Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Beer Review: Brakspear Triple

5 November, 2009

THIS is Brakspear Triple. From ASDA in London’s Isle of Dog, it’s the first Brakspear I’ve tried. And boy, have I thrown myself into the deep-end.

Brakspear Triple bottle

You just know that it’s going to be something special. Something backed-up when you look at the neck-label.

Brakspear Triple front of neck label

On the sides of the classy “Brakspear III’ logo is an award.

Brakspear Triple award side of neck label

Brakspear Triple was “Silver Medal Winner” at “The Brewing Industry International Awards 2005”. And that raises my expectations one notch higher.

Down on the front-label, and Brakspear have taken to the trend of putting their back-label on the front.

Brakspear Triple front label

It’s not bad. You just feel that an olde roundel would fit better, if you know what I mean. Especially as it’s “Since 1779”.

The bee logo is a mystery to me. There’s probably some sort of funny story about it online, but I haven’t got that far yet. So it’ll remain a mystery for now. Unless you’re a rule-breaking reader who scrolls down.

Where a picture of some sort would normally be, you instead find a quote by the head brewer. You can tell it’s by him, because it has his unreadable signature by it. He describes Brakspear Triple thusly: “Thanks to the two fermentations in the Brakspear ‘Double Drop’ system and another in the bottle, this highly aromatic and satisfying strong beer delivers its rich flavour with subtlety and balance”.

If you’ve already spotted the big “Alc. 7.2% Vol.” and “Bottle Conditioned”, your hopes and expectations will be creeping even higher. Three very good things are leaping out at me from all of this. First, it sounds delicious. Second, it’s a bottle conditioned British ale with yeast sediment floating around, which is hard to find and turbo-charges that flavour. And third, it’s shaping up to be no compromise strong ale of the sort you don’t see enough of.

Down at the bottom of the front-label is another thing you don’t see very often. Next to the pretend stamp saying “Quality Brewing Tradition Since 1779” is a unique bottle number. I’ve got “B262633”. What do you have? Leave your number in the comments at the end of the post.

On the other side, the back-label continues on the, erm, back.

Brakspear Triple back label

No wonder some of the back-label made it onto the front. There’s not enough room for a single punctuation mark on here. In fact, having to work through it all is what put me off getting around to ‘reviewing’ this bottle in the first place.

Starting at the top (because you have to start somewhere), we get a nice and detailed little description. Plenty of ingredient names and brewing details for the beer buffs and taste descriptions for the rest of us. And it goes “Crystal, Black, and Maris Otter pale malts provide the backbone of this outstanding rich beer. Hope are added three times to provide a good balance between bitterness and fragrance. Then, bottle-conditioning allows the flavours of this beer to develop further complexity as it matures.”

All very interesting and yummy. Then comes something that elevates it even further. What you can do is use the bottle number on the front of the bottle and their website at www.brakspear-beers.co.uk to find out when the bottle was filled. To test their claim, I went to the website to investigate. I managed to avoid getting distracted by their other beers to find the Triple homepage at http://www.brakspear-beers.co.uk/brakspear2006_packaged.htm. Well I say homepage, it’s more a section half-way down the page, with a table of bottle numbers. A bit of effort reveals that this bottle was filled on the 26th of May, 2009. Interesting, but not the interactive experience that got my hopes up at the start of this paragraph. The date is also not that long ago. I’m tempted to leave it longer for it to bottle condition some more. But I won’t.

The comes the ever welcome sediment advice. This one advises that “this beer can be enjoyed cloudy, or wait for the sediment to settle and pour carefully for a clear sparkling glass”. Which shall I do? The Bavarian swirl for as much sediment as I can get. That should turn the taste dial to eleven.

Then we get to the small-print. It turns out that Brakspear is a Marston’s brand, and that it comes from Wolverhampton. That means that this bottle of Brakspear Triple needs only to be average to be possibly the best thing to come out of Wolverhampton.

Finally we get to a small group of symbols. First is the welcome sight of “CAMRA says  this is Real Ale”. Now that’s something you want on your bottle of British beer. For those that care, this 500ml bottle (why not a full pint?) at 7.2% alcoholic volume weighs in at 3.6 UK units of alcohol. That’s your whole day’s worth of units in a single bottle.

At last we reach the fun part. What does Brakspear Triple taste like? Will it be as good as I’m hoping? Should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Brakspear Triple poured into a glass

From the moment you hear ‘fft-chh’, things start going well. It’s easy to pourwith no massive head to work around. This makes swirling the bottle to get all that yeast out a piece of cake instead of the frustrating pour-wait you endure elsewhere.

In the glass, it’s a deep reddish brown that doesn’t look all that cloudy. The small head is cream-coloured and collapses to an even smaller, patchy layer, soon enough.

One of the first things to hit you is the smell. There’s simply no avoiding it. If you’re going to make a pungent beer, you better make darn sure that it smells good. And would you believe it; the brewers from Wolverhampton have done it. It smells incredibly richly. I’m noticing malty, biscuity and hoppy odours, though you can probably spot more in there.

So it looks and smells good. But what does Brakspear Triple taste like? The first sip is rich, strong and satisfying. So good, that I promptly follow with another. Gut feeling is that this is going to be every bit as no-nonsense and delicious as a strong ale should be.

A couple more civilised and noble sips, and I’m beginning to make some sense of the flavours and tastes. On the flavour side, all is straightforward. A surprisingly sweetness and maltiness take the lead here. On the aftertaste, that sweetness is balanced, perfectly I might add, by a gentle hoppy bitterness. One that finishes not into bitterness like most others, but into a smooth malty and hoppy combination.

What other words can I use to describe it? Well, rich is a good start. And full-bodied, too. You’ll know this, because it isn’t at all watery. Warm is another, which makes it a good autumn and winter beer. Not overly carbonated. Incredibly well balanced and extremely satisfying. Not particularly complex, but then it is a strong ale, so you don’t expect it to be. Like a good strong ale, it manages to be strong and satisfying at the same time as being easy to drink.

So what am I enjoying about Brakspear Triple? As you’ve no doubt have noticed, quite a lot. It deserves special kudos for being so well balanced. It’s sweet and bitter at the same time. It’s as strong as strong ale should be, yet easy to drink, even for the less adventurous. I like that it’s bottle conditioned. I like how many good ingredients are in it, all of which add up to a quality and drinkability that you notice. In fact, I’m nearly at the bottom of the glass, and wishing there was more to go.

What am I not enjoying about Brakspear Triple? I don’t like that it’s so hard to find in shops. Not picking here, it is a beer drinkers beer. Sure, it’s more accessible than any strong ale I’ve ever tried, but lager and alcopop drinkers won’t be making the switch to this one. And maybe a bit more complexity would add something. But this are tiny gripes.

To surmise, Brakspear Triple is one of the best strong ales I’ve tried. Which, admittedly, isn’t a lot. I loved it. If you are an enthusiastic beer drinker or just want a high-quality, no-nonsense ale, Brakspear Triple deserves to be on your shopping list.

Rating: 4.5

Have you tried Brakspear Triple? What did you think of it?

Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations, places to buy and other tomfoolery here in the comments.

Beer Review: Früli Strawberry Beer

2 October, 2009

THIS is Früli. I bought it from Tesco without spending much money in the process. And it might just be the first time I can properly compare something to one of my favourites; the awesome Hoegaarden Belgian White Beer. That’s because unlike everything else I’ve tried to compare it to, Früli here is Belgian and white. And what’s more, it’s Strawberry Beer.

Früli Strawberry Beer bottle

It’s a funny looking, diminutive bottle. It looks a bit delicate if you ask me. But it does have a lot of neck-foil.

Früli Strawberry Beer neck foil

Besides what you can read in the photo, there’s not much to say about it. So let’s look at the little front label instead…

Früli Strawberry Beer front label

It’s a sort of roundel. More of a circle really. It has a picture of a tree, lots of strawberry red and some words to read. The most important of which are in the sentence that reads “Premium Belgian White Fruit Beer”. It might not have many words, but each and every one is good. Belgian beer is good. White beer is good. So is fruity beer. And Premium anything is better than economy.

Then there’s the name Früli. If you know the right way to pronounce it, leave a comment at the end of this post. My guess it that it’s pronounced “Fruh-lee”. What do you think?

In the corners of the front label are two vital statistics. The alcoholic volume which is a moderate 4.1% and the bottle which is a miniscule 250ml. Could this be a girls beer? Leave your thoughts in the comments at the end.

Früli Strawberry Beer back label

There’s not much more to say about the back label of Früli Strawberry Beer either. It’s much the same characterless multi-lingual block of text that you find on most imported European bottles. They do flesh out the description a little with “Früli is a premium Belgian white beer brewed with pure strawberry juice”. Look at the ingredients list and they’re right! It really does have strawberry juice as an ingredient! Früli Strawberry Beer is becoming more and more interesting.

For the obsessively curious, the full list of ingredients is “water, barley malt, wheat, strawberry juice, fructose, hops and yeast”. The wheat alone would have me interested, but strawberry juice as well? Luckily there’s not much small print to read through before getting to the fun part of this test.

Früli was brewed and bottled in Belgium by the Van Diest Beer Company Ltd, and they have a UK address in London. Does anyone know where in Belgium this beer came from? The last bit of small print is the number of UK units of alcohol which is, get this, 1.0. Not a decimal place out. One exactly. Was that by accident or design? Either way, it’ll help you keep count. If that’s something you like to do. Not me. The Government is welcome to jumps off my back and stop looking over my shoulder.

So, what does Früli Strawberry Beer taste like? Is it as good as I’m hoping it’ll be? And should you buy it? I can hardly wait to find out.

Früli Strawberry Beer poured into a half-pint glass

Yes, I’ve probably used the wrong type of glass. But it’s all I could find. And this time, it was not a bad choice. A half-pint glass does the job nicely. Just make sure you’ve either got the glass or your lips very nearby as soon as you open that bottle, because it froths up explosively. Then it collapses back down again quickly enough to fit your little glass.

I’m note sure if the photo captures quite how unusual it looks. It’s red. But not red like a ruby beer. Or any other normal beer. It really is strawberry red. And cloudy and opaque. As is the head.

Some strange darker bits also came out of the bottle and landed on the head. At first, I thought it was bits of foil or dirt. But now I’m not so sure. Looking closely at the empty bottle, I think it is yeasty sediment. Great news. Partly because that’s what Belgian White Beer is supposed to be. Partly because it’ll annoy the people that hate cloudy beer.

What does Früli Strawberry Beer. The clue is in the name. It smells of bananas. No, wait. That’s not right. It smells, strongly, of strawberries. Now that’s a smell I know well. Back in Pembrokeshire, we grew dozens of strawberries in the vegetable garden. And I think, that this beer, smells not of the fake strawberries that sweets are made of, but of real strawberries.

What does Früli Strawberry Beer taste like? The first sip is an easy, smooth and fruity one. Unlike Wells Banana Bred Beer, it isn’t a beer with a subtle taste of something else. This is full on strawberry juice that happens to be a beer.

The flavour. That tastes of strawberries. The aftertaste. That tastes of strawberries too. It’s very sweet and very easy to drink. As easy as drinking strawberry fruit juice in fact. Also in the finish is a hint of wheat and touch of dryness and bitterness, helping balance it out.

It’s also smooth, rich and full-bodied. But does it have that unmistakeable Belgian-ness? If you’ve fallen for the other Belgian ales, you’ll know the thing I mean. Well, it is hidden under a huge pile of strawberries, but yes, I think that Belgian-ness is just about still in there. If you don’t know what I mean, try Hoegaarden White Beer or Duvel Belgian Golden Ale.

Nearly half-way through the glass already, so what am I enjoying about Früli Strawberry Beer? I like the wackiness of it. How they’ve combined the incredible quality of Belgian White Beer with fruitiness of a novelty girls drink. I like how it’s as easy to drink as strawberry juice, and the way it manages not to taste at all artificial. It’s uncommonly sweet, easy to pour and not at all gassy.

That sounds like a lot of risks to take. What are the downsides of Früli Strawberry Beer? Well, if you don’t like strawberries or fruit, you might want to skip this one. If you like the experience of drinking beer, not an alcoholic juice, you might want to skip it. Next, imagine the taste of sugar. It’s sweeter than that. Almost sickly sweet. Then there’s the whole ambiguity over whether it is a girls drink or not. If, like me, you’re a guy, you won’t want to run the risk, so you’ll probably avoid it altogether.

How can I sum up Früli Strawberry Beer? The closest equivalent I can think of is the revolting Polish raspberry Karmi Malínowa Pasja. Früli Strawberry Beer is like that, but done properly. Without the horrendously artificial taste. It’s drinkable and good. Some people will love the sweetness and taste. They’ll find it delicious. Not me. It’s not bad. Just not my kind or thing. I didn’t like it as much as I hoped, and it’s hard to compare to the sublime Hoegaarden. Recommended for the intrepid beer adventurer and for women.

Rating: 3.75

Have you tried Früli Strawberry Beer? Can you answer any of the many questions I asked above? Can you correct any of the mistakes that crept in through my complete lack of knowledge? If so, do please leave your opinions, comments, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Morland Hen’s Tooth

23 September, 2009

THE next bottle from ASDA is the stronger and more upmarket cousin to above-average, mass-market bottled ale, Morland Old Speckled Hen. It’s called Morland Hen’s Tooth, and it looks familiar. That same bottle has turned up here, here, here and a thousand other places, all easily traceable back to Suffolk’s Greene King. Meaning, what we have here is Greene King Morland Hen’s Tooth. It should be at least above-average then.

Morland Hen’s Tooth bottle

Besides the overly familiar bottle, it looks good. Copper is a good colour to see inside your transparent glass bottle. They have gone an unusual route with the labels though. Not a bad route, just a different one. What they’ve done is put the important bits on the front and all the small-print on the back. And I think it works well.

Morland Hen’s Tooth neck label

For starters, this is what you normally find on the back of a bottle. But instead, it’s up here on the neck label. They describe it as a “fine ale” that “matures in its bottle producing a richer and more distinctive character”. Then they move onto the taste with “a warming blend of fruit and malt flavours are followed by a smooth finish”.

Sounds delicious. But “matures in it’s bottle”? That would mean it has yeast still in the bottle, making it cloudy. Something you hardly ever find in British ales. Look at the bottom of the bottle however and yes, that is yeast sitting on the bottom. That means it truly is maturing in the bottle, and it gets my hopes up even more that this is going to be something special. Bad news for those that hate cloudy beer though.

Morland Hen’s Tooth front label

The front-label takes the quirky-ness even further with two paragraphs muddled into one another. One of them describes it tersely as “A bottle conditioned strong ale” with a correspondingly strong alcoholic volume of 6.5%. The other one describes the same things that you read on the neck label, only this time ending with a quote from the head brewer that ends with “a combination of flavour and character that’s as rare as a Hen’s Tooth”. I’ve never read a label so difficult to describe. Let me know what you think of it, in the comments at the end of this post.

Over on the back-label, and it’s a business as usual mass of multilingual small-print.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I won’t bore you with all the details, so these are the highlights. At 6.5% alcoholic volume, this disappointingly un-Pint sized 50cl bottle weighs in at 3.3 UK units of alcohol before the nanny-state starts wagging its finger. They also have the complete Suffolk postal address, in case you want to send them a letter.

So, what does Morland Hen’s Tooth actually taste of? Is it any good and should you buy it? There’s only one way to find out.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I opted for a Bavarian-swirl to get the yeast out for that full flavour punch. Several actually. The head exploded when I tried to pour leading to a cycle of swirl, pour, wait for the head to collapse and repeat. Clearly I was doing it wrong. If you know the right way to pour Hen’s Tooth, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Once finally in the glass, it looks ok. The head is cream coloured and a thin layer of bubbles. The liquid is a cloudy amber-red colour. Although I’m sure you could get rid of the cloudiness if you wanted to by pouring it differently. Oh, and it doesn’t look carbonated at all.

What does Morland Hen’s Tooth smell like? A couple of sniffs, and all I can think of are Greene King’s other bottles of ale. It’s not a pungent odour. Quite mild really. A kind of malty, slightly spicy-hoppy smell. Maybe a hint of dry fruit. It smells of Autumn. Some smell of Christmas or Summer. This smells of Autumn.

What does this room temperature Morland Hen’s Tooth taste like? The first sip is a slow and civilised experience that reminds you that you’re drinking a strong ale. You just can’t hide from the strong ale taste, even though, at 6.5%, it’s at the low end of the strong ale spectrum. How do they fit such an onslaught of flavour and taste into such a low alcoholic volume? My guess is that the yeast somehow turbo-charges it.

Three slow sips in, and I’m starting to figure out Morland Hen’s Tooth. The flavour is mild. So mild that it’s hard to tell what it is. A couple more sips and I think it’s dry, biscuity malt and fruitiness. Bitterness and some saltiness also hit you right away.

The aftertaste is where Morland Hen’s Tooth comes alive. It is incredibly rich, warming, full-bodied and smooth leading to a very dry, long, bitter finish. The immense horse power of that finish was a lot to take onboard at first, but now, after about seven sips, I’m warming to it. Or it’s warming me to it. One of the two.

What am I enjoying about Morland Hen’s Tooth? I love the intense taste. I love the fun and novelty of having yeast floating around in the bottle to make your poured glass cloudy, or clear, whichever you choose. I like that the flavours and tastes blend well. I like how it’s a drink to be sipped in a slow, civilised fashion. And I like that it’s not too gassy. Not burp free, but it could be worse.

What don’t I like about Morland Hen’s Tooth? Sure, the flavours and tastes dominated by malt and fruit are nice enough, but it feels like it’s missing something. Complexity, layers of interesting-ness and some sweetness for a start. Then, the whole time, I kept thinking, this is Morland Old Speckled Hen with a loud exhaust and even louder stereo fitted. And that looses it some marks for originality and distinctiveness. And there’s the packaging. The quirky and contemporary design would be superb on a trendy summer brew, but it’s all wrong for this warming, civilised, autumnal brew. It’s like putting Helen Mirran in denim mini-skirt and tee-shirt.

So sum up, Morland Hen’s Tooth is tasty, high quality and optionally cloudy way of enjoying a fairly strong ale. If you liked Greene King’s other ales, particularly Morland Old Speckled hen, then Hen’s Tooth is definitely Worth your time and money. If you’re looking for something to help you wind down after a hard day at work this Autumn, this is a great choice. If you like your strong ale to be strong in the alcoholic sense or quirky and unusual, then you can probably find a better choice on the supermarket shelf. In a sentence, very good but not special enough.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Morland Hen’s Tooth? What did you think of it? Got any corrections, facts, places to buy or opinions? Any recommendations or suggestions for what I should look out for next review? Then leave a comment in the boxes below.

Beer Review: Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier

16 September, 2009

CROSSHARBOUR ASDA sounded its siren call again, leaving me with three more unusual bottles of beer to sample. First up is what one of my commentors described as the benchmark for clear, unfiltered wheat beer, and another described as the wheat beer for lager drinkers. With a lot of hype to live up to, here is a bottle of Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier bottle

What the bottle lacks in quirky charm (compare it to the granite-like bottles of British ale), it makes up for with interesting labels. The informative, and helpfully English language neck-label is our starting point on this German bottle.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier neck label

The big middle bit boasts three big things. An impressive crest. A date, “Since 1040”, and that it was “brewed and bottled by Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan Germany”. That makes this a genuine Bavarian. On shop shelves dominated by pretend Europeans, that counts for something.

Either side of part you can see in the photo are quiet, understated braggings of awards won. On the left, if we squint, we can see that it won “Gold Medal Australian International Beer Awards 2003, 2004 & 2006”. On the right, it’s the “Gold Medal International Beer Competition 2003”.

Other beers boast a lot more about much fewer awards. We’re only at the neck-label, and already Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier is giving off the quietly confident air of someone who knows what they’re doing.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier front label

The front-label, in a neat and Germanic roundel, says everything you need to know while you browse the shop shelves. And boy, does it get off to a flying start. “The World’s Oldest Brewery” “Since 1040”. In 1040, the Normans had yet to bother the people of Hastings. While in “Dark Age” Bavaria, they were coming up with award winning beer. That’s like going to see Shakespeare performing in The Globe, having just invented the iPod.

The bottom half says exactly what you need to know, in order to know if this is the bottle for you. Handy if you’re staring at a shop shelf, puzzling over what to put in your trolley.

My knowledge of German is ropey at best, but even I worked out that “Kristall Weissbier” means wheat beer with the yeasty bits filtered out. Fortunately, in case you hadn’t worked it out, they say it right there; “Clear Wheat Beer”.

The one other detail you need to know is the alcoholic volume. And they’ve thought to put that in as well. At 5.4%, Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier is looking to please everyone.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier back label

The back label is as clean and effective as an Audi four-dour saloon. There’s a ‘story’ about the brewery followed by an excellent description by Socialist and beer writer, Roger Protz. To quote his quote, “its intensely spicy aroma has powerful hints of cloves and nutmeg balanced by creamy malt. The defining character of Bavarian wheat beers – a banana note – dominates the palate, with rich malt, spices and a gentle hint of hops. A spritzy and wonderfully thirst-quenching drink.” The Michael Parkinson of beer reviewing liked it. But will I? For an ill-informed bunch of opinions and stretched metaphors, read on.

The ingredients are the usual “water, wheat, malt, barley malt, hops”. The full address from Freising, Germany, is on there. There’s a web address of www.weihenstephaner.de. But be warned; it will make you lust after bottles that you probably can’t buy where you live. Lastly, at 5.4% alcoholic volume, this 500ml bottle weighs in at 2.7 UK units of alcohol. A fact so boring that you’re probably loosing interest. So let’s get to the interesting part.

What does Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier taste like? Will I like it? Will I describe it the same way as celebrity beer writer, Roger Protz did? How will it compare to the other cloudy and clear wheat beers I tried? And should you go out and buy it? Let’s find out.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier poured into the wrong type of glass

I know, I know, I still don’t have the right sort of glass. If someone wants to send me a proper glass for the job, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. For the meantime, in a regular British pint glass, it looks fantastic. The head frothed right up the way a Bavarian wheat beer should.

The head is white, and made of big bubbles which collapsed into itself after a few moments. The beer itself is golden and clear. Bar the storm of bubbles furiously making their way to the surface.

Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier smell like? In a word; delicious. It has that impossibly good quality that I love about European wheat beers. Roger Protz used words like cloves, nutmeg and creamy malt. I’m going to use words like rich, malty, kind of fruity and awesome. In fact, forget all those words except awesome. For that is how it smells.

What does Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier taste like? The first sip is as pleasant as the first sniff. Gut reaction is that this is as good as the best cloudy wheat beers. Even though that’s impossible. It’s like expecting the battered cod with your chips to taste as good as lobster. But this seems to be pulling it off.

Why do I think that? After a few more sips and I’m still a long way from figuring it out. The flavours are dry, biscuity and of dried fruit. An understated sweetness. Followed by a gentle, smooth, bitterness of dry malt and spicy hoppiness. All together, making an outstandingly balanced and easy to drink, drink.

What am I loving about Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier? If you’ve enjoyed a European wheat beer, even ones you’re not supposed to compare it too, such as cloudy, unfiltered ones, and those from the Netherlands and Belgium you’ll know. It has the same, unmistakably lovely smoothness that you can’t quite describe. To help describe that indescribable quality, I’ve invented a new word; “delismoothich”. A combination of “delicious”, “smooth” and “rich”.

Possibly the most astounding thing about Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier is that it manages to be every bit as good and interesting as its cloudier cousins. Then there’s the flavours and taste which are perfectly balanced and very easy to drink. Give this to even hardened lager drinkers to see what they think. Roger Protz described it as spritzy and thirst-quenching and I can’t disagree. It’s refreshing and very drinkable. Not too gassy either, despite all the fizziness.

What don’t I like about Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier? Very little. Nitpicking, I suppose it doesn’t pack the same flavour punch as some cloudy wheat beer or British ales. But before you leave a comment saying you can’t compare them, yes, I know that already. I’m also guessing that after three or four, they stop being so refreshing. That said, I’d love to have enough bottles to find out. The only real complaint I can think of is that Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier and all the Weihenstephan range are so difficult to buy, here in Britain.

To conclude, Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier tasted great, even if I can’t put my finger exactly on why. It compared incredibly well to every other type of wheat beer, and every other beer, full-stop, that I’ve ever tried. I loved it, even though I used different words to celebrity beer socialist, Roger Protz. Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier is one of the best, so yes; you should go out and find it.

Rating: 4.5

Have you tried Weihenstephan Kristall Weissbier? Have you tried any other Weihenstephan beers? What did you think? Do please leave your inevitable corrections, or alternatively, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, in the comments.

Beer Review: Tsingtao Beer

20 August, 2009

BETTER late than never, here is my review of Tsingtao Beer. This one is from a convenience store in Shoreditch’s Kingsland Road in London. No, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to it either. It marks a full-circle for me. When I was gap-year travelling in China during ’06, this stuff weaned me off vodka screwdrivers. In fact, it kick-started my curiosity in beer that led to this very blog. And I haven’t tried Tsingtao Beer since leaving the Middle-Kingdom. So what will I make of it now?

Tsingtao Beer bottle

It looks a lot like other lagers on the shop shelves. Keep your wits about you, or you’ll accidentally pick up a bottle of something run-of-the-mill from the Continent.

Tsingtao Beer neck and shoulder of bottle

Looks a little closer and you’ll spot the name “Tsingtao” embossed on the shoulder. You’ll also see those attractive yet baffling (for Westerners) Chinese characters. Translators, do please leave your translations of these and anything from the labels in the comments at the end of this post. Another thing you might notice is just how transparent it is. Either the glass or the drink within is very clear indeed.

Down on the front-label, and we’re treated to a traditional, yet crowded roundel.

Tsingtao Beer front label

Starting on the outer border and working inwards (you have to start somewhere), the first detail you notice is “Since 1903”. Compared to European beers, that’s nothing. But Asian beers, that’s impressive.

Then there are some very welcome details. This is the genuine article; not a licensed rip-off. It was brewed and bottled by Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao in China. Very nice Chinese sea-side town, is Qingdao. Go there if you get the chance. But you might be wandering why Tsingtao is spelled differently to Qingdao. Well it’s simple really. The city changed they way its name is spelled in the English alphabet. You say them both in much the same way.

The little logo featuring a pagoda is a good touch. Qingdao has more than it’s fair share if I remember rightly. Just guessing, but I think the red border represents the flame emblem of the city. Can anyone confirm?

Then, for some reason, they cram the ‘story’ onto the front-label in tiny text. Regardless of that, squinting reveals that the classless Communist society has produced a classy beer. It tells of how since 1903, Tsingtao has been “internationally recognised as the finest beer in China” and how their fine ingredients have produced an “award winning beer”.

Under that, in writing so small you need an electron microscope to read it, are details about those awards. First of which it won shortly after birth in 1906, when it won the gold medal at the Munich Beer Expo. Then a gap until 1961-1987 when it was “winner of major American beer competitions”. Sure, it’s not the full picture, but it’s better than vague statements such as “award winning” that you find on some bottles.

Around on the back label, and the awards picture unfurls still further.

Tsingtao Beer back label

Right at the top are two medals not even mentions on the front-label. It seems to have won one of the prestigious Monde Selection awards in 1994. That’s one of the few names I recognise. Can anyone confirm what it won exactly? Whatever it is, I’m impressed.

Besides that, the back label is the usual bare-bones export version label. The ingredients are water, malt, rice and hops. And that’s interesting because of the rice. All the smooth lagers that I enjoy contain rice. It would explain why Tsingtao Beer in China persuaded me to give beer a second look.

4.7% alcoholic volume is middle-of-the-road and a bit shy of the continental standard 5%. In this small 330ml bottle, it weighs in at a light-weight 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

Down in the small-print are a final few nuggets of information. It was imported to the UK by Halewood International. And the UK Tsingtao Beer website is at www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk. To save you time, the most interesting page is at http://www.tsingtao-beer.co.uk/history.

What will I make of Tsingtao Beer after all this time, and after sampling hundreds of others beers from around the world? Will it remind me of backpacking and partying or of being lost and ill? And, the reason why you’re reading this, what will it taste like and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Tsingtao Beer poured into a glass

Be careful while pouring, but only for about five seconds. After that, the frothy head completely vanishes. What you’re left with is a very fizzy, pale amber, Pilsner lagery looking drink.

Does Tsingtao Beer smell lagery too? Yes it does. It has that light malted barley blend familiar to anyone who’s drank a Pilsner style lager beer before. That said, this is different. You can smell something else. And I think that something else is the rice.

What does Tsingtao Beer taste like? On the first sip, my ever-so-slightly chilled bottle tastes like the sum of its parts. It tastes like a lager smoothed, softened and rounded by rice. Being a lager, there is no flavour to bother the taste buds. What you need to look at is the taste and aftertaste because that’s where Tsingtao Beer impresses.

What you taste is the usual lager blend of malt and hops, plus a hint of rice. Probably because of that rice, there’s no bitter aftertaste “bite” to scare you away. What you get instead is one of the smoothest and easiest to drink lagers around.

What do I like about Tsingtao Beer? I love how smooth and easy to drink it is. No wander I got through so many big bottles of the stuff while I was out there. I like how you can taste the rice more so with this than most other rice-based lagers. That gives it points for distinctiveness. I like that there’s nothing about the taste to offend even the most timid drinkers. And I think it’s produced to a good quality. Particularly for an East Asian beer.

What don’t I like about Tsingtao Beer? The drinkability comes at a price. That price is watery-ness. Sure, that means you can drink it like water, and, in a country where you can’t drink tap water, this is a good alternative. But, if you want something to get your teeth into, look elsewhere. The taste will stop feeling refreshing after a few bottles. And it’s on the gassy side.

How can I sum up Tsingtao Beer? It’s a very drinkable, rice tasting and smooth, if watery lager. Probably excellent with hot food or if you just want to cool down on a hot day. If you’re in China this is your enjoyable default choice. The closest tasting rival I can think of is Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer, though you can probably name more. In a sentence, Tsingtao Beer is an Asian lager, but quite a good one.

Have you tried Tsingtao Beer? Can you translate anything from the bottle and labels? Got any extra facts, trivia and corrections? Do please leave your opinions, translations, comments, recommendations and places to buy, here.

Beer Review: Cobra King

4 August, 2009

THE LAST of this batch of three unusual bottles from ASDA is one I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while. Dressed in different labels, Cobra King turned up in an off-license on Brick Lane last year for a whopping £8 a bottle. So I was thrilled to find this colossal 750ml bottle of Cobra King in ASDA for just £3. And what an imposing bottle it is.

Cobra King bottle

Why was I so keen to get a bottle? First, Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager, the lager in a pretty bottle that pretends to be Indian is not bad. For a lager. A fact I put down to it being made with rice. Then there’s the comment left by a reader on my post on that other big, if not biggest Indian beer, Kingfisher Premium Lager. He recommended a few very high alcoholic volume Indian beers. This wasn’t one of them, but it’s the closest I’ve found, this side of Mumbai. Then there’s the curiosity factor. Who else wants to know what the Indian take on the high-strength lager is like?

It has changed a bit since I first caught sight of it. My guess is that they’re changing over from the front label with some colour, to this one which is just sleek gold on black. Something that makes it one of the most premium looking beers that is still just a lager. It even has a cork with Cobra’s trademark elephants.

Careful not to spoil the exquisite look, the details you need to know are around the neck.

King Cobra front of neck labelKing Cobra back of neck label

The front says everything you need to know. At 8%, it’s around the strength of strong ales and strong Polish mocne lagers. Hopefully the “Extra Smooth”-ness and “Double Fermented” brewing will make it more like strong ale than a strong lager.

Getting those hopes up are prizes that Cobra King won at the prestigious Monde Selection. No, I don’t know much about Monde Selection in Brussels either, but I’ve seen their medals on bottles that turned out to contained excellent beer. What’s more, Cobra King won those awards recently. Hopes are getting higher for Cobra King. Something not tempered by the main front label.

King Cobra front label

This is as cool, stylish, simplified, premium and brash as they get. Out with the traditional roundel or shield. It doesn’t even have borders. Just the words “The ultimate expression of our quest for the perfect beer” and the Cobra King logo. Modest, aren’t they? It does look good though.

The necessities of labelling regulations prevent the back from being as pretty as the front. But you must admit, it is still more elegant than most others.

Cobra King back label

They even have a proper description and story on the back. Albeit a marketing-driven one. Nevertheless, there are some interesting and useful fact-letts buried in the marketing-speak.

We learn that it was made with barley malt, hops and, crucially, rice. Just like the smooth and refreshing regular Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager and many of the smoother, superior lagers of the world. At least in my opinion. The hops are from the Hallertau region of Bavaria. That gives it breeding, but it makes me wander. What would Indian hops be like?

We also learn that it is “fermented once, then bottled and fermented again to bring out the subtlety and immense character of its ingredients”. Wouldn’t that mean that there’s live, unfiltered yeast in the bottle? Holding the bottle up to the light, it looks perfectly clear. If you can shed some more light on this, do please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Then they describe the taste as “Superbly smooth and balanced”. Expectations are high for “the ultimate expression of our quest for the perfect beer”.

Under that is the small-print. The first chunk of small-print is bad news. This is a faux Asian beer. It was brewed and bottled here in London. The web address is www.cobrabeer.com. You can find the few details they have about King Cobra at http://www.cobrabeer.com/beers/index#king. The only other detail worth mentioning is how many UK units of alcohol it has. At a high 8% volume, and in a huge 750ml bottle, King Cobra weighs in at a massive 6 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you drink the whole bottle, you’re technically binge drinking. Women, you will be after just half.

So what does King Cobra actually taste like? Is it any good? Would you enjoy it? Will it be more super-strength lager than exquisite ale? I’m looking forward to finding out. Not least because it has a champagne style cork to pop. At the very least, opening it will be fun.

Cobra King poured with insane head

That was exciting. Not only for the tension surrounding the velocity of the cork’s exit from the bottle (it was quite tame), but for the pouring. Even with careful pouring, I got an insane head that nearly overwhelmed my big glass. After a few minutes, it settled down to this.

Cobra King poured with less head

So my consumer advice to you is the pour as gently as you possibly can, or to use an enormous tankard.

Once in the glass, it doesn’t look too bad. For a lager. It’s uniform lager colour, being pale amber hue that it is. I can’t help being disappointed that it isn’t the darker colour of certain prestigious European lagers.

What does Cobra King smell of? The website uses words like “fresh”, “distinctive”, “tropical” and “citrus”. I’m not sure about that. I’ll give it “fresh” and describe it as lagery and good. It doesn’t smell like the strong lagers and manages to smell better than most regular strength ones. Which is a feat.

What does Cobra King taste of? The first couple of gulps are good ones. And ones that tell you that it’s not a good idea to try and down a pint in one go. You can taste that strength. Even if it is ten times more refined than a strong lager in a can.

The website describes it as having “malty flavours” that lead to “floral, tropical and citrus fruit notes”. A few gulps in and I’m not so sure. It’s tasting much like a regular, if well made lager to me. I’m getting a mild flavour of malted barley. Which, in the world of pilsner lager, is quite a lot of flavour. What is impressive is that the aftertaste finish is not a bitter “bite”. Possibly thanks to the rice, it’s smooth.

While trying to figure out the taste, it became time to top up the glass with more from the bottle. And this time pouring was somewhat less dramatic. In fact, the remainder of the bottle filled my big glass very well indeed, and topped it off with a splendid, frothy head that looked so good, yet another photo was in order.

Cobra King poured with normal head

So what does Cobra King actually taste of? All I’m getting is a blend of malted barley and hoppiness. Not any of the citrus or tropical qualities the official website talked about. But then not many lagers manage even that. If you’re used to ales, you might pooh-pooh the flavours and tastes of Cobra King. But if you normally have only lager, then this is going to impress you.

What do I like about Cobra King? I love that it manages to find a way of doing things in the formulaic world of lager. It’s smooth and has a distinctive flavour and taste. It’s nearly as strong as the ASBO lagers, yet doesn’t taste like toxic paraffin. Considering how strong it is, it’s surprisingly easy to drink. It’s smooth and not at all gassy. Then there’s the packaging. It must be one of the coolest looking bottles on the shelf. And, being hard to find, it has that exclusive quality.

What don’t I like about Cobra King? It’s as if they were aiming to make an ale, almost did, but missed and accidentally made a lager. It is a jolly good lager. But if they used this expertise to make a proper ale, it would be outstanding. Then there’s the taste. Because I’ve tried the super-strength lagers, I know how much better this does strong than they do. But a newcomer won’t appreciate that. They’ll just complain. And that makes it less than accessible to normal people and to girls.

How can I sum up Cobra King? It is a lager unlike any I have sampled. Nearly as smooth and easy to drink as regular lager, yet nearly as strong as super-strength lager. And it has some flavour and taste to it. No matter if you’re a lager lout or an ale connoisseur, Cobra King is interesting enough to justify your time and money. Especially if you can buy it for £3. Just make sure you have someone to share it with.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Cobra King? What did you think of it? Have I made a glaring error that you feel compelled to criticise me for? If so, then leave your opinions, corrections, criticisms, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Chimay Blue Pères Trappistes Trappist Beer

28 July, 2009

THE NEXT unusual bottle to come from Crossharbour ASDA is this $1.74 pence bottle of Chimay Blue Pères Trappistes. Maybe it’s not all that unusual. Somebody left a comment on this blog a few weeks ago that mentioned it. I think it looks like the dumpy little bottles of Duvel Golden Ale which is also Belgian and happens to be delicious. I’ve also got a suspicion that this might be an unfiltered, live, cloudy, yeasty Belgian. And that is a very good thing.

Chimay Blue bottle

Around the neck, are words and a symbol are embossed. But what do they say?

Chimay Blue things embosesd around shoulder of bottle

The “A D S” doesn’t mean anything. Until you read the words underneath it. “Abbaye de Scourmont” is what I could make out. Corrections in the comments at the end of the post please.

Down on the front label, everything is calm, tasteful and, thankfully, much easier to read.

Chimay Blue front label

The numbers either side of the “Chimay” shield logo. Does “2009” make this a vintage conscious beer in the same way as a wine? Is 2009 good or would 1909 be better? Most of the rest of the front label helpfully explains, in a multitude of European languages, that this is a Trappist Beer.

The serenity of the front label is replaced by multilingual overload on the back. It does however, do a good job of answering our questions.

Chimay Blue back label

Considerately, the English language version of the story comes first. They start by pointing out the “Authentic Trappist Product” symbol, which means it was brewed in a real monastery by the community who live there. Monks if we’re honest. Then comes some unexpected news. Apparently, some of the revenue from this beer goes to the monks to support their charitable works. That makes me feel less guilty for buying beer. Thanks monks!

Then they start the description of what Chimay Blue is about. Enticingly, they describe it as “powerful and complex”. They go further than many by giving the narrow temperature window of 10°C to 12°C. I don’t know what that is, so I’ll leave it in the fridge for a while and hope for the best.

Ingredients, at least the ones on the label, are no surprise. “Water, barley malt, wheat, sugar, hop, yeast” are in the list. But look below all the languages, and we spot some things that are a surprise. There’s a cross over a picture of a normal glass, with a side, almost wine glass shaped thing next too it. Next to shat is the same sort of diagram telling you to store the bottle upright, not on its side. Together with the temperature thing, this is turning into one temperamental brew. It also hints at the yeasty sediment that must be floating inside the bottle.

Then we get to the vital statistics. Yes, the 0.33L bottle is little surprise. But the alcoholic volume is. At 9%, Chimay Blue is right up there with the strongest European continental ales, British strong ales and the super-strength alcoholics favourite lagers.

The last bits of detail are just above the barcode. The brewer is one S.A. Bières de Chimay N.V. in Belgium. The Inter-tubes must have reached the Trappist monks of Chimay because they have a website at www.chimay.com. To save you time, you can find history at http://www.chimay.com/en/history_53.php, the Blue homepage is at http://www.chimay.com/en/chimay_blue_220.php and at http://www.chimay.com/en/intro_241.php you can read about the cheeses that they are very keen for you to eat while drinking Chimay.

With that out of the way, it’s time for the fun part. What does Chimay Blue actually taste like? Will I like it, even though I don’t have any cheese? Should you try it? And will many people leave angry comments because I used the wrong type of glass? Let’s find out.

Chimay Blue poured into the wrong type of glass

The closest I could find to the label picture was a wine glass. Despite this, it still frothed up. Fortunately, the froth went down as fast as it went up. And whatever glass you choose, it looks and terrific. Just look how dark brown it is, and how good it looks with the thick, bubbly head. The downside is that I can’t see the yeasty sediment swirling around.

Then there’s the smell that you can smell from the moment you start pouring. Chimay Blue smells unlike anything I’ve smelt before. It smells richly, deeply of dark fruit. A bit like a red wine, port or cherry. But it’s smoothed by the rich maltiness, familiar from other favourite Belgian ales. Oh, and it smells of alcohol. Strongly of alcohol.

What does Chimay Blue taste like? The first sip revealed a taste much like that of the smell. It also proved the vague label description to be spot-on. It is as “powerful and complex” as anything you have ever drank. A few more sips and some sense starts to be made of Chimay Blue.

A few more sips and I’m thoroughly enjoying Chimay Blue. But I’m beginning to wander if that complexity is all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it’s a hundred times more complex than lager, but I can’t detect a rainbow of flavours. Just a very powerful taste. It does have a flavour. I think. One of rich, dark fruit that reminds me of wine, port, cherry or fruit cake. Then there’s the aftertaste. On the palate, this is as powerful as it’s 9% volume promises it to be. That smooth, distinctively Belgian taste kicks in, the fruitiness goes into overdrive and you receive a delicious taste of lightly roasted maltiness. I love it.

Specifically, what do I like about Chimay Blue? That mysterious Belgian quality always wins me over. Try Hoegaarden White Beer, Leffe Blonde or Duvel Golden Ale to see what I mean. They all have the same quality that this has. Next, there’s that taste. The only thing I can compare it to is the British Old Tom Strong Ale. That had the same sort of strong taste of dark fruit, but Chimay Blue does it the Belgian way. And that keeps its points for distinctiveness intact. I like very much how well made it is. It’s strong, but not too bitter. Amazingly, they’ve kept it balanced. 9% volume is rarely this easy to drink. I also like how clearly this is one of those drinks to be savoured and drunk slowly, in a civilised way. This is one of those ales nudging into wine territory. On top of all that, it’s not too gassy.

What of the downsides to Chimay Blue? Well, it is strong. There’s no denying that. Even though I got used to it soon enough, it’s going to put off the less intrepid and more lager inclined. If you can find a girl who says she likes Chimay Blue, hang onto her. Then there’s the problem of finding the right time to drink this, and all very strong ales. What is the right social situation? If you know, leave a comment. Lastly, Chimay Blue is probably not going to be half-price at your local supermarket. That means it is going to be hard to find where you live.

How can I sum up Chimay Blue? It is the Old Tom Strong Ale I tried last time, but Belgian. It is just as strong, just as dark, warming, fruity and interesting, only in the form of an unfiltered Belgian ale. It is an exceptional beer. If you’ve ever wanted to drink a fruit cake or find ordinary red wine not beery enough, this is the one for you. Just remember to go slowly and savour it, or you risk becoming sozzled, as I have just become.

Rating: 4.375

Have you tried Chimay Blue? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, facts, corrections, recommendations, requests and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale

15 July, 2009

GOOD news; I’ve been to Crossharbour ASDA again and bought three more abnormal bottles. The first of which is this robust little bottle of Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale that cost £1.58 pence.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale bottle

ASDA’s immense swathes of shelving, make choosing the quirkiest bottles a challenge. I picked this one because has a cat as a mascot, the bottle looks like it was designed by Edwardians and because there aren’t enough strong ales in the world. And yes, all that large writing you can see is embossed onto the glass. I’ve never seen a bottle like it. At least not outside of museums.

Wisely, Robinsons put the details you want to know, out of the way, up on the neck.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale neck label

I love what strong ale does. Sure, super strength lager does strong as well. But strong ale on the other hand does strong, and proves that you don’t need to sacrifice your taste buds and stomach contents in the process. A bit like having a ploughman’s sandwich for lunch instead of a burger drenched in lard and chilli sauce.

The other thing to love about strong ale is how uncompromising it is. Other ales have all kinds of interesting flavours and tastes from bitterness to biscuits. And that’s all very tasty. But what if you just want straight forward ale that’s as not been cut down to fit a market segment? If you’re not a target demographic, you’ll want to buy a strong ale.

Unsurprisingly, this makes the alcoholic volume slightly important. Fortunately, Robinsons come straight out with the number 8.5%. A number that puts it up there with the alcoholics favourites and with the most potent strong ales and continental beers.

The neck label doesn’t stop there. With a row of four medals, it informs us that it has been an “Award Winning Ale Since 1899”. Unless my calendar is wrong, that makes this ale one-hundred and ten years old. Though hopefully not this very bottle, because it would almost certainly have gone off during the intervening century and now be much too valuable to crack open.

What does the front label look like?

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale front of bottle

It doesn’t have one. The embossed words “Robinsons Old Top Strong Ale” make up the simplest roundel in the world. The sticker in the centre is of a winking cat. Unconventional, but it does it for me. Let me know what you think in the comments at the end of the post.

The back label is the place to go for the details. And what a crowded contrast to the front it proves to be.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale back of bottle

Cleverly, the vital statistics are right at the top. The alcoholic volume of 8.5% is there again in case you missed it, and that this is a 330ml bottle. Under that, because this is a quirky British ale, not a charmless European, we get a story. Highlights of which are that Old Tom is “almost as old as the brewery itself” and that the head brewer illustrated the recipe in his note book with the cat’s face.

They then describe it as a “dark and warming superior strong ale with aromas of dark fruit and a palate booming with ripe malt and hops followed by a deep port wine finish”. Crikey, that sounds intense. And, as I write this in the middle of July, I realise this is as inappropriate as Cornetto in the middle of winter. It sounds like the complete opposite to citrusy golden summer ale.

They continue the story with news that Old Tom has won lots of prestigious industry awards and that it “is now recognised as one of the most famous strong ales brewed in England”. Under that, sensibly, they have the message “Drink with caution! But most of all ENJOY.” Wise words. Even though I can’t remember that last time I saw an alcoholic on the street drinking anything other than lager or cider.

Next to that is a tiny logo. The only words I can make out on it as “Beer Academy” and “Beer Education Trust”. If that means anything to you, leave a message at the end of this post.

Then there’s a bit more about who made this bottle. It turns out to be by a brewer Frederic Robinson Ltd. And it comes from Stockport. What’s more, the Interweb has reached northern England, because they have a website at www.frederic-robinson.com. I implore you to have a look too, as it’s better than the Flash-heavy tripe that the big brewers pass off as websites. The downside is that it will make you want beers that you can’t buy in shops where you live.

Under that, we reach the seriously small print. We learn that this bottle as 2.8 UK units of alcohol. Or, to put it another way, just two of them will be enough for the nanny-state to start tut-tutting you. Most of the rest of the text is in other languages. Sadly, because this isn’t a continental bottle, the only ingredient we know about is “malted barley”.

With nothing else to read, we reach the fun bit. What does Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale taste like? Will I like it? And do I think you should try it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Robinson Old Tom Strong Ale poured into a glass

Watch out for the insane head. It’s volcanic at first, so give it a minute to settle down. Thanks to the bottle neck, it’s almost impossible to pour without some glugging. The thing you notice right after that is just how dark it is. This is a long way from pale yellow lager. Not as dark as porter or stout, but getting close.

What does Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale smell of? Surprisingly, it’s not all that pungent. To smell it, a good hard sniff is in order. The bottle described it as having “aromas of dark fruit”. Pretty much what I’m picking up. It smells of Christmas pudding.

What does this room temperature Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale taste of? The label described it as “booming with ripe malt and hops followed by a deep port wine finish”. My first sip reveals it to live up to the intense and interesting billing. First impression are that this is going to be one of the most intense, strongest tasting and most wine-like of any ale I’ve ever tried.

A couple more sips, and I’m beginning to figure out the flavours and tastes. It really is one of the most complex and interesting ales I’ve tried. You could easily pass an entire evening trying to fathom it.

The flavour is warmly malty and hoppy. But it’s the aftertaste that dominates Old Tom. It has the most intense, strong, full-bodied, warm and fruity-in-a-port-or-Christmas-pudding-way aftertaste I’ve ever tasted. I must admit, it was a bit much at first, but I’m quickly warming to it. That or it’s warming me up to it.

What am I liking about Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? As you’ve probably guessed, quite a lot. I love that it’s a strong ale in a world that has little room for it. I love that it’s so different to any ale you will ever drink. And that scores it serious points for taking risks in distinctiveness and uniqueness. I like the strong taste and high volume. I like how quickly you get used to it and how drinkable it is, once you have. All of which points to quality ingredients and brewing. And you’ve got to love the packaging.

What am I not liking about Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? First up, it’s hard to find, and pricey when you do. The intense rush of taste will floor some people. Unless you’re adventurous or used to strong flavours, the first sip could put you right off. And that would be a shame. I love that it takes risks with the taste, but the flipside of that risky strategy is that it won’t please everyone.

How can I sum up Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? No wander it has won so many awards over the last century. Distinctive, exceptional and Christmassy are just some of the adjectives I’m going to choose to describe it. This is one of the very best British ales, but be forewarned, it might be too strong for you.

Rating: 4.275

Have you tried Robinsons Old Tom Strong Ale? Got an opinion even if you haven’t? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, facts, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale

24 June, 2009

AN important gap is being filled this time. So far, I’ve tried Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale and Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale. All of which were high-quality and unmemorable. So will the missing piece of the jigsaw, Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale keep the mould or break it?

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale bottle

It looks much like its cousins. Helpful if you want to catch ‘em all. You also have to love the long thin neck. It is the Cynthia Nixon of beer bottles.

The neck label is much the same as the other Shepherd Neame ales. But it’s still worth looking at because the one fact on it is so impressive.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale neck label

If you were “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” dating back to 1698, you would want to advertise the fact prominently too.

With no more facts to read on the neck label, the front label is the next place to look.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale front label

Well, it’s a roundel. Not much to say about it. Master Brew is, apparently, a Kentish Ale and a “Local Hero”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds good.

It’s a contemporary take on the traditional roundel, but I can’t help feeling that they’ve missed a few important things. Things like the alcoholic volume and what the beer is like. Hopefully the back label will have some actual information on it.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale back label

Out of portrait and into landscape for one of the widest beer labels out there. In one of the most terse “back-label stories”, they tell of how well loved Master Brew is in Kent, and that they sponsor Kent County Cricket Club. Depending on which former colony my overseas readers are from, you will either be thinking “how quaint and English” or “what a waste of money because we always beat you at the game”.

Under that are some truly useful tasting notes by someone called Andrew Jefford. He uses words such as “amber-russet”, which I think is about the colour. To describe the character, he uses words such as “invigorating” and “mouthwatering”, which he puts down to “pungent Kentish hops” and “crystal malts”. I don’t know about you, but I’m still confused.

It is nevertheless the “Local Hero” of Kent, and the Kentish people who know about beer. If you want to grow hops, Kent would be one of the best places in the country in which to do it.

Over on the smaller-print side are the vital statistics. This 500ml bottle (why not a proper pint?) has a 4% alcoholic volume which weighs in at exactly 2 UK units of alcohol. All rather ho-hum. The European Geographic Indications adds a little bureaucratic glamour to the mix. And if you want to read more, the website printed on the label in tiny lettering is www.shepherdneame.co.uk. To save you time, the homepage for Master Brew is at http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/beers/index.php?master_brew.

Right at the bottom is a huge block of tiny, multilingual text. But don’t bother squinting to read it. The only even slightly interesting detail is the postal address of Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun bit. What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale taste like? How good is it and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale poured into a glassPOURED PHOTO

From the moment the top pops off, we’re odd to a good start. You can start to smell the pungent Kentish hops, and it pours very satisfyingly indeed. The neck comes into play by making it very difficult to pour without glugging. Normally a bad thing, this time it’s good, because it leaves your pint glass with a thick layer of froth. Shame it doesn’t fill the whole glass though.

You also have to like the copper colour. Or “amber-russett” as they call it. Whatever it is, it looks the part of an English ale.

What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale smell like? You can smell something from the moment you pop the cap. But figuring out what you’re sniffing takes a little work. My nostrils detected the likes of malt, vanilla and something tangy. But you’d be advised not to trust my nose. If you can figure out what the odours are, leave a comment at the end of the post. Whatever the smell is, it’s complex, not too strong and quite nice.

What does Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale taste like? Straight away, the first sip tells you that this ale is all about hoppiness. A couple more sips reveals that there is very little flavour in the palate before the big hoppy aftertaste hits. It’s not devoid of flavour. It’s just very hard to notice the slight maltiness.

Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale is a hoppy tasting. That means you’ll find the interesting part in the aftertaste. Usually, the experience is like drinking a hedgerow. If they choose some unusual hops, like the Ruddles County I tried a few days ago, it’ll be different again. Well, Master Brew tastes different again, this time thanks to those Kentish hops. It’s still like drinking grass, leaves and twigs, but this time from a hedge in a well loved garden. There’s some bitterness, but not that much. What lingers is the taste of arable fields, and boy, does it linger.

What do I like about Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? I like the taste. It’s a slight variation on the old hoppy English ale, so it scores half a point for distinctiveness. Like its cousins, it is very well made. You can tell that natural, good quality, things went into it. All of which make it satisfying and drinkable.

There are however, one or two drawback to Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale. For a start, it’s not a complex and mysterious. There aren’t hundreds of flavours and tastes to leave you deep in thought. They describe it as “invigorating” which I took to mean the same things as “refreshing”. No, it isn’t refreshing. Or light. And that makes it less than easy for the novice to drink. Even though it does the “hoppy ale” thing very well, it doesn’t exactly push the envelope of originality. And that, like its cousins, might possibly make it less than memorable. Lastly, it is on the gassy side.

How can I sum up Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? Maybe I’m being harsh on it. It’s probably supposed to be a straightforward, traditional, hoppy Kentish ale. And in that, it is excellent. I’ve enjoyed this almost-a-pint of Master Brew. It’s a thoroughly satisfying, uncomplicated ale.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale? Do you want to? If so, do please leave a comment. Share your opinions, corrections, expert advice, recommendations, requests and places to buy in the box below.

Beer Review: Ruddles County

18 June, 2009

THE hilarious yet delicious Ruddles Rhubarb is the only bottled Ruddles I’ve tried so far. That needs to change. Goodness knows what Ruddles could pull out of the bag next. So, from a shop in Bethnal Green in London’s East End, here is a £1.89 pence bottle of Ruddles County.

Ruddles County bottle

Where have I seen this shape of bottle before? You can put money on there being a familiar name on one of the labels. And, because it’s transparent, it’s like having a hunk of copper cast into the shape of a bottle.

Ruddles County neck label

The neck label isn’t what you’d call informative. With nothing more than the “Ruddles County” name, there is nothing to see here.

Ruddles County front label

It’s not very much better down on the front label, either. Yes, I love the “Ruddles” horseshoe motif. The slogan “Proper Country Ale” is exactly what you want to read on a bottle of old British ale. And the alcoholic volume of 4.7% isn’t bad. It’s not strong either, but it’s not bad. It’s just the absence of clues about the ale itself that annoy me. Hopefully the back label will have some actual information about what this beer is all about.

Ruddles County back label

A quick glace reveals that the back label of Ruddles County has all the information I want, and much more besides. They describe it as an “English Ale with a distinctive flavour of dark toffee and caramel combined with a crisp bitterness, derived from using rare Bramling Cross hops.” Sounds yummy.

Even though I know nothing about them, the addition of rare hops makes me want it even more. If you happen to know why Bramling Cross hops are so rare, leave a comment at the end of the post.

Below that we get the “story” bit that makes British ales that bit quirkier than those from the rest of the world. This ones rambles on about their horseshoe motif coming from the tradition of royalty and peers of the realm giving a horseshoe to the lord of the manor when they pass through England’s smallest county, Rutland. An idea that seems like a completely ineffective toll. Wouldn’t money have been a superior currency instead of horseshoes? That sort of small-scale thinking must be why the county of Rutland have ended up so small.

Under that is all the small print. There’s all the usual public health nonsense about recommended units of alcohol. This 500ml bottle, with its 4.7% payload weighs in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol by the way.

Under that, in very small writing is the answer to the question of why the bottle looked so familiar. The answer is that Ruddles is made by medium-sized regional brewing giant, Greene King, of Bury St, Edmunds in Suffolk. Their website is on the label too, which is www.greeneking.co.uk. To save you time, their Ruddles section is at http://www.greeneking.co.uk/launch_ruddles.htm.

So, what does Ruddles County taste like? Is it any good? And should you buy it? Time to crack it open and find out.

Ruddles County poured into a glass

Well the colour isn’t a surprise. The head is not bad. It’s nearly enough for you to forgive it for being a 500ml bottle instead of a proper pint (come on brewers, give us the pints our glasses were made for).

What does Ruddles County smell of? It smells interesting. Not strong. I’m not very good at this, but will go for words like ‘hoppy’ and ‘biscuity’. There’s probably some more odours in there too, all of which can be caught with the umbrella word ‘complex’. In short, it smells of ale.

What does Ruddles County taste like? The first sip reveals something stronger and more intense than I was expecting. The second sip is dominated by a taste of spicy hops. This if going to take a few more sips to understand.

A few more sips later, and I’m making progress. The label described the flavour as a “distinctive” one of “dark toffee and caramel”. Maybe they do. To me, they blend into something malty and biscuity. All of which is swept away by an intense rush of spicy, hoppy bitterness in a long, satisfying aftertaste. That must be where those Bramling Cross hops come into play.

What am I enjoying about Ruddles County? I like that intense hoppiness. Probably because of the Bramling Cross hops, it’s a different type of hoppiness to other hoppy ales. Instead of tasting like you’re drinking a hedgerow, it tastes like you’re drinking a hedge with dash of pepper sauce. It’s distinctive. It’s a risk taker and for that, you have to admire it. I like how well made it is. I like how clean and crisp it is.

What don’t I like about Ruddles County? Honestly, it’s hard going. If you normally drink the dark and heavy beers of the world, this won’t be a problem for you. I just happened to find it less than easy to drink. That distinctive, strong bitterness is going to put off some drinkers.

What’s the verdict on Ruddles County? It is a hoppy English ale, but different to the other hoppy ales. Those Bramling Cross hops give it an edge that the other hoppy ales don’t have. It proved too much for little old me, but some of you might love it. It’s good, but one for the adventurous drinker.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Ruddles County? What did you think of it? Do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter

16 June, 2009

BACK to normal this post, and I begin with an apology. So far, I’ve enjoyed Wells’ outstanding Satanic Mills and tasty Burning Gold Bombardier bottled beers. But managed to completely overlook the much easier to find English Premium Bitter. I don’t normally go for straight-up bitters as they’re usually uninteresting, but the ubiquity and patriotism of English Premium Bitter means it must be tried. And, of course, it fills a gaping hole in my coverage of the Wells’ splendid Bombardier range. So here it is. A bottle of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. Bought for £1.99 pence from a shop on Bethnal Green Road in London’s East End.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter bottle

Looking as solid as an old English oak tree, Wells choose their bottles well. What’s more, they’ve been learning what you should do with the neck label. Brewers, take note, they have put useful information on it. Have a look at this.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front of neck label

Well, okay, on closer inspection it’s more marketing speak than useful information. But it’s a start. Does “burnished copper ale” mean anything to anyone reading? If so, leave a comment at the end of the post.

The front label keeps things simple, traditional and English.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front label

What more can you say about it? It’s a shield in the design of St George’s Cross. The middle keeps things simple. It has the “Wells” logo with the words “Brewers Since 1876” which is a long time ago, but not a very long time ago. Under that are the banners and crest saying “Bombardier” “English” “Premium Bitter”. Under which is that all imported alcoholic volume. 5.2% alcoholic volume makes it strong, but not very strong.

What of the back? The neck label is again the place to start.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back of neck label

It looks like a lot of information until you realise that it’s the same piece of information in many languages. All you need to know is that it was brewed by “Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited, Bedford, UK, MK40 4LU.” So there you have it. Interesting beers from a boring place.

The back label proper is where the real detail lies.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back label

They open with a description so informative and concise, I don’t need to paraphrase. Instead, here it is in full: “Our own natural mineral water, the ripest English Fuggles hops and crushed Crystal malt deliver this experience of England in a glass. Peppery aromas give way to the perfect balance of malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit on the palate, with a long, soft spicy finish”.

Mouth watering stuff. And, remarkably informative and concise. Not like the marketing speak and dearth of facts we normally put up with. Well done Wells.

Under that is the list of ingredients. And it’s good new again. It’s the full thing, not the one or two ingredients you usually get. Nothing too out of the ordinary apart from two E numbers. Now they’re not welcome. British ale is supposed to be as natural as a hedge covered in brambles. For the curious, the list is “Water, Malted Barley, Sugar, Hops, Yeast, Colour E150C, Stabiliser E405.”

Under all the uninteresting small print are a few bits of miscellany. The web address is www.bombardier.co.uk. And, with an alcoholic volume of 5.2% and a 500ml bottle (why not a full pint?), Bombardier English Premium Bitter weighs in at 2.6 UK units of alcohol.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun bit. What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter actually taste like? Is it any good and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter poured into a glass

Frustratingly, this English Premium Bitter fails to fill my English pint glass. The blotchy head doesn’t improve matters either. But the “burnished copper” thing starts to make sense. The photo might not show it, but it’s the colour of copper that hasn’t been cleaned in a few years.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter smell of? It’s not a smell hat fills the room. Hold your nose over the glass however, and you’re rewarded with a luscious smell of hops. The label described the smell as “peppery”. There’s certainly something giving it an edge.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter taste of? The first two gulps are nice ones. And ones that tell me this is to be sipped, not gulped. First impression is that there’s not a whole lot of flavour or taste. It’s there, only being a little more subtle than your typical English football fan.

A few more sips, and I’m making some sense of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. The label described things like “malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit” and a “soft spicy finish”. I think it’s got most of those things, but less of them than you’d expect. There is a mildly fruity taste, but blink and you’d miss it. The aftertaste is soft and gentle, but with such a long, lingering finish, you don’t miss it as easily. I’m going to describe it as malty, biscuity and hoppy.

As for bitterness, the whole flavour and taste experience is so soft and gentle, I’m amazed it’s even called a “Bitter”.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about beer, but if, like me, you were expecting an onslaught of taste and bitterness, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter will come as a surprise.

What do I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I like how well it’s packaged. I like the subtlety of flavours and taste. I like how that subtlety was such a surprise. I like how easy to drink it is; and how much of a surprise that drinkability is. And, like the other Bombardiers, it is very well made with some excellent ingredients.

What don’t I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I don’t like my English Premium Bitter to adopt a Euro 500ml and failing to fill a pint glass. Personal preference here, but I was hoping for flavour and taste that the human tongue could detect. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, it is still better than most lagers, but the labels built up hopes of more. Lastly, those E numbers. Is quality ale supposed to have E numbers? Experts, do please leave your thoughts in the comments at the end of the post.

To sum up, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter is a surprisingly soft and gentle bitter that’s nearly as easy to drink as lager. I think some people might call it a “session ale” for those reasons. It reminds me of Fuller’s London Pride and Marston’s Pedigree. If you want a drinkable ale, but don’t want a summery taste or to feel like you’re easting it, this is the one to choose.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? Can you answer any of the numerous questions raised in the ‘review’? Do please leave your answers, opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Edelweiss Weiβbier

3 June, 2009

ALL too soon, I’ve reached the last of my three bottles of cloudy, live, imported wheat beer, from ASDA. Grolsch Weizen was Dutch, lowest priced and outstanding. Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier was German, more expensive and made with quality.  What then, will this expensive £1.99 pence bottle of Edelweiss Weiβbier from Austria be like?

Edelweiss Weissbier bottle 

To recap, wheat beer, especially the cloudy ones, are favourites. They’re some of my favourites, and, judging by your comments, they’re your favourites as well. But they’ve all been a little bit different. And that’s very good news for anyone bored of identical Pilsner style lagers.

Edelweiss Weiβbier is going to be my first beer from Austria. So, what am I expecting from the country that brought us Adolf Hitler and bizarre human enslavement, yet also Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Alps?  Will Edelweiss Weiβbier be a Ferdinand Porsche or an Arnold Scwarzenegger? I don’t know. Maybe the bottle will tell us?

Starting, unusually, with the bottle top.

Edelweiss Weissbier bottle top

German translators, do please do your thing in the comments at the end of this post. “Naturtrüb” must be something to do with “nature”. And “Hefetrüb” is something to do with wheat. I’m completely lost with “Obergärig”.

Edelweiss Weissbier neck label

What can I say about the neck label? It looks nice. It says the most important things like “Wheat Beer”, “Original” and “Import”. And it has the Edelweiss logo, which has a picture of some alps and the year 1475. Which is a very long time ago.

The main front label however is one of the most impressive shields ever stuck to a bottle of beer.

 

Edelweiss Weissbier front label

It has enough English language to let you know what it is. And enough German language to confuse you and remind you that it really is imported.

First stop is the crest. There’s all sorts of strange gubbins attached to it. Does anyone know the story behind it?

Most of the words around the border are self-explanatory. But, I must ask the friendly translators out there to help with “Hofbräu Kaltenhausen”.

All very symmetrical, precise and Germanic. There’s no details cluttering up that label. Maybe the back label has something a little more descriptive?

Edelweiss Weissbier back label

Err, not exactly. It’s all in English, so it must have been put on especially for us. And, it’s entirely made up of small-print details. No descriptions, no stories about ancient traditions by monks in abbeys. Just the clean facts. How very Germanic of them.

Still, small-print facts are small-print facts, and these are no less interesting. Edelweiss Weiβbier was brewed by “Brau Union Ősterreich AG” Then there’s an address with a possibly answer to the Hofbräu question from the front label. Has anyone been to “Hofbräu Kaltenhausen, A-4500 Kaltenhausen, Austria”? What is it like?

There’s a full list of ingredients. Much more interesting than the abridged version we get here in the UK. Under that is the full table of UK units of alcohol recommendations. The full thing. True to form, it would be impossible for them to stick to the rules and more than they have.

Then there are the vital statistics. Edelweiss Weiβbier comes in the ubiquitous 500ml bottle. It has an alcoholic volume of 5.5%. Both of which bring it to 2.8 UK units of alcohol.

And that’s it. There is nothing left to say about the bottle. The flipside is that we get to the fun bit quicker. What will Edelweiss Weiβbier taste like? How will it compare to the handful of other wheat beers that I’ve tried? Will it be worth the extremely high price? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Edelweiss Weissbier poured into a glass

Yes, yes. It’s not the right glass. I know. But just look at the beer. A magnificent frothy head tops the cloudiest of amber beers.

One of the best things about unfiltered wheat beers is the smell. Does it let Edelweiss Weiβbier down? Not a chance. The smell is every bit as odorous, rich and mouth watering as the rest of them. Crucially, is there any hint of citrus? Some of them have it, others smell more like a loaf of bread. This one is hard to tell. You can smell the wheat, but is that fruit in there too? It’s hard to tell.

So what does it taste of? A couple of gulps weren’t enough to answer the question. This is going to take a few more sips to figure out. A few sips later and I’m enjoying Edelweiss Weiβbier. It seems to be a straight up wheaty wheat beer like Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbie, not the citrus explosion sort, like Grolsch Weizen. There is almost no flavour, which is smoothly followed by a rich, wheaty and malty taste. No bitterness, but a lingering and very taste that clings to your tongue.

More than half-way through already, so what am I enjoying about Edelweiss Weiβbier? I like what it does and how it does it. The wheaty and malty taste is superb. It’s also different to the few other unfiltered wheat beers that I’ve tried. And that scores it marks for distinctiveness. Making it even more distinctive is just how light it is. With no flavour, the entire experience sits on the taste and aftertaste. And, unlike most lagers, it works. I also like how rich and full bodied it is. And, as is the way with these old continental wheat beers, how well made and easy to drink it is.

There are however, one or two drawbacks with Edelweiss Weiβbier. If, like me, you love the smorgasbord of flavours from the likes of Hoegaarden White Beer, you’ll come away a tiny bit disappointed. And, by having almost no flavour but immense taste and aftertaste, it’s a lopsided experience. Like standing on one leg. That leaves it an unrefreshing experience. And also one that’s heavy. I feel like I’ve just eaten a thick, if tasty slice of bread. And, as is the way with beers like this, get ready to burp.

What is the verdict on Edelweiss Weiβbier? I liked it. But that’s hardly surprising. I like all live, unfiltered wheat beers. What is surprising is what Edelweiss Weiβbier does to it. It goes down the wheaty tasting wheat beer route, and still manages to be different to the other wheaty tasting wheat beers. How did it do that? If you’re curious, then try one. If you can find it. And afford it.

Rating: 4.4

Have you tried Edelweiss Weiβbier? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the bottle?

If so, do please leave your opinions, corrections, translations, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments, every one of which I read.

Beer Review: Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer

22 May, 2009

WHEN I go exploring London, I like to pop into a local shop. Usually an Eastern European or Caribbean store, where I buy one or two new beers from someone who can serve change and bag my bottles whilst typing a text message. This time, in the East End’s Docklands, the local shop closest to hand was Crossharbour ASDA. Expecting maybe two or three unfamiliar bottles, what I found was astonishing. First of all, Crossharbour ASDA is the size of a medium sized village. Second, their beer aisle was the length of a runway. Making a mental note to come back as soon as possible, I faced a new challenge. Where to start?

With limited funds and only a small back-pack to carry them in, I started with the three bottles that I figured would be hardest to find elsewhere. And those which I would enjoy the most. So, here is the first of the three cloudiest, wheatiest, European bottled beers I could carry out of Crossharbour ASDA. Here is Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer.

Why starts with cloudy wheat beers? Simple. They are the best. And by best, I mean my personal favourites. Hoegaarden White Beer addicted me to them and Erdinger Weißbier, among others, have kept me hooked ever since. And, judging by the comments from other people who agree with those posts, I’m part of a big club of other intelligent and handsome people. If you’re not, then you have our sympathies.

Back to the Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer, and here is what it looks like.

Grolsch Weizen bottle

The only Grolsch you can find here in the UK is their Premium Lager. The one with the swing-top that tastes okay but not special. Presumably, in the Netherlands, they have a whole range of beers, of which this and that are only two. And Weizen is not the big volume export one. Not very shouty looking, and that’s good.

Grolsch Weizen neck label

The neck label is all about celebrating an award they won. Specifically, Weizen won “World’s Best Wheat Beer 2007” at the “World Beer Awards”. And that is a big, prestigious award. That is a genuine achievement on the part of Grolsch. It also brings expectations for Weizen right up.

Furthermore, it is “Brewed according to the German Reinheitsgebot”. I didn’t know what it meant either, until finding a Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinheitsgebot. Apparently, it has something to do with obsolete purity laws. Readers, if you have a strong opinion on this, feel free to vent it in the comments at the end of this post.

Grolsch Weizen front label

The front label is a roundel picture of European restraint. The borders have the words “Royal Grolsch Holland” and “Natuurlijk Gerijpt Bier”. Inside the roundel are nothing but the simple imagery and bare minimum of text that you can read in the photograph. Still, it would be nice to at least have the alcoholic volume printed on it.

Grolsch Weizen back label

The back label is a narrow strip with only the most important details on it. No stories about ancient traditions or monasteries, sadly. The English language ingredients list includes “water, malted wheat, malted barley, yeast & hops”.

Further down, they advise you to “Store upright, cool & dark”. Only on live wheat beers will you read that sort of thing.

Further down again are this beers vital statistics. The bottle size is, unsurprisingly, 500ML. And the alcoholic volume is a slightly above average 5.3%.

Besides those small facts, that is it. There is nothing else to read on what is promising to be a delicious bottle of beer. But just how delicious is it? What will it taste of? Let’s find out…

Grolsch Weizen poured into a glass

First of all, the glass. I don’t own the right sort. Until I do, this one will have to do.

If you’ve enjoyed yummy wheat beer before, you’ll know to expect a gigantic head. If not, then be prepared or you’ll end up with a table covered in foam. Other than that, look how cloudy it is! What a refreshing change to the usual pale yellow water that calls itself beer.

And the smell is even better. Strong too. It is, in fact, the first thing that struck me as soon as the top popped off. How can I describe it? It is the closest to the smell of Hoegaarden White Beer I’ve smelt so far. It smells rich, malty, citric and fruity. The blend of odours is gorgeous. It puts Grolsch Weizen into the small group of beers that I would happily use as air fresheners around the home.

What does Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer taste of? The first couple of sips are outstanding. This is indeed turning out to be an exceptional beer. The flavour is malty and wheaty. Smooth, rich and full-bodied, the way you hope it would be. That taste then effortlessly turns into the aftertaste.

The aftertaste is like a bigger lump of the initial flavour. Delivered in a more intense, but not unpleasant lump of taste that lingers for a while afterwards. A few more sips, and you realise that it is more complex than you first thought. You start to notice all sorts of traces of arable crops and fruits you didn’t notice at first.

More than half-way through already, so what am I enjoying about Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer? I like the smell, the taste and experience that you get with this kind of wheat beer. I love it partly because it’s not mainstream. You feel like you want to keep it a secret from the dimwits who only drink big name lager.

I like how it didn’t disappoint, even with expectations as high as Everest. If you came to Grolsch Weizen wanting a tasty wheat beer, it will deliver. I like the complexity in the flavours and taste, even if you don’t notice them at the start. Besides those things, it is immensely well made, tasty, refreshing, original tasting, clean, crisp and very, very drinkable.

What don’t I like about Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer? There are one or two issues. For a start, that taste isn’t quite as well balanced, roundel or colourful as, say, Hoegaarden White Beer. It’s not far off, but the lumpy aftertaste could be sanded down to make it a little easier to drink. Mind you, you do quickly get used to it. Besides that, Grolsch Weizen, at £1.50 pence, is expensive and hard to find. If it were on more shop shelves, it would have a big following by now.

How can I sum up Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer? Admittedly, I’ve not had many wheat beers to compare it to. And I’ve had even fewer live, cloudy wheat beers. Grolsch Weizen sits between Erdinger Weißbier and the sublime Hoegaarden White Beer in my humble estimation. Whether you are an aficionado or casual beer fan, I think you will be highly impressed with Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer. This is one of the very best.

Rating: 4.4

Have you tried Grolsch Premium Weizen Wheat Beer? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments. And yes, I do read every single comment. Even the abusive ones.

Beer Review: Pilsner Urquell

19 May, 2009

YOU are reading my most suicidal post to date. Regular readers will know that I’m not shy about giving uninformed opinions. This upsets some people. So much so, that they feel compelled to leave a multitude of obscenities in the comments section. Duvel Golden Ale and Budvar Czech Lager got so bad that the posts themselves escaped, never to be read and abused again.

With this in mind, diplomacy and tactful genius helped me get away with a Guinness post. Sadly, that Irish luck is about to run out. You see, every angry lager enthusiast, in their passionate critique of my intelligence and taste, would mention something called “Urquell”. So when I found this bottle of Pilsner Urquell at the ExCel exhibition centre in East London’s Docklands, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Would I love it as much as the angry mob? What would happen if I didn’t? I had to find out.

Pilsner Urquell bottle

So. What can I say about the way it looks? Bearing in mind the angry mob reading this, I’ll say it looks magnificent and noble. And that’s not much of an overstatement. The green bottle and classy labelling make it look better than most.

Pilsner Urquell neck label

The neck label, again, does exactly what you want it to do. It tells you a little bit about what’s inside the bottle, so you get an idea before you buy it if you’ll like it. The shield looks intriguing. No idea what all the characters and symbols mean, but no doubt an Urquell fanatic will answer that question in the comments at the end of this post.

The best things about what it says are where it came from and the date. 1842 is a reassuringly long time ago. The words “Imported” and “Brewed in Plzeň Czech” are, as ever, incredibly welcome. The world does not need more licensed beers pretending to be genuine. What’s more, even I can tell that Plzeň bares an eerie resemblance to “Pilsner”. As Pilsner style lagers go, this is genesis.

Pilsner Urquell front label

The front label is similarly elegant and concise. There’s an attractive red seal saying…  something. And it is proudly “The Original Pilsner”.

Pilsner Urquell back label

Over on the back label, and this imported version takes the mysterious approach of having tiny lettering on a big label. That aside, it has an excellently informative description of what the beer will be like.

They describe it as having “a uniquely rewarding taste, intensely hoppy, with a balance of subtle sweetness & velvety bitterness, wrapped in a gloriously crisp body”. Even for someone like me who is not that keen on lager, it sounds appetising.

Under that is the start of the small-print. The full name of the brewer, Plzeňeskŷ Prazdroj, a.s. is on there. The Surrey based Miller Brands imported address is on there. As are the brief list of ingredients which are water, barley, malt and hops.

Under that are the much easier to read vital statistics. This 330ml bottle has a 4.4% alcoholic volume. Which, isn’t that strong frankly. Presumably that has no bearing on the taste, because they label also says “Discover how beer is meant to taste at www.pilsnerurquell.com”.

If you haven’t been to their website, then do so. Positioning themselves as the Bang & Olufsen of beer, their website is all about perfection. Keen not to poke the angry mob reading this review, I studied the pouring instructions carefully.

With a chilled bottle, a rinsed glass and lots of tension, I went for the pour and produced this:

Pilsner Urquell poured into a glass

Okay, I didn’t get the second part of the pour right. I beg for forgiveness from the angry Urquell fans out there.

First impression? Like they mentioned on the website, and like some of the classier lagers, it doesn’t have that cheap, pale yellow hue. I’m going to describe it as copper coloured and delicious looking. It really is quite unlike the big name lager I detest so much.

How does it smell? Unusually for a lager, the smell was one of the first things I noticed about Pilsner Urquell. It is an order of magnitude more pungent than most lagers. Yet it manages not to smell synthetic and horrible. Impressive.

Sniffing closer reveals more unexpected odours. Virtually every lager I’ve smelt has had that familiar malted barley smell. This kind of has a rich and nice variation on that, but topped off with a smell of hops. Lots of lagers boast of hoppiness but fail to deliver, so I’ve stopped believing them. Pilsner Urquell honestly smells more like the mouth watering ales that I love so dearly.

This is the big one. What does it taste like and can it match the stratospheric expectations? The first sip is a very pleasant one indeed. Usually at this point, I say “it’s a lager so it has no flavour”. Not this time. The website describes it as honey, nutty and malty. I can’t disagree. It has a mild flavour of all those things.

Then the aftertaste comes into play. This is what Pilsner Urquell is all about. The gentle hoppy aftertaste dominates the taste. Not least because of how long it lingers. The most remarkable thing about it is that it’s bitter, but not too bitter. I’ll describe it as bittersweet.

What am I genuinely enjoying about Pilsner Urquell? A lot of things. I like how much better it is than nearly every other lager I’ve endured. It receives massive kudos from me for having something called flavour, which the brewers of most lagers have forgotten about. The experience is more like drinking an ale. Which is good if you enjoy ale type beers. There’s no horribly bitter “bite” to the aftertaste. The quality of the brew and ingredients are plain to see with no unpleasant artificial smell or taste to be found. Compare it to a Polish “Mocne” or UK super-strength lager for an entertaining contrast. All of which help make it clean, crisp and refreshing. All qualities a Pilsner style lager should aim for. And together, make Pilsner Urquell a tasty and easy beer to drink.

What don’t I like about Pilsner Urquell? It would be easier to submit to the furious mob and simply say “nothing”. But that would loose the integrity you came to this site for. So, here goes. As outstanding as it as, as one of the pinnacles of lager kind, it is a compromise. If you want intense and interesting flavour, have an ale type of beer. If you want a fizzy, easy to drink brew, then choose a regular lager. Pilsner Urquell sits in a throne, on a pedestal, on a fence.

If you’re still reading and haven’t wrathfully scrolled down to the comments to dispense your disgust, allow me to sum up. Pilsner Urquell, the genesis of Pilsner style lager and favourite of many an angry, and level-headed commentor, deserves its reputation. It is unique. It is the original. And it is an outstanding drink. But will I buy it again? If neither ale nor a regular lager is the right choice, Pilsner Urquell will be perfect.

Have you tried Pilsner Urquell? What did you think of it?

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

If you take your beer so seriously that you insist on leaving angry comments on the blogs of people who disagree with you, then cheer up.

Beer Review: Chang Beer

17 May, 2009

THIS is Chang Beer from Thailand. Not the first beer I’ve tried from Thailand. That honour goes to the straightforward, well made but ultimately uninspiring Singha Lager Beer. It might not be the first, but it is the hardest to find. This one came from a small batch my local Tesco bought in.

Chang Beer bottle

The hardest thing about writing about these Asian beers, is finding anything interesting to say about them. Almost universally, they are well made, easy to drink lagers that aren’t memorable in any way. They are great with a spicy meal, but try to remember the taste a week later, and you’ll be stumped. So will Chang Beer be any different?

The neck-foil seems to think so.

Chang Beer neck foil

It says that this “Premium Quality” brew won Gold at the 1998 Australian International Beer Awards. And you can depend on Australians to give it to you straight. It’s a good start for Chang Beer.

The front-label sticks to roundel traditions by looking like this:

Chang Beer front label

It also manages to conjure up enough imagery to look South East Asian. Helpful for clueless supermarket consumers like me. Look a little closer and Chang Beer has more welcome information.

It was brewed by “Cosmos Brewery Co., Ltd”. Possibly in a place called Ayutthaya in Thailand. Assuming the word “Ayutthaya” is actually a place name. If you know more than I do on this, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

The good news continues. This bottle of Chang Beer doesn’t appear to be an unwelcome licensed replica from Bedford. The label says quite clearly “Product of Thailand” with “Imported” written in red. Good news indeed.

The vital statistics are also around the bottom border of the label. This 11.15 fluid ounce 330ml bottle has the equally ubiquitous 5% alcoholic volume. Facts that, together with the total absence of Thai words on the bottle, tell us that this really is their expert version.

The back label sticks to Asian beer export conventions by having only the bare essential details. No bad thing, mind.

Chang Beer back label

What can you say about it? It is literally a list of facts. So, here goes… This is “Thailand’s Number 1 Beer”. It contains malted barley.

It was brewed and bottled by Cosmos Brewery in Thailand, but was imported by Chang UK from, where else, but Moffat Distillery in Airdrie, Scotland. Where else would it come from?

They have a web address at www.changbeer.com. It’s Flash-heavy, but tolerable. And, at 5% alcoholic volume in a 330ml bottle. it has 1.65 of your UK units of alcohol.

And those are the facts. There is nothing else to say about the outside of the bottle, so it’s time for the part you came here for. What is the inside of the bottle like? Or, to put it another way, how does it taste and will it be better than its competitors? Let’s find out.

Chang Beer poured into a glass

In the glass, it looks exactly how you’d expect: pale amber in colour. It had a head when I took the photo, although that dissipated seconds later. The most striking thing about it is how fizzy it is.

Does it have a smell? Yes it does. It smells of much the same blend of malted barley as any other pilsner style lager that you’ve smelt. This one smells a little on the strong and synthetic side.

What does it taste like? First impressions are okay for Chang Beer. At least compared to pilsner style lagers. Being a lager, it has no flavour. That leaves everything hinging on the aftertaste. Which, I’m pleased to report, isn’t as horrible as some other lagers.

What you taste is a gentle taste of barley with a gentle, tingly bitterness. No bittersweet “bite”. Just a mild and easy bitterness that you’ll hardly notice. Even though it lingers for some time.

What do I like about Chang Beer? Before even opening the bottle, I loved that it was genuinely Thai, not a licensed replica from Tyneside. I like gentle taste. It’s what make this, and so many other Asian beers so easy to drink. With no lagery “bite”, there is nothing to object to about Chang Beer. Make it easy to drink are how clean, crisp and refreshing it is. All of which can be traced back to the quality and ingredients.

What don’t I like about Chang Beer? Mostly the flipside of how easy to drink it is. It is one of the wateriest beers I’ve tried. It’s also failed to be distinctive or memorable in any way. Not just compared to other Asian beers, but some South American ones too. Put this in a blind taste test with its competitors, and you’ll struggle to identify it. Mind you, you’ll fail to identify its competitors, as well. Besides that, it is gassy, and, at time of writing, hard to find in shops.

How can I sum up Chang Beer? It is exactly what I thought it would be. Not bad, not great, but probably excellent with a spicy meal. If you want something to go with your spicy meal, Chang Beer will not disappoint. But if you’re faced with a shop shelf of other Asian beers, is there a compelling reason to choose this one?

Rating: 2.9

Have you tried Chang Beer? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Utenos Beer Premium Lager [Alus]

30 April, 2009

STRANGE East European beers keep arriving here in the East End. Days after I get through lots of Ukrainian beer, some from Lithuania turns up. So far, the only other Lithuanian beer I’ve tried was the adequate Švyturys Ekstra and its superior cousin, Švyturys Ekstra Draught. How then, will Švyturys rival compare? From a mini-supermarket on Cambridge Heath Road, for £1.49 pence, here is a bottle of Utenos Beer. Or Utenos Alus if you prefer the Lithuanian for “beer”.

Utenos Beer/Alus bottle

What is there to say about the bottle? Not much. It’s made of glass. It has some swirly embossed lines on the shoulder and around the bottom. They make it look like someone whipped it in the factory. And this is one of those occasions when a transparent bottle is a bad idea. It’s great if your beer is dark and interesting. Not if it’s a pale yellow lager.

Utenos Beer/Alus neck label

The neck label is a no-nonsense affair. It has nothing more than what you see. Good if all you want is beer. Not so good if you want to know what sort of beer you’re looking at.

What about the main front label? It’s a big, impressive, shield.

Utenos Beer/Alus front label

The “Utenos” logo has hope and barley, and, for some reason, an upside down horse shoe. It’s proudly “Brewed In Lithuania”. It calls itself a “Premium Lager”. There are what look like medals of various kinds, but, they’re too small to read. Nearly as hard to read at the top of the shield are the vital statistics. Utenos Beer is the ubiquitous, Euro-typical 500ml, 5% alcoholic volume.

Can the back label shed some light on what makes Utenos Beer/Alus special?

Utenos Beer/Alus back label

Yes it can. And, in a badly translated way that’s missing punctuation. To save their embarrassment, the gist is that they’re proud of the traditional, years old recipe that includes water from 615 feet down. They add that it’s a refreshing beer. “Obviuosly”.

The ingredients are much what you’d expect from a beer. But you won’t be able to read them because they’re in a big block of multilingual text that’s too small.

Under that, is a big list of importers for lots of different countries. Here in Britain, the importer is the appropriately named Lithuanian Beer Ltd from not the Docklands.

Under that, there’s something saying, I think, that it should be served between 2 and 20 degree Centigrade. And, right at the bottom, is a web site address of www.utenosalus.lt. If you can’t read Lithuanian, you might get along better with the English language version at http://www.utenosalus.lt/en. I wouldn’t bother clicking the link though. Utenos has fallen into the trap of making a slow, Flash-heavy website that’s more like a television advertisement than a useful website.

Something does shock, however. Right at the bottom of their website is this: © 2009 UAB “Švyturys-Utenos alus” I could be wrong, but does that mean this is from the same brewer that’s behind the two Švyturys I tried? It looks like I’ll have to try a few more bottles of Lithuanian beer to find any true variety. Oh dear.

So, what is Utenos Beer/Alus like? Will it be like nearly every other East European lager, or will it be good and interesting? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Utenos Beer/Alus poured into a glass

In the glass, it looks much as it did in the bottle. Only with a big, frothy head; which, to its credit, is how it looks in the photos on their website.

What does it smell of? If you’ve ever smelt a lager, any lager, from anywhere in the world, you’ll recognise the blend of malted barley. This one is particularly pungent. And not in a pleasant way. It’s causing memories of Polish “Mocne” and other strong lagers to pop into my head.

So it doesn’t look impressive. And I don’t like the strong smell. But none of those things matter if it tastes good. So, how does it taste? My two first gulps aren’t crisp and refreshing ones. Utenos Beer tastes as strong and as bad as it smells.

How can I describe it? Good lagers, like the Obolon Soborne I tried a few days ago were excellent because they were crisp, clean, refreshing and easy to drink because it tastes completely natural. Utenos Beer is not many of those things. With each gulp, you’re hit with a lump of bitter malted barley that lingers. Instead of a gentle, natural taste, what you get is an onslaught of flavouring and chemicals.

It can’t all be bad. What am I enjoying about Utenos Beer/Alus? Well, the basic raw ingredients are sound. That water and some of the other ingredients in a gentler beer could be outstanding. It has lots of taste. Arguably too much taste. At least it’s not lacking in that department. I also like how it’s proudly brewed in Lithuania. Not covered in Lithuanian imagery, only to find it was actually brewed in Bedfordshire like too many are. This is genuine, and I salute it for that.

What am I not like about Utenos Beer/Alus? That taste. No wander the smell reminded me of unpleasant strong lagers. It tastes like one. And it’s not a strong lager. All of the downsides without the benefits. If you’re going to make a middle-of the-road lager, make it clean, crisp, refreshing and easy to drink. This is not many of those things. But, there are others that manage it. So why choose Utenos over them?

How can I sum up Utenos Beer? Drinking it is as unpleasant as drinking the strong lagers, but without the benefit of the actually being strong. The smell and taste are strong and synthetic. If you want to pretend that you’re drinking a super-strong lager when you’re not, this is the beer for you. If you’d rather enjoy your drink, choose something better.

Rating: 2

Have you tried Utenos Beer/Alus? What did you think of it?

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

Beer Review: Obolon Velvet

24 April, 2009

OBOLON Soborne wasn’t the only mysterious Ukrainian beer I picked up from North-London’s Kołos Supermarket. Here is a £1.39 pence bottle of Obolon Velvet.

Obolon Velvet bottle

There’s no English writing anywhere on it. There’s no importer sticker on it. But, unlike Soborne, there are clues out there this time. Even if Ukrainian food and drink importer Gary Magan didn’t import this bottle, he has it on his Obolon page at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm called “Deep Velvet”. And I’m glad he does. The official Obolon website has a page about it, in English at http://www.obolon.com/en/production/beer/7/ where they call it “Velvet”. So this time, we have not just a name, but a proper description too! How different is this to the enigmatic Soborne experience?

Obolon Velvet neck label

The neck label is indecipherable again. It says something about Ukrainian beer and some medals. But the real thing to look at is the colour. It’s a green glass bottle, but look how it changes when it reaches the beer. On the outside at least, it looks like the colour of black ink.

Obolon Velvet front label

The front label is the same shape as the other Obolons such as Soborne and Premium. And, like Soborne, it has no English. But, we can figure out what the alcoholic volume is. Either by reading one of the websites I mentioned above, or deciphering the Cyrillic that tells us this has an impressive 5.3% alcoholic volume.

Like the other Obolon’s, the back label makes as much sense as an electric car in the countryside.

Obolon Velvet back label

Ukrainian translators, if you can read anything on the label, do please leave your translations at the end of this post. About the only things I can make out at the 0.5L bottle volume and the official Ukrainian language web address at www.obolon.ua.

Normally at this point with a bottle of Obolon, or pretty much any other strange East-European bottle, would be to crack it open and say “gosh, this is unexpected”. Not this time though. The official website describes it as “It is dark beer. It has a nice sweetish flavour of caramel malt.”

Gary Magan goes even further describing it as “Ukrainian high quality dark beer, is classically brewed to the original recipe from selected hops, malt, fermenting yeast and pure spring water. Special brewing technology brings this beer dense, smooth, deep velvet texture with rich malt and caramel flavour.” That sounds delicious. And different from the usual East-European lagery beers that make over here. In the comments on this blog, people are always going on about how good the East European dark beers, porters and stouts are. But I’ve never had the chance to try them. Until now; thanks to Obolon Velvet.

Hopes are high for Obolon Velvet. Will it be the best Ukrainian beer I’ve tried so far? Will it be the best East European beer I’ve tried so far? It’s not impossible. Let’s see what’s it’s like.

Obolon Velvet poured into a glass

In the glass, it looks as good as you hope it would be. Sure, it froths up a bit, but it settles down quickly, leaving a consistent layer of creamy head. A head that’s a sort of brownish colour. As for the beer itself, it looks as dark as a porter or dark ale.

How does it smell? In a word, excellent. It has that roasted smell that you’ll recognise form other darker beers. I’m not skilled enough to glean more facts from the smell. Other than to say it is excellent. In a lightly hoppy and un-formidable kind of way.

What does it taste of? It tastes much the same way that it smells. It has a lightly roasted malty taste. There’s not an awful lot of flavour. But you hardly notice, because Obolon Velvet is all about the aftertaste. It has a gently bittersweet taste of roasted maltiness and a little bit of caramel.

About half-way through this bottle of Obolon Velvet now, so what am I enjoying about it? Quite a lot of things as it happens. I like how interesting and complex the taste is. I like that there’s no long bitter finish or “bite” to worry about because it is so well balanced. I like how rich, smooth and full-bodied it manages to be, without falling into the trap of being treacle. I love how drinkable Velvet is. Just like the quality bottles British ales I love so much, you can taste how natural the ingredients are and how well it’s made.

What don’t I like about Obolon Velvet? I don’t like the fact that I might never again get to enjoy it. It is not easy to buy. The bottle I bought was maybe a little more expensive than, say, bird flu. But, if you’re honest with yourself, you’d enjoy Obolon Velvet more than bird flu. If you had to nitpick, the lack of much flavour could be an issue. As could the slight gassiness that caused me to burp more than usual.

How can I sum up Obolon Velvet? It turns out that all the people who recommended the hard-to-find dark beers from East-Europe were right. If Obolon Velvet is anything to go by, the Eastern European brewers have been making interesting ales for years, without us even noticing. This is an excellent drink. Whether you’re a fan of interesting ales or intrepid explorer of unusual bottles, this is worth your time and money. If you can find it.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Obolon Velvet? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything?

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

Beer Review: Obolon Soborne [OБoлoнь CоБорне]

20 April, 2009

REVOLTING Polish alcopop, Karmi, wasn’t the only bottle I picked up from Stoke Newington’s Kołos Supermarket recently. I couldn’t turn down the chance to try a couple more bottles of Ukrainian “Obolon” (OБoлoнь in Cyrillic) beer. The last one I tried was Obolon Premium imported by Gary Magan & Co.. I didn’t like it, but Gary Magan himself left a comment persuading me to try more. So here I am with a couple more bottles. The first of which is a bit of a puzzle.

Obolon Soborne bottle

It isn’t mentioned on Gary Magan’s page of imported Obolon beers at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm. It’s not mentioned on Obolon’s official website of beer that they produce for export at http://www.obolon.com/en/production/beer/. It doesn’t even have an import sticker on it. Come to think about it, unlike Obolon Premium, there’s not a word of English on it. What’s the story behind this bottle and how did it get here? Leave a comment if you can shed some light on it.

Obolon Soborne neck label

With virtually no web search results to go on, even figuring out the name was a challenge. CоБорне, I think, transliterates to Soborne. If you know who or what a “Soborne” is, then you know where to leave your translations.

As for the rest of the neck label, there’s what look like medals. And the words say something about beer and Ukraine.

Obolon Soborne front label

Just like the neck-label, it’s interesting and un-translated. Unlike the Obolon Premium I tried a while back, there are no English words whatsoever. Luckily, that’s not an issue, because there are hardly any words at all. The most important detail on this intricate and quirky label is the alcoholic volume, which, I think, is 4.9%.

Will the back label clear up any of the mystery surrounding this enigmatic bottle?

Obolon Soborne back label

No. The back label doesn’t provide any answers. At least not English language ones. Ukrainian translators, this is where I need your help most of all.

About the only details I could figure out were the bottle size and the web address. This, as you’ve probably guessed, is your typical 0.5L bottle. And the Ukrainian website they’ve printed on the label is at www.obolon.ua. If however, the website at that address makes as much sense as the labels you’ve just seen, then go to their English language version at http://www.obolon.com/en/.

The upshot of having almost nothing I can understand on the outside of the bottle, is that I get to the fun bit quicker. What sort of beer is Soborn? Will I like it? If you like mysterious Ukrainian beer, should you try it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Obolon Soborne poured into a glass

It’s a light amber colour. It has a thick layer of foam for a head. And it smells of a pleasant blend of malted barley. Only a suspicion this, but Obolon Soborne might just be a lager.

A couple of gulps in, and I might be right. Obolon Soborne is almost certainly a lager. So what is it like?

As you’d expect from a lager, there is no flavour. But it does have taste. And not a bad one. It’s sister, Obolon Premium put me right off with too much bitterness. But Soborne is so much easier on the tongue. There’s a light, gentle bittersweet aftertaste. It rolls in gently, and leaves your mouth equally gracefully.

A few gulps into Obolon Soborne now, so what am I enjoying about it? More that I expected. This cold glass of lagery style beer is clean, crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to make a lager style beer, make it be all these things. Otherwise, only people who leave angry comments on blogs will like it. Because it is light, clean, crisp and refreshing, and because it has no offensively bitter “bite”, it is very easy to drink. It’s not too gassy. And, at £1.29 pence for this bottle, imported from the other side of Europe, it’s not too bad value either. This has the potential to be an outstanding curry beer.

What of the downsides to Obolon Soborne? If you prefer rustic bottles of ale, there are mostly downsides. If, however, you like lager, there are much fewer. Nit picking though, does reveal a couple of issues. It is light and drinkable to the extent of being watery. In the category of drinkable lagers, there’s not an awful lot to distinguish it from the competition. Why would you choose this over a bottle you can buy in normal shops for less? It’s not even very strong.

How can I sum up the bottle that I think is called Obolon Soborne? If you can’t understand Ukrainian, it is a mystery. If you like a light and drinkable lager, take the risk and crack open this bottle. It is one of the crispest and most refreshing lager style beers I’ve tried. If you’re the sort of person who likes hoppy, bitter “bitey” lagers, you won’t like it. If you like light, crisp, clean and refreshing but mostly tasteless lagers to go with spicy food, you’ll probably like this.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Obolon Soborne or OБoлoнь CоБорне or what ever it’s called? Can you help translate? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, translations, requests and recommendations in the comments.

Beer Review: Karmi Malínowa Pasja

16 April, 2009

WHILST up Stoke Newington way in North London, I was delighted to find an Eastern European shop that I hadn’t yet plundered for beer. The shop in question was Kołos Supermarket. And for £1.09 pence, one of the bottles beers I bought was this. At least I thought it was a beer at the time. Now, I’m not so sure. Whatever it is, it’s called Karmi and has the words Malínowa Pasja on it. Polish translators, I’m going to need your help again, big time. Translations at the end of this post please.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja bottle

It’s a curvy and mysterious looking bottle, isn’t it? Not quite as much as Brahma Premium Lager, but there’s something feminine about it. There’s a picture of, and colour of raspberry. Is this one of the girls beers that commenter’s warned me about in earlier Polish beer posts?

The neck-label doesn’t exactly answer any questions.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja neck wrapper and label

The bottle top is of the “Twist Off” variety. Is that a clue? I’m beginning to think this isn’t a real beer.

The front-label doesn’t help either.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja front label

If you know what Karmi or Malínowa Pasja mean, do please leave a comment. All I can glean from the front-label is that the contents might have something to do with raspberries. I may have made a huge mistake buying this bottle.

Thanks to my almost complete lack of understanding of the Polish language, the back-label, which would be helpful, isn’t. Translators, this is where I need you most.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja back label

Mind you, language has never been a barrier before with all the other Polish beers I’ve tried. So let’s press on and see what I can understand, or misunderstand.

The writing at the top says something about taste. But I’ve no idea what. The first word at the start of the ingredients list is, I think, ‘beer’. Which is a relief. Unfortunately, I think it’s telling me that it has an alcoholic volume of 0.5%. Oh dear.

It might be almost non-alcoholic, but it was made by Carlsberg Polska in Warszawa/Warsaw. And Carlsberg are a brewer. So it’s nearly a proper beer.

Elsewhere on the label, it says, I think, that it is a small 400ml bottle. And that they have a website at www.karmi.pl. A quick look reveals that it is a low-alcoholic drink for women. And that there are Karmi’s is lots of other flavours.

Okay, I admit it. I made a big mistake when I grabbed this out of the cooler in the Kołos Supermarket. It’s not a real beer at all, but a literally fruity low-alcohol drink for women. Despite this, you’ve got to be wondering… what does it taste like? Is it any good? And, if you are a woman, should you buy some? Lets find out.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja poured into a glass

The surprises start right away. That is not a coloured glass bottle. The bottle is transparent. It’s the beer that is that deep, reddish black colour. Once in the glass, the drink has a decent layer of head. If it were a real beer, I’d be impressed by it. What’s more, that head is noticeably red in colour.

What does it smell of? As you’ve guessed by now, it smells of raspberry. Not the natural sort. They don’t really smell of anything. This smells the same chemically way that it looks.

How does it taste? It tastes strange. On the back label, I saw a word that looked like the word ‘syrup’. Well, that’s what Karmi Malínowa Pasja is like. It tastes mildly of raspberry, in a synthetic and syrupy way. After that flavour, there is a tiny, slightly bitter alcoholic kick of an aftertaste. Not much. Just enough to remind you that it’s there.

What am I enjoying about Karmi Malínowa Pasja? I like how it’s unlike anything I’ve ever drank before. I like how easy it is to drink. Although it’s not got to try hard with only 0.5% alcoholic volume. I like how rich, smooth and un-gassy it is. And as a product, it looks good.

There are however, a few downsides to Karmi Malínowa Pasja. It might taste vaguely of raspberry. But it also tastes awful. It’s like drinking a concoction of chemicals that taste a little bit like a berry. Like hearing your favourite song ruined by someone doing karaoke. What it’s aiming for is admirable enough, but the ingredients are all wrong. It could get away with it if it were light and crisp. But in this heavy, thick, syrupy form it is atrocious. To cap it all off, with so little alcohol, it’s not even a real beer.

To sum up, Karmi Malínowa Pasja is a disgusting drink aimed, presumably, at women with no taste. If you see a woman drinking this stuff, avoid her. She has a terrible taste in drink. If, like me, you spot this in a shop refrigerator and hope that it will be an interesting Polish beer, you’d be right. But only just. And you’d wish you weren’t.

Rating: 2.1

Can you translate anything? What reputation does Karmi Malínowa Pasja have in Poland? Do women there actually drink this stuff? What do you think of it? Do please leave all your translations, pronunciations, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager

14 April, 2009

A YEAR ago, I tried all the super strength lagers I could lay my hands on. This meant subjecting myself to Tennent’s Super Strong Lager, Kestrel Super Strength Lager, Carlsberg Special Brew and Skol Super Strong Lager. They were universally awful means of alcohol consumption. Not surprisingly then, they’re a favourite of homeless alcoholics, which is why they’ve acquired the nick-name “tramp juice”.

Besides being revolting to anyone who drinks less than eight each day, there was one other commonality. They were all 9% alcoholic volume. For whatever reason; fear of regulation, corporate social responsibility or a gentlemen’s agreement, there were none above 9% this side of the English channel. That’s what I thought, until I found this. From an off-license in Kennington, South London, here is a can of Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager.

Crest Super front of can

At first sight, everything looks promising. For a start, this has a classy purple exterior, unlike the stripy competition. It has pictures of hops and a “Master Brewers” ‘seal, all adding to the sense that this is a real beer.

It even has a proper roundel. With two bears at the top, the upper border says “Brewed With Best Quality Barley Malt”. And the lower border has words continuing with “And The Finest German Aroma Hops”. So this is German is it? If you’re going to have a strong beer, Germany is one of the places you want it to be from. This is shaping up very well indeed.

Crest Super join side of the can

Turning the can around, you won’t find much on this side. There’s a join. And the words “Serve Cool”. Advice I intend to pay heed to when it comes to tasting this mysterious, yet probably explosive beverage.

Crest Super barcode side of can

Ah good. This side has some writing. Lets read it. Maybe it says from where in Germany it came?

No. No it doesn’t say that. Right at the top, it says “Brewed And Canned By: The Crest Brewing Co. A Division of Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Ltd, Havelock Street, Bedford UK, MK40 4LU”. Regular readers will know that any beer that pretends to be imported when it isn’t immediately gets docked points. Would you rather try something from Bavaria or Bedfordshire?

It’s not necessarily bad news though. That is the same Wells & Young’s who brought us Bombardier Burning Gold, Luxury Double Chocolate Stout, Banana Bread Beer and the magnificent Bombardier Satanic Mills bottled ales. Yet they seem intent on hurting their name with licensed beers like Kirin Ichiban and this can of Crest Super.

Back to what the can says, and next up come the vital statistics. This is a big 500ml can. Oddly, for a UK produced can with a 10% alcoholic volume, I can’t find any UK units of alcohol rating. An intentional regulatory and moral dodge? Or an innocent omission? Your opinions at the end of this post please.

Another oddity is that the only English language in that big block of sideways text is telling you to look under the can for the best before end date. It has a full list of ingredients, but in German. Not English. Luckily, our language is similar enough to German for me to make sense of what it says. If you’re expecting the ingredients to be of typical beer ingredients plus some chemicals, you’d be spot-on.

Right then. I was hoping to drag out the descriptive part of this review as long as possible. But I’ve run out of things to read on the can. I’m going to have to drink this stuff and try to describe what it’s like. A task I’ve been putting off for weeks already.

What does Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager, the strongest beer I’ve ever tried taste like? Will be as drinkable as I’m hoping? Or as vomit inducing as I’m fearing? Curiosity is getting the better of me as it’s time to find out…

Crest Super poured into a glass

There’s some head. But not much. After a few moments, you’re left with a patch of foam. But what get’s me is the colour. That bright orange-amber colour would look more at home on a cider. It looks as natural as Jordan.

Does it smell as synthetic as it looks? The roundel promised the “Finest German Aroma Hops”. I’d say that it smells like the other super strength lagers. But maybe slightly more delicate. Whatever the case, you can’t hide from the distinctly un-beery smell of this and other super strength lagers. It reminds me of the smell of gobstoppers or other such sweets. Not a natural and tasty beer.

How does it taste? I’m going into this with a totally open mind, by the way. No prejudice whatsoever. So what does it taste like?

Two gulps in and I realise that gulps are the wrong way to go. If I’m to avoid seeing my dinner again, sips over the course of the night are the only way to go.

How can I describe it? Not easily. My entire digestive system is currently telling me not to consume any more. The rest of this review might be a bit shorter than normal.

A few minutes later, and I gingerly attempt a few sips. Unusually for a lager, it does have a hit of flavour. A flavour of hops and chemicals and think. It’s hard to pin down because of the massive aftertaste that swamps you. You get hit with a gigantic wave of bitterness, alcohol and chemicals. Unsurprisingly, it lingers for a good long time.

Nearly a quarter of the way through now, so what am I enjoying about Crest Super? I like that does something a little different to the other super strength lagers. I like that it’s 1% stronger. If I were an alcoholic or someone who enjoying drinking many cans of super strength each day, I would be delighted with Crest Super.

What am I not enjoying about Crest Super? Nearly everything. It is the most undrinkable beer I’ve had in more than a year of doing this blog. I doubt I’m going to finish this beer tonight, and it’s the first time that’s ever happened. It’s as if my body is shouting “no more! Please no more!” after every sip. This literally gut wrenching effect means I can’t even start to enjoy the flavour and taste.

How can I sum up Crest Super? It is the most extreme beer I have ever tried. It is the strongest. And the most undrinkable. Slightly different to the other super strength lagers, but not necessarily better. If you are an alcoholic, or if you enjoying drinking many cans of super strength lager each day, then you will love Crest Super. If however, you’re a normal person, then you probably won’t. It will either send you to drunken oblivion or to the toiler to throw up. But maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe you should treat it not as a beer, but as a spirit. It certainly tastes like one.

Rating: I’ll leave that up to you.

Have you tried Crest Super? Draught or out of a can? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy.

Update:

Armed with experience from my first can, and from the comments sections from the other super strength lagers, my second can of Crest Super was much better. I can confirm that it’s absolutely essential to drink it only while it’s very very cold. Even if this means leaving the dregs at the bottom, because the contents will have warmed up too much in your hand. And don’t do what I did and pour it out. Drink it from the can to make sure you don’t accidentally smell it.

With this in mind, you can nearly enjoy it. At Arctic temperatures, it really does have a long, hoppy finish. And yes, the can is more solid than others. But there’s still better ways to get wasted than this.


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