. Above the big “Marston’s Don’t Compromise” banner is the description we’ve been looking for. They describe it as “dark in colour with a mocha coloured head and a slight fruity aroma with a hint of chocolate. It delivers a rich, smooth, full bodied flavour”

Then comes the oyster and seafood connection as they inform us what it might go with: “the ideal accompaniment to eating oysters and other shellfish or just on its own”. Possibly the most tenuous beer name connection yet.

Most of the label is small print in several different languages. To save you time, I’ll rattle off the main details. The website listed is the long-winded www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. They apparently use lightweight bottles that are better to the environment. But bad news for those of us who like beer bottles built like nuclear bunkers.

The full name and address of Marston’s Brewery is printed on there. A complete list of ingredients isn’t. It’s your typical 500ml bottle, which, at 4.5% alcoholic volume, comes in at an unremarkable 2.3 UK units of alcohol.

With that out of the way, we can get to the interesting bit. What does Marston’s Oyster Stout taste like? How does it compare to other stouts? Will I like it and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

With no glugging, Marston’s Oyster Stout is easy-peasy to pour. The thin head you get at the  end quickly collapses into a thin patchy layer of coffee colour. The drink itself is as black as stout. Which is a good thing.

What does Marston’s Oyster Stout smell like? The label promises a “slightly fruity aroma with a hint of chocolate”. And do you know what? That’s pretty much how it smells. It has that fruity hoppy smell that you get with some ales that aren’t stouts. But you also get a slight whiff of the roasted chocolate smell you get with stouts and darker ales. It smells breezy and good.

What does Marston’s Oyster Stout taste like? The first two sips are powerful ones. On the flavour side of the equation, there’s not much to write about. Just a mild, slightly roasted malty flavour. I think. It’s hard to tell because whatever flavour was there on your tongue is immediately swept away by a torrent of aftertaste. And that aftertaste just isn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be.

As far as I can tell, it’s mostly just plain old bitter-sweetness. The bitterness has the edge of the sweetness. And it all feels quite dry. There’s not much more to say. That bitterness lasts a long time. It is, just like the label promised, “rich, smooth” and “full bodied”. It’s all of those things. But where’s the fruitiness and chocolate that it hinted at being capable of? Those things would have lifted it above mediocrity.

What am I enjoying about Marston’s Oyster Stout? Ignore the niggles, and it’s still a very good drink. I like how light and easy to drink it is. For a stout. I like how quickly you get used to the initial punch delivered to your taste buds. I like how well balanced the taste is. And I like how rich, smooth and full-bodied it is, at the same time as being drinkable. All things that point to good ingredients, a good recipe and a well made brew.

What aren’t I enjoying about Marston’s Oyster Stout? I’ve already said it. It could have stood out from the crowd by doing something a bit different. It hinted that it could do fruity and chocolaty, but it didn’t have the courage to go through with it. And that’s a pity. The strong taste, before you get used to it, will put some people off. It’s a little but gassy. And, at least down south, it’s hard to find and expensive.

How can I sum up Marston’s Oyster Stout? It’s not bad, but it could be so much better if they’d had the courage to pull off something original. As it is, there are better stouts and more interesting, easier to drink ales. Most of which also go just as well with sea food. So a lot like the other two Marston’s. Good, but lacking inspiration. This is one for the stout fans out there.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Marston’s Oyster Stout? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Švyturys Švyturio

15 December, 2009

GOOD news! I’ve ‘discovered’ a new East European shop in London’s East-End. Called Russkiye or Russkija or something similar (I’ll have to check), they are on Bethnal Green’s Cambridge Heath Road. Expect some fun oddities to appear on these pages over the next few months.

As a start, I picked up a £1.45 pence bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. Why did I choose this, when the same Lithuanian brewers’ Ekstra and Ekstra Draught were so unmemorable? Curiosity. And I like the people from the Baltic states. So it would be useful if I could find something from there that I like, besides Estonia’s excellent Viru.

So here it is. A bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. It’s a brown bottle.

Is there anything worth mentioning on the neck-label?

No. It has the familiar (to anyone who has had a Švyturys before) crest, and the rather impressive date of 1784. The big, sort-of-roundel front-label is the real place to case your eyes.

The middle has the big “Švyturys” name and crest logo. Under it, the words “Alus” and “Beer” provide us with a useful translation for that all important word, should one ever be thirsty in Lithuania. There’s a picture of the barley and hops. And, under the Švyturio name, are words which must surely translate into the vital statistics. This must mean that this is your regular 0.5L bottle, and the beer is your Continental standard of 5.0% alcoholic volume.

There’s a red border. Which is important because in Lithuania, they know this beer simply as “Red”. The last little detail you notice is the very welcome “Lietuva”. Welcome because it must be the Lithuanian for ‘Lithuania’. And that’s good, because it means that it wasn’t produced here before being dressed up to look imported, like some big name brands.

So the front-label didn’t say much about what it will taste like. Will the back-label have much to say?

No. There’s almost nothing worth reading on this side of the bottle. We discover that it’s been “pasteurized”. There’s what looks like some sort of description in Lithuanian. In English, there’s the very briefest of ingredients lists. There’s what looks like the name and address of the brewer. A Švyturys-Utenos alus, from a city called Utena.

There’s an incomprehensible formulae to contend with. “Storage Conditions: +2 ÷ +20 °C” is the first time I’ve seen an equation on a beer bottle. Finally, there’s a web address of www.svyturys.lt. To save you time, the English language homepage for Švyturio is at http://www.svyturys.lt/en/main/info/production/svyturio. According to which, Švyturio will have a taste somewhere in between that of the rich Ekstra and of light and watery Gintarinis; which I haven’t yet tried.

What am I hoping for with Švyturys Švyturio. Not much. I’m keeping those expectations low, in the hope of being impressed. It is, I presume, Pilsner style lager beer, so the hopes are for some taste of hoppiness and a light, refreshing and drinkable beer that isn’t watery. Will it manage that? There’s only one way to find out.

In my pint glass, my fridge cooled Švyturys Švyturio looks much like any other lager. Carbonated and pale yellow, with a thin white head.

What does Švyturys Švyturio smell of? Not a lot. You’d be hard-pressed to notice the slight whiff of hops.

What does Švyturys Švyturio taste like? The first couple of gulps are easy enough. The website described it as having a “rich taste and bitter freshness of hops”. That seems as good a description as any. I think I can reduce it even more. It’s a lager, and one of the most lagery lagers I’ve tried.

With no flavour, it’s all in the taste. This one has a mild take on the familiar malted barley theme. Where it really delivers is in that familiar lagery “bite”, so beloved of lager heads. And it’s a bitterness that lasts, long after the gulp.

What am I like about Švyturys Švyturio? I admire its straightforward lagery-ness. Instead of taking the full-taste or light route of its cousins, it is instead hitting the lager mainstream right in the face. It is light and crisp. It tastes like they used good quality ingredients. All of which make it fairly drinkable.

What aren’t I enjoying about Švyturys Švyturio? The same thing I admire it for. That most lagery of lagery-ness. Just personal taste mind. Bear that in mind before you fire off an angry comment. I’ve never liked that lagery “bite” that this, and others have. Compared to the great lagers, it doesn’t have the hoppy character. And that “bite” makes it less drinkable, and less refreshing than other lagers.

I’m not a fan of Švyturys Švyturio. But I’m sure a lot of you lager heads will love it. As a lager, it’s good. But I’ll have to keep looking for that favourite Lithuanian beer.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Švyturys Švyturio? What did you think of it? Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here, in the comments.

Beer Review: Young’s Kew Gold

11 December, 2009

THE Bethnal Green Food Center has been useful lately. Over the last few weeks, they’ve sold more bottle conditioned British ales than I knew existed. Here is my most recent purchase. A £1.99 pence bottle of Young’s Kew Gold.

This is the same Young’s that brought us Special London Ale and Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. And part of the same Wells & Young’s behind Banana Bread Beer and Bombardier Satanic Mills. As such, hopes are high and the bottle looks very familiar.

Why do I like bottle conditioned ales? Who wants yeast floating around in their drink? Simple. It turbo-charges the flavour, and it’s divisive. And that makes for interesting comments at the end of this post.

Back to this particular bottle, and the neck-label is where a lot of the detail lives.

It informs us that it was “inspired by hops grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.” And that some of the money from each sale of this bottle, goes to support Kew. I like that fact, because it muddies the waters for people who like to take a moral stand on beer.

Lastly, they describe it as “Light, golden & full-flavoured with a refreshing bite.” And that it is “Perfect with grilled marinated chicken or pasta”. That all sounds very run-of-the-mill for an ale. Where’s the quirkiness and imagination?

The small-print lives on the back of the neck-label.

And it’s almost identical to the small-print on every other Wells & Young’s bottle of beer. Is has their full, Bedford postal address. It has their web address of www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. But this one has one more. Because of the Kew connection, it also has the address of www.kew.org. If you want to know about the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, it is a very good website, indeed. I’ll have to re-visit it when I stop being young.

With the neck-label done, it’s onwards and downwards to the front-label.

Although, frankly, there’s not much reason to look down here. It’s pleasant and green looking. There’s a simple picture of a bunch of hops. And the live, bottle conditioning is the main marketing point. “Bottle Conditioned Ale” takes pride of place above the Young’s 1831 rams head logo.

Along the bottom of the label is the main selling point: “Matured live in the bottle for a fresher taste”. Along with the vital statistics either side. That this is a typical 500ml bottle (why not a proper pint?) with a modest 4.8% alcoholic volume.

Next is the back-label. Again, much the same as the back-labels for most other Wells & Young’s beer, so I won’t waste your time by going through every tiny detail.

Helpfully, the back-label opens with a bit more detail. Their choice of words for the benefits of bottle conditioning are that it’s for a “fresher taste”. They talk about how you can pour it slowly if you don’t want it cloudy. How you should store it upright. And that it’s best served between 10 and 12 degree Celsius. By chance, that’s exactly how chilly my flat is.

Sadly, it’s nowhere near strong enough to help me get over the cold of my flat. At a moderate 4.8% alcoholic volume, and in a standard 500ml bottle, Kew Gold comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol.

The only other details worth mentioning are the ingredients. Well, maybe not. But here they are anyway: “natural mineral water, malted barley, hops, yeast”. Nothing suspicious. Just good, normal, ale ingredients.

So, what does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? Will I like it? And will I think you should buy it? Will the yeasty goodness be worth it? Let’s find out.

It poured easily enough. Certainly much easier than the European wheat beers. It wasn’t cloudy at all until I gave the bottle the old Bavarian-swirl near the bottle. That ‘livened’ up the glass. All without overflowing it.

True to the label description, the hue is golden. The head quickly collapsed to a network of white patches. It’s cloudy, but not overly opaque and looks well carbonated.

What does Young’s Kew Gold? Smell of? Not that much, and not very strongly. You need to give it a good sniff to detect that it’s all hops. A couple more sniffs, and you realise that it smells good, in a pleasant, hoppy way. Fruity, spicy and a bit malty are the words I’ll go with on the smell.

What does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? The first gulp started easily enough. As soon as the aftertaste kicks in, your mouth is swamped by the hoppiest taste I’ve had out of a bottle. And that brought with it that familiar hoppy bitterness. It still caught me off-guard.

A few more sips and I’m starting to make some sense of the flavours and tastes in Young’s Kew Gold. On the flavour side of the equation, there’s not much to say. It’s got a light, savoury, slightly leading bitterness. No flavours really stand out. At least none that my tongue was aware of.

The aftertaste is what Young’s Kew Gold is all about. It has a very full, hoppy, agricultural taste. At first, I was overwhelmed by it and the bitterness, but a third of the way through now, I’m not so sure. It’s turned into a light, smooth and strangely refreshing beverage. Almost a complete 180 degree from where it was on that first gulp.

Nearing half-way through, and what am I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? A admit it. I wasn’t expecting any surprises when I cracked it open. So I’m genuinely happy to have had a couple. I like how immensely hoppy it tastes at first. I like how that will put off the less intrepid beer drinkers, meaning you’re in an exclusive club if you’ve got this far. It also scores it points for distinctiveness. I very much like how easy it is to get used to it, and how well it becomes drinkable and smooth. I like how it’s taken the light and refreshing summery ale and put a very hoppy twist in it. And I like how it gives money to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, even though I’d rather experience mild electrocution than learn about foliage.

What aren’t I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? That massive, initial hoppiness isn’t going to win it any lager or alco-pop friends. Personally, I’d like more interesting flavours, not just pure hoppiness. With such a hoppy beer, it would be good if the labels told us what hops and malts they used in the brew. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s expensive and hard to find. And, here, now, in a cold flat, in winter, it’s just not right. Summer, or at least spring, is where Young’s Kew Gold belongs.

To sum up, Young’s Kew Gold is one of the hoppiest tasting ales I’ve ever tried. Do I like it? Yes, but despite myself. I didn’t want to, but it’s grown on me. Was the bottle conditioning worth it? For the distinctive, hoppy quality, yes. Should you buy it? In the right season, if you like strong, hoppy ale, if you can find it and afford it, then yes. Definitely.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Kew Gold? What did you think of it? Leave your comments, corrections, opinions and places to buy, here in the comments

Beer Review: Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen

3 December, 2009

IT’S been too long since I last enjoyed a Continental wheat beer. The last time I had ‘Naturtrüb’ naturally cloudy German-variety ‘Hefeweizen’ wheat beer, was straightforwardly wheaty Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier. What, then, will my next German, cloudy, wheat-beer be like? From the Bethnal Green Food Center in London’s East-End, here is a bottle of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen.

First impressions? Efficient looking but characterless bottle and appearance. It’s definitely German

It has a neck label. Not that it says very much. It has a sort-of coat of arms, the words “Premium Weissbier” and a barcode. Never mind. I’m sure there’s be a proper description of the beer somewhere on it. On the front-label, perhaps?

No. There’s not much of a description on here, either. Just some basic details. Starting with the name and address of the brewer. For the curious, Scöfferhofer Weizenbier GMBH is from Frankfurt am Main.

Under that is a logo, if you can call it that, of Peter Schoffer von Gernsheim. An early printer who worked with Johannes Gutenberg, the Scöfferhofer brewery was apparently founded in his old home. Hands up, who wants their home turned into a brewery, when they’re gone?

Under the Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen name, is some writing that I can’t read or understand. If you can, or you can translate anything else on the bottle, do please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Down at the very bottom, are welcome words indeed. “Naturtrüb”, I think means ‘naturally cloudy’. Thanks to the person who told me that in a comment to one of my earlier posts. “Premium-Weissbier” has to be ‘Premium Wheat Beer’. And “Brewed And Bottled in Germany” is just good news however you read it.

So there wasn’t much of a description on the front-label. Surely, there’ll be a proper description of some kind on the back?

No. There really isn’t any kind of description. Or story. Or anything. Just a massive, multilingual block of ingredients lists and safety warnings, for nanny-state markets across the world.

Even looking carefully, there are only a handful of facts I can extract from the morass of text. The ingredients are water, barley malt, wheat malt, hops and yeast. All the right ingredients. Though I’d prefer if they mentioned which malts and hops they used. Even when the names mean nothing, I love it when the labels give that much extra detail.

Elsewhere, we discover the vital statistics. The bottle is your usual 500ml. Or 16.9 fl. oz.  And with an alcoholic volume of 5%, it’s as average as the entire output of Hollywood over the past decade.

And that’s it. At least I thought it was, until I spotted in tiny writing, a web-address. That web address is www.schoefferhofer.de. It’s an annoying Flash-heavy website, with no English language section. Nevertheless, a few clicks and you start discovering more bottles that will make you wish you were in Frankfurt am Main.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time for the fun bit. What does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? How different will it be to Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? Will I like it and should you buy it? Considering my track record of loving cloudy wheat beers, it could be a foregone conclusion.

Yes, I still don’t have a proper wheat beer glass. But even in my British pint-glass, it looks good. It was easy to pour, too. No glugging, it went smoothly until the last bit, where it frothed up into the sight you can see in the photograph.

The colour is of straw. Cloudy, but clear enough to see the fizz. The head is a thick, lasting, white colour. I can hardly wait to start.

First though, what does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen smell like? If you bought it hoping for that unmistakable, rich, malty smell, you’re in luck. If you’ve sniffed other European wheat beers, you know what it is. It’s not strong. Just gorgeously rich and sweet.

What does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? The first gulp is not bad, but I’m greeted with more bitterness than expected. A few more sips, and I’m beginning to make sense of it. The bitterness was because I was trying to drink the head. Get down to the beer, and it’s much more like what you’d expect from a German wheat beer.

Being a straight-up wheat beer, there isn’t much in the way of flavour. Just an undercurrent of malty-wheatiness. A sweet and savoury sort of flavour, which drifts, easily, into the aftertaste. A taste which has a surprisingly lasting bitterness, and astringent character.

How different is it to the Franziskaner German wheat beer I tried a few months ago? Unexpectedly different. I was half expecting a re-run. Instead, Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen takes the same straightforward wheat beer path, but goes on a bitterer, less smooth and less wheaty route.

What am I enjoying about Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen? Astonishingly, less than I had been expecting. Maybe I’ve got a less-than-perfect bottle. But a few things are nagging me. On the credit side, however, there are pluses. Even if it is bitterer than other European wheat beers, compared to others, it’s well balanced. It’s easy to drink, which means the ingredients are good, and it’s well made. It’s different, too, which scores it marks for distinctiveness. Not too gassy either.

On the debit side, there are some issues. I’m starting to think my bottle has gone off. It doesn’t taste as good as I think it should. That bitterness is just too rough and odd tasting for it to be intentional. It’s also somewhat lacking in the flavour and taste department. Not sure if that’s intended or not. But more interestingness and complexity wouldn’t go amiss. Even the main taste of wheat is hard to pin down.

How can I sum up Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen? I’m left wondering if my bottle is a bad example, or if they’re all like this. Regular readers know how much I love wheat beer. So the roughness and off-notes were a surprise. If it’s supposed to be like this, then you’ll like it if you prefer your wheat beer to have an edge. If, like me, you love the smooth, rich, deliciousness of other wheat beers you’ve enjoyed, then try something else. Unless the one I bought was off, in which case, Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen is probably very good.

This puts me in a tricky situation with the rating. Do I rate lower and risk the wrath of people who love good examples. I’ll take the wait-and-see escape route, and leave a rating for another time, when I’ve tried more bottles of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen.

What did you bottle of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? Did you like it? Did I get an bad bottle or does it normally taste like this? Leave your comments, translations, opinions and places to buy, here in the comments.


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