Archive for June 16th, 2008

Beer Review: Holsten Pils

16 June, 2008

THESE days, there needs to be something special about a lager for me to spend any time on it. It would need to come from an unusual place. Or be brewed in an unusual way. Or, be a pilsner lager. That’s why I’ve chosen a can of the big-name Holsten Pils as today’s beer.

Holsten Pils front of can

I like the look of the can. It looks German. Which is handy, because that’s where it’s from. And the combination of green and yellow makes sure that you won’t confuse it with much else on the shop shelves.

Around the roundel logo is the name of, what I think is the brewery. Holsten-Brauerei AG is the name. And on the bottom of the roundel is the name of the place where it comes from. Hamburg in Germany in this case.

The logo features a silhouette of a knight on a horse, wielding a sward. And very large shield, bearing a large “H”. Whether the “H” refers to Hamburg or to Holsten is anyone’s guess. There’s a date on there too. 1879 means that it isn’t one of Europe’s oldest breweries, but old enough to have proved itself. Hopefully enough to justify the writing at the bottom of the can, which reads “Pure Brewing Excellence”.

The small-print is spread between two slim columns on different ‘sides’ of the can.

Holsten Pils join side of can

This one straddles what looks like the join between the start and end of the can printing. The bigger of the two blocks of text is one of the better descriptions I’ve seen on any can. They tell us about this lagers “unique and distinctive taste” from using more natural sugars in an “enhanced fermentation process”. How much to read into that, I’m not sure. But it apparently leads to “lower” “carbohydrates” than other lagers. Useful to know if you’re keeping an eye on your calories. I’ve got a feeling this means more to my female readers. So, girls, is that something you look for in a beer?

The other, little line of text simply confirms what we already knew. That this came from the Holsten brewery in Hamburg, Germany.

Over on the other side of the can, and all the usual small-print details are present.

Holsten Pils barcode side of can

This is the common 500 millilitre size of can. The alcoholic volume is the common 5%. It is best served chilled, as is common practice. It has the frequently seen 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And it contains the usual water, malted barley, yeast and hops. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

With that out of the way, it’s time to crack open this can and answer some questions. Questions like is my taste for continental Pilsner lager really justified? And will some otherwise good flavour be ruined by the aluminium taste of the can?

Holsten Pils poured into a glass

The head can best be described as healthy. Nearly overflowing my pint glass, it died down over the next couple of minutes. But it did remain as a thick layer, so be ready for a froth moustache.

The colour is a light yellow colour. And there are fewer bubbles in there than with some lagers out there.

The smell isn’t bad at all. It has a much richer blend of ingredients in the smell. Hugely better than the generic and cheap smell from most lagers. I like it.

The taste is much the same as the smell. The taste has that ‘sharpness’ that reminds you that this is a lager. And that brings with it an overall bitterness that lingers on the back of your tongue.

But this being Holsten Pils, it’s more balanced and better blended than ordinary lagers. It isn’t dominated by the horrible bitterness that consumes its cheaper competitors. Instead, it’s balanced by the malted barley. Which, you can taste a hint of in this blend. For a lager, that’s excellent news.

Other things I liked where how crisp and refreshing it was. It wasn’t very gassy. And overall, it’s very drinkable. The pilsner reputation remains intact then?

Or does it? It may be better than most lagers on the market, but it’s still a lager. And that means it never will have the taste and flavour I want. Being less bad, doesn’t make something good.

The lagery taste and bitterness will still put people off. The taste and flavour will leave people me bored after a while because there simply isn’t enough of it. And what little there is, isn’t particularly interesting.

To sum up, Holsten Pils is above average in the way that peas can be above average. They might be peas with a good reputation and live up to that reputation. But they’re still peas. Holsten Pils is the same. It’s one of the better Pilsner style lagers I’ve tried. I don’t hate it in the way I hate most lagers, and there’s a lot to enjoy here. But it’s still a lager, so if you want complex, unusual flavours, you’re in the wrong place. This is one that most people will happily drink, in quantity, but not love.

Rating: 3.1

Holsten Pils is sold everywhere for next to nothing, so you’ve probably tried it. In which case, what did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here.

UPDATE: Holsten Pils in a bottle

Sold in a can almost everywhere, this bottle was hard to find. But, after quite liking the can, this long-necked bottle seemed worth a try. It has no back label and no more information on the wrap-around neck label. But any chance to avoid the aluminium taste of a can is welcomed.

Holsten Pils bottleHolsten Pils front labelHolsten Pils front neck labelHolsten Pils join on back of neck label

UPDATE May 2010:
Out of the blue, Holsten Pils has become one of my favourite curry beers. On its own there’s little reason to love it, but add it to your spicy curry and it is outstanding. That light drinkability and taste just works when it comes to explosive food. The £1 price and availability in nearly every off-license in town helps a lot too. This dependable lager is growing on me.


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