Beer Review: Carlsberg Special Brew

THIS instalment brings us to the second strong lager in this series on the subject of high-strength beers. And this one looks at Carlsberg Special Brew. Why am I looking at this one next? Well the last one I tried was Skol Super, and that was brewed by Carlsberg UK. This is the same size and strength as Skol Super, but from Carlsberg’s Danish parent. And that sets this review up for an interesting comparison…

Like most other can’s I’ve looked at in this series, Carlsberg Special Brew is cheap and available from most corner shops. It does have a unique look about it however. The beige background adds some extra respectability compared to the cheaply printed cans of its competition.

Something else I like about the ‘front’ of the can is the Danish connection. Above the ‘Special Brew’ banner is the text “By Appointment to the Royal Danish Court”. If that means the same as it does here in Britain, it means that someone in, or who works for the Danish Royal Family, drinks this stuff. And that raises expectations considerably. This is reinforced with references to “Carlsberg Copenhagen” and around a graphic of the Danish crown, the words “The Original Strong Lager”. Original anything is good in the beer world, so this is setting the expectations high. At least higher than with Skol Super.

Have a look at the bottom of the ‘front’ of the can. The words “Enjoy Responsibly” are more prominent than on any strong beer/cider/lager I’ve seen so far. A small acknowledgement of how controversial this type of drink has become perhaps. You could say that they are finally taking social responsibility. Or completely failing to do so by having it in such small writing.

Again, the details and small print are spread between two opposite ‘sides’ of the can. Here’s a photo of the side without the barcode.

Annoyingly, most of the text is at a 90 degree angle if you have the can upright. So you either need to tilt your head or the can to read this side properly. If you do decide to read it, you’ll see the 9% and 4.5 UK units of alcohol most prominent on the white band. The obligatory address of the drink aware website, and consumer helpline are there. As is a nearly complete list of ingredients. Which in this instance, are water, malted barley, syrup, hops and carbon dioxide. None of which really tell us what to expect from the taste of Special Brew.

Over on the ‘side’ of the can where the barcode lives, the writing is thankfully the right way up again. The tiny sentence of the story behind the drink doesn’t need to be summarised for the review, because here it is: “Brewed since 1950, Carlsberg Special Brew is the original strong lager”. What more is there to say?

Also on this ‘side’ is the message “Best shared well chilled”. A nice different to the usual ‘best served well chilled’. Clearly the people of Denmark are more responsible than those here, in that they share a strong can instead of downing it by themselves. It’s a nice suggestion that I doubt anyone will follow. If you’ve ever shared a can of Special Brew or anything similar, leave a comment, because I find it hard to imagine anyone doing that.

Annoyingly, this ‘side’ doesn’t actually confirm that Special Brew is imported from the continent. All we get is a “brewed and canned in the EU for Carlsberg UK Ltd”. That could mean it was churned out of a cheap factory in Eastern Europe. Come on Carlsberg. I want to know where it came from. And so does everyone else who buys your drinks.

And that’s it from the outside of the can. But what does it taste like? Time to find out.

Once out of the can, and into my big Continental style glass, everything looks in order. There’s a big frothy head. The liquid is gold in colour. And there’s plenty of gas bubbles making their way to the top.

The smell is good too. Definitely better than Skol Super. The soft smell of barley and hops seems somehow, to have that ‘premium’ quality. But will that carry across to the taste?

A few gulps down, and so far, the answer is yes. It doesn’t taste cheap either. It holds on to that bitter/sour taste and aftertaste that lager suffers from, but this is a big improvement over Carlsberg’s Skol Super. That aftertaste simply isn’t as strong and doesn’t linger as badly. And that makes Special Brew the most drinkable strong lager I’ve yet tested.

Working my way through the can, I was delighted to find it not as gassy as I had been afraid of. And the alcohol didn’t go straight to my head. Although that could have more to do with my doing this review straight after dinner than anything else.

How to sum up Carlsberg Special Brew? It’s a super-high-strength lager that comes cheaply in very tall cans. Yet it’s also pretty good quality, for a lager. And surprisingly drinkable, for a lager. The can promised a lot with its mentions of the Danish Court. And, amazingly, it actually delivered. That surprised and impressed me. No wander alcoholics love this drink.

Rating: 3.4 plus two ASBO points and one homeless alcoholic mark.

Have you tried Carlsberg Special Brew? What did you think?
Any suggestions for what I should review next?
Comments below please…

Update:

A huge thanks to all the readers and commenter’s who’ve made this ‘review’ one of the most popular on my blog. Your comments are brilliant. There’s no other way to describe them. That’s why I’ve come back nearly two years later to update it, and the other unexpectedly popular super strength lager reviews, with some new photos.

While I had all the 9%er cans handy, it made sense to try them all again. Only this time with the benefit of having read all of your comments beforehand. Incidentally, I’ve done the same for the other 9%-ers. Check my updates for them after you’ve finished reading this.

This time, I made sure that the can was very cold. And to drink it straight from the can to avoid accidentally smelling it. That’s why I haven’t updated the photo of it in a glass. I was also, watching out for it tasting worse as it warms up.

How did it taste this time around? It’s definitely more drinkable. But drink quickly before it warms up. It contains syrup which makes it weightier than normal lager. It also makes it more bittersweet than without it. It’s a strong, bland, slightly sour and syrupy malted barley tasting lager in flimsy can.

How did it compare to the other 9%-ers I re-‘reviewed’ it against? Against Tennent’s Super, Carlsberg Skol Super and Ketral Super, It ended up 3rd. Above the ghastly at any temperature Skol Super, but without the surprising hoppiness of Tennent’s Super and instant addiction to Kestral Super.

What do you think? How else can you make it taste better? Or less horrible? The comments section below is a goldmine. Add your nugget of wisdom now!

P.S. My ‘reviews’ of Carlsberg Special Brew’s equally popular competitors are at Carlsberg Skol Super, Tennent’s Super and Kestrel Super.

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56 Responses to “Beer Review: Carlsberg Special Brew”

  1. dav mas Says:

    i tryed this an its well nice init me an a mate shared a can up the park on a sunday morning but only because we drank 6 cans each the night before and only had 4 cans left fort the day all in all its a well good cheep larger init dis is sum gd shit m8

    • Fernanda Says:

      On your next visit to Copenhagen make sure to visit the Carlsberg Brewery located in the City Center! Even if you don’t drink this tour is loads of fun! Carlsberg..so good the Danes hate to see it leave!

  2. k Down Under Says:

    At AU$5, it’s pretty good value for Australia.

    another Danish is FAXE 10%

    http://www.faxe.com/Default.aspx?ID=360

  3. ben Says:

    i speak as a man who used to drink over 15 cans a day and all i can say is it’s bloody marvellous… also, for various reasons i had a liver biopsy recently and according to the doctor my liver was in great condition. 3 years of over 50 units a day and i’m not dead. definate health benefit points for special brew i think…

    • asd Says:

      As someone in the trade, you wouldn’t have a liver biopsy randomly. Your liver function tests must have been off. Anyone who drinks 50 units a day is going to end up in a wooden box.

  4. Chris & Den Says:

    tastes like sick…

    but atleast it saves time!

  5. guth Says:

    me and my mate nigel love it, does what it says on the tin.

  6. Another Anonymous Says:

    It’s my favorite drink

  7. gkc Says:

    I am a man of 50 who has been drinking Special Brew for more than half my life, whilst i can say that it’s loaded with calories it is a very satisfying drink and some of my associates marvel at the cohesiveness i display before during and after my usually high consumption.

    I have never lost my keys, or my way home and if you are of a strong mental constitution it is highly recommended.

    Finally do check the calories and exercise regularly.

  8. Tim Says:

    Guzzling a couple of cans starts with “Its tasty, tasty, very very tasty,” followed by “hmm, can i be bothered to lift the can to my lips ” then on the third can “time for a lie down”, and “your my beshtest frend in the hole wurld”. I love the stuff. 2 cans every night. Anything else is a breakfast lager. I hope they never stop making it and I buy loads.

  9. Curmudgeon Says:

    In terms of price per unit of alcohol, super lagers like this are actually no cheaper than standard premium lagers of around the 5% ABV mark. It’s something of a myth that they are cheap, although obviously they offer a quicker route to oblivion.

  10. Unknown Says:

    You absolute bunch of alcoholics. Makes me sick.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    alco’s alco’s

  12. Beeg Says:

    Awesome. Innit. Love the lack of intelligence on this particular post.

  13. SniffMyFannyHarold Says:

    SIMPLY STUNNING. I’ve linked this review in with my blog too.

  14. chris Says:

    I chill a can in the freezer before supping and it really does hit the spot. 1 of these bad boys with a couple of whiskies and I’m sleeping like a baby!

  15. helen oxley Says:

    need brew always

  16. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve only ever compared this to the Skol in the strong lagers, but I rate it highly. If you can get the cans down you quickly whilst they are cold and fresh, then it’s very enjoyable, but once it warms up not so much.
    Whereas, Skol, makes me sick after a sip, I’m not entirely sure why, but my body dislikes Skol with a passion, but It loves SpecialBew.

  17. alkie Says:

    This is, by far, the best of the super lagers. Speaking as an actual alkie, I’m willing to pay the extra and go without a few cans that the K drinkers will have simply because drinking this is an enjoyable experience. It compares well in taste to lagers in my opinion full stop. It even compares well to Ale. The fact that it’s also cheap and gets you smashed if you down 3 cans of it, then only have to top up once an hour is a bonus.

  18. alcotron Says:

    At over one pound bloody fifty a can i would hardly call this cheap. If you think this is cheap i would like to know what chuffing benefits you are on because i cant fu this the money i get on the dole.cking afford this

  19. Mark the biker Says:

    I have been drinking brew for 25 years, every day, between 1 & 3 cans a day.
    I love it, Here is how to enjoy life ” DRINK BREW” the end.
    cheers

  20. The Craigster Says:

    I was in a nostalgic mood and thought I’d try to find out where you can buy Special Brew in Aussie just to find some temporary relief from what can only be described as generica lager in this country. It doesn’t matter what you buy, it all tastes the same – the only thing cool about aussie beers is they have good names. But Special Brew, well, I’ve only ever seen students and tramps drink it, but nevertheless, the reminicenses of head spinning and the scent of vomit brings back great memories from a better time. Excellent Big Log Hywel. I can only assume you’re a bored millionaire, a student or a Melbourne Bayside Housewife – you’ve just got too much time on your hands… Laters…

  21. kelsoo Says:

    ref:
    http://www.carlsberg.co.uk/CarlsbergSpecialBrew.aspx
    The original super strength beer, first brewed in 1950 to satisfy the refined tastes of Winston Churchill himself, and it’s still going strong today.

    Beer Facts

    * Beer type
    Strong Pilsner
    * Alcohol by volume (ABV)
    9.0 %
    * Produced by
    Carlsberg UK
    * Available since
    1950

    Since its launch to market in the early 1970′s Carlsberg Special Brew has been one of the leading UK super strength lagers. First produced in 1950 to commemorate Winston Churchill’s visit to Copenhagen, Special Brew has Cognac notes to reflect Churchill’s favourite tipple. And more than fifty years on, it’s still the best.

    ref:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/richlewis/2912792798/
    Carlsberg Brewery, Northampton, England

    ref:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=75816988384

    Carlsberg Pilsner or Carlsberg Lager is the beer most people expect when ordering a Carlsberg. A German style pilsner, first brewed in 1904. In Denmark the beer is often known as HOF (court) due to its Royal Warrant. This nickname was adopted into the brand in 1931 but discontinued in 1991.
    Special Brew is a very strong lager (sometimes known as premium lager) brewed in Denmark and the United Kingdom. It comes in a can with a distinctive gold and red colour.

    Special Brew was first brewed by master brewer, Thomas Marfleet, and was brewed by Carlsberg to commemorate a visit to Denmark of Winston Churchill in 1950. In May 1951 two crates were delivered to Churchill’s London home. In a thank you letter Churchill called the drink “Commemoration Lager”. In Denmark the drink was called Påskebryg (Easter Brew), but the Easter Brew has been replaced by a weaker beer (Carls Påske). For the British market Carlsberg called the drink Special Brew and production was started in Northampton in the 1950s.

  22. kelsoo Says:

    I forgot to say. Special Brew @ 9% is only brewed in Northampton in the UK. Special brew is even brewed alcohol free in Saudi Arabia. As I discovered on a tour of the Danish Carlsberg brewery.

  23. archkmm@yahoo.co.uk Says:

    loved this drink so much — too much actually — it nearly jailed me — it hospitalised me —
    nearly killed me — but i’m happy to say i don’t drink alcohol now — sober for five and a half years — healthy and living!!

  24. Drew Dottery Says:

    I tried Special Brew when I was Stationed in England, I love the beer, my problem is I can’t find it here in Tennessee, do you know of anywhere I can purchase it?

  25. katie middleton Says:

    the trick with the Golden Lady is not to linger over the last inch and a half or so, this results in a horrid treacly slug at the botton of the can, and is a waste of perfectly good Superstrength Dutch Lager. Simply down this bit before it gets too warm to drink, bobs yer lver transplant

  26. david crockoshit Says:

    If you want to buy this in most US states it is at least twice as strong as the maximum allowed to be sold as beer. Find it as an import in the place where you buy liquor. Which in Tennessee will be the package store. Over the river in Missouri will be Sam’s or WalFart. I have never seen it on sale in Tennessee or the Carolinas, or anywhere else. But YMMV.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Quite frankly a repulsive example of the brewer’s art. Magnificent for getting utterly minced on but for those who enjoy the entire experience of a superbly crafted ale or true Continental pilsner, discard this along with the rest of the over commercialized tripe.

  28. Old Punk Says:

    we used to have a thing called “The Special Brew challenge”. You had to drink 4x500ml cans in a session the challenge part was to keep the same personality you started with and not end up sleeping in the garden. This is how legends are made,great stuff

  29. cockneyjohn Says:

    A drink i gave up a few years back,but what a magnificent brew,sometime soon…just for nostalgia, im going to down a couple,my old boss back in the offy trade used to call it a sharpener!!

  30. dasarath Says:

    fuck yea this is the best piss i’ve ever had.. four bottles of this and im done… me and my frienda never drink anything else… cheapest way to get shit faced….

  31. SBLanka Says:

    I’m drinking a 625ml bottle with my girlfriend in Sri Lanka and its bloody lovely, thank you. looking to see if you can buy it back in the UK, but seems the only place you can get in large bottles is Sri Lanka :(

  32. SBLanka Says:

    PS. it seems to taste much better here. but maybe its because it comes in a bottle. not like that sweet syrup you get in cans…

  33. alan21 Says:

    Fine review, although whilst a Tennents by choice drinker, I can, will, and have switched between the two if theres any cost or availability implication. One thing though, you found it “annoying” to rotate your head 90% to read the side so why didn’t you rotate the picture to save us all the inconvenience

  34. Anonymous Says:

    Dogs Bollocks. Bloody Dogs Bollocks!

  35. Graeme Says:

    Do the maths; 6 cans of SB = bottle of whiskey.

  36. del and jamie Says:

    me and my best m8 had 24 cans at xmas we were completely shitfaced and we drink it every day with out fail thanx churchil your a star we love you goldern can we pray 2 you goldern can lol

  37. Pete Says:

    I was totally hooked on this….2 cans used to be enough, then ended up having 8/day with 2 cans early a.m just to stop the shakes. Then wentto work! Not having a drink sent me into cold turkey hell. Stopped now, but lucky to still be here.

  38. marcus cleaver Says:

    I love to think of all you people “just drinking for the taste”. It’s all balls. Four cans of speshy or 6 cans of carling. If you just want to have a cold fizzy drink that does not taste of sugar or fizzy water go to Azda and buy some smart price lager or bitter. No taste, low alcohol post exercise drink. On the other hand if you have worked hard and have felt the burn – enjoy yourself and allow yourself to admit sometimes you just want to get pissed!

    Fuck the flavour, does it taste nicer than cheap wine – yes! Does it do the job effectively – yes. In these times when we are time poor and cash poorer JUST BLOODY ENJOY YUOURSELVES! I can’t believe Whisky, Vodka or any other spirit was originally drunk because early man thought it tasted nice. Grow up and admit you drink beer because it makes you feel nice! AND you will happily drink more than four pints of beer in a pub – would you go out to have four pints of water with a mate in a pub EVEN if it was free? No.

  39. Spangleton Says:

    In the year of our lord 1990 me & my mates upped sticks from Scotland & went to live in the sunny squats of south London. Heady days, thanks in no small part to the consumption of “brew”. We begged in the tube stations for a living & a can of brew was essential, no can = meagre earnings. Can = pound coins falling like snow. Seriously, even more effective than a mutt on a rope! Anyway, I’ll sum up by saying this; I was only a brewhead for 2 years but still bear a multitude of scars & got nicked for some truly off the wall ludicrous shit all because of this psychosis inducing electric soup. Avoid.

  40. steak (@steakandsidney) Says:

    great tasting stuff – 4 pints of this gear and you’ll fight any cunt

  41. Gerard Says:

    I’d like to think of myself as an afficianado of strong beers, cause it’s cheaper! The most heavy duty lager I came across was the 14.9% 500ml cans of ‘Rock Beer’ in Kuala Lumpur (which has a plethora of strong lagers) – it was consumed prior to hitting a club and inevitably ended with me waking up in hospital – I had upset the wrong people. Buy it was a great night!

  42. Carl Says:

    I was first introduced to Carlsberg Special Brew in the 1980′s when it was served in bottles, it had much more body and it tasted better than it does now out of a can.. I still drink it, out of a can, for me it is still the best brew out there.

    If you cannot handle it, don’t drink it.. simple..

    Then again, after reading some of the comments, I am sure their are some real simple people out there.

  43. Jannicke Says:

    I have shared a Special brew many times!! :)
    Best way to drink it.
    love my special brew! :)

  44. Rob Johns Says:

    Ahh the brew, used to work in the industry and it and cold ones, Bavaria 8.6 was a roaring trade :)

  45. Crystal Palace fan Says:

    ooh we had a couple on the way back from wembley the other week, but i only had less than half a can, felt a bit woozy.

    woke up on clapham common later that day and thort i may have been robbed by vagabonds or hoodlums but nothing missin lol

    think i’ll be sticking to ribena next time

  46. Frog Says:

    Best way to drink is AS COLD AS Possible using a 250ml glass that is also chilled. Drink half and meanwhile leave the other half in the freezer door. Not so pleasant warm is it? I live in Sri Lanka where the cost of a 500ml can is 85p equivalent – lucky me eh

  47. cHRISTOPHER Says:

    Special Brew – wow. I have been drinking 4 cans every day now for many years. I dont feel drunk. I am a large man of 21 stone. With many health problems, this beautiful drink relaxes me and makes me feel happier than without it.

  48. Anonymous Says:

    Doesn’t taste like shitty Fosters, goes down well and hits the spot, love it big time! Mixes well with dihydrocodeine for that extra buzz. I don’t usually drink at all, but when I do, this is my poison of choice.

  49. S Evans Says:

    The ‘Brew’ IS by far the closest thing to Elixir.
    i’m a 3-can a day man myself and have been for over 30 years. still slim and healthy. No heart disease or cancers.. not even slight detriment to my sanity.. It’s become woven into the integral part of my nutrition. Some people may think I’m bullshitting when they read this but I have to say, fuck you toss-bags, I’m so totally not telling snortales!! If you can’t handle the truth then go and do some pilates and drink organic pure pressed cranberry juice and fulfill your healthatude ambitions. You’ll probably end up like the rest of em. Not actually living a great deal longer than the types what you consider to be totally disrespectful to the miracle of the human bio-system. Your all a bunch of mind controlled, extensively duped, highly strung wank bandits anyway. Here’s to evolution in it’s most pure and truest sense of existence.
    May the show be shown showing, so the show shown shows us so..
    Knobrashes!

  50. Top 10 Unique Cinemas | Wish.co.uk Blog Says:

    […] alcohol consumption rules. ‘So what if it’s a 11am mother and baby screening of Happy Feet 2, Special Brew is an anytime drink’ I tend to bellow before being […]

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