Posts Tagged ‘indian’

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: Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer

31 May, 2008

WHEN I looked at Indian beers at the beginning of the month, I thought I had done them all. There was Cobra, with its interesting if average taste. And there was Tiger which was simply average. Both of which are sold nearly everywhere. But they aren’t the only games in town. In the off-licenses of Brick Lane, and, seemingly nowhere else, is another Indian beer: Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer bottle

There aren’t many green hued glass bottles around these days. This means that Kingfisher has a unique look. This one is the small 330 millilitre versions, but in the same chiller cabinet was an enormous 660 millilitre version.

The neck label is… well, it has a neck label.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer neck label

It has the Kingfisher logo. Which features a kingfisher. And the description “Premium Lager Beer”. High expectations aren’t going to be a problem here.

The front label is nearly as uninspired, apart from one or two points.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer front label

Around the top border, it reads “India’s Premium Lager”. And around the bottom border, “The Finest Malted Barley & Hops”. No, wait, that’s not special at all. Maybe it’s the alcoholic volume? Next to the “330ml”, an in tiny writing, we’re informed that this has 4.8% volume. At 0.2% less than both Cobra and Tiger, that’s not working to Kingfisher’s favour either.

Under all of that though, is one small detail that does raise Kingfisher above it’s Indian counterparts. It’s heritage. Dating to 1857, that blows its twentieth century competition out of the water.

The back label holds a few more interesting facts. Some in it’s favour, some not.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer back label

First, it tells us that Kingfisher is the world’s number-one selling Indian lager. A surprise to me. Especially as I hardly ever see Kingfisher on sale anywhere. Then we’re told that Kingfisher has won “several international awards for its quality and taste”. Again though, we don’t know what they were. Come on, tell us what awards you won exactly.

Then, we learn that Kingfisher is a brand of the glamorously named United Breweries Group of Bangalore, India. Sadly, here’s were the news turns sour. Kingfisher wasn’t imported. Instead, it’s been brewed and bottled under license by Shepherd Neame of Faversham in Kent. The same Shepherd Neame behind the rather good Bishops Finger and Spitfire Kentish Ales. I hope they’ve not skimped on the quality just because it isn’t their name on the front of the bottle. This could be quite good after all.

That’s about it from the back label. Apart from the ingredients which include barley malt. And the UK units of alcohol. Which are 1.6. Only 1.6? Either drink a lot of this, or get yourself a decent bottle of ale. Then again, 4 units of alcohol isn’t supposed to be a target. Is it?

Now time to answer the important questions. Is Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer any good? Or will it be another bland and average Indian lager? Or will it surprise us all?

In the glass, you hope that it’s going to have a head. And there is one for a few moments. But give it a minute, and it becomes nearly as headless as a cider. The colour is like most other lagers. That is to say, bright and yellowy. And it looks very carbonated. Not a good sign.

Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer pourd into a glass

The smell won’t inspire you. Like most lagers, it has that ‘sharp’ blend of malted barley in the smell.

And the taste isn’t any better. One gulp in tells me that this is another indistinctive lager. It has the same ‘sharp’ malted barley blend of flavours as nearly every other lager. This brings with it that familiar, lagery bitterness too. No points for originality then.

Putting my anti-lager prejudices aside for one moment, I’ll try and find some positives to report. Well, if you do as the label says and serve it cool, it can make a refreshing beverage. Good for those hot and spicy meals as all Indian beers seemed designed to be. Along with that comes refreshing-ness as well.

The blend isn’t as yucky as some lagers out there. This isn’t a cheap lager, which is a big plus. Normally, I ignore the word “Premium”. In most cases it’s meaningless, but some quality does shine through in this case. Even if it is a lager. And that makes it easy and even slightly pleasant to drink. It’s not as gassy as I feared, either.

On the debit side, it is still a lager. That means it’s lacking in taste. It’s hard to have character, a full-body or full flavour from a lager. Even Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer is no exception. There’s little distinctive or unique here either.

Maybe I’m judging Kingfisher too harshly? All most people want from an Indian lager is a refreshing drink to go with their curry. That might be true, but Cobra did it with some character. And as this is my blog, it comes with a healthy dose of anti-lager prejudice. Do yourself a favour and buy a proper beer.

Rating: 2.45

Have you tried Kingfisher? What did you think?
Got any corrections, opinions, ideas or suggestions? Then do please leave a message in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer

7 May, 2008

NEXT on my round-up of Asian beers is Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer. But since I’ve not seen any other Cobra beers on sale, you’ll probably know it simply as Cobra. Or as the beer you get when you go for a curry.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer bottle

I like the look of this bottle. It’s got an attractive, Indian style yellow colour-scheme. It has a big neck-label and a small wrap around label further down. But best of all, the glass is embossed with all manner of images. There’s a scales, a snake charmer, a boat, some text I can’t understand, elephants, palm trees and a building. Having all of those in the form of raised glass around the bottle is excellent. It’s the first one I’ve seen that actually has a texture. You can feel the raised glass when you wrap your hand around the bottle. This could be the new trend in beer bottles. You saw it here first.

The bottle top squeezes in a surprising amount of text.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer bottle top

There’s the usual marketing material about natural ingredients, authentic recipes and prizes. But the origin is proudly announced as Bangalore, India.

The neck label is where most of the facts are, so let’s get stuck in.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer front neck label

The front of the neck-label gives us all the main facts. The Cobra name is there. With the words “Extra Smooth” above it. And presumably the same words in an Indian language below it. Can anyone out there confirm what it says please?

Also prominently on there are the alcoholic volume; which is a respectable 5%. And the size of the bottle, which is 330 millilitres. Although I have seen larger in the shops.

It is a little confusing about what type of Cobra beer this actually is. You see, under the logo are the words “Premium Beer”. So is this Cobra Premium Beer? But above it, we’re told that this is “Double Filtered For An Extra Smooth Taste”, and that this is “Extra Smooth”. So is this actually called Cobra Extra Smooth instead? In the absence of any confirmation, I’ll call this one Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Beer. That covers everything.

Turning the bottle around, and we can see some more of the neck label.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer left neck label

Just like Asahi Super Dry, we’re in for a let down. It isn’t imported, but bottled and brewed in the EU for Cobra Beer Ltd in London.

The web address on this side of the label is www.cobrabeer.com. On this side of the label is also the story. And unlike most of the label, it isn’t repeated in lots of different languages.

Buried in the marketing-speak are some surprising facts. As well as the usual blend of barley malt, yeast, maize and hops, this beer has rice. Yes, rice is part of the blend. What effect that will have on the taste, I’m looking forward to finding out.

As well as boasting the typical distinctiveness, cleanness and smoothness, Cobra also goes on the boast something unusual. Yet also very welcome. The slogan “Cobra – The Less Gassy Bottled Beer” is outstanding. I’ve never seen a beer sell itself on how un-gassy it is. A very clever selling point, if you read the label thoroughly enough to find it. This should be much more prominent.

Going by what it goes on the mention, my guess is that they’ve got the blend of unusual ingredients just right. You see, Cobra have won the Gold Medal of the Monde Selection, World Quality Awards in Brussels from 2001 through to 2006. That’s five years running. A staggering achievement.

Over on the other side of the neck label, there’s the usual small print.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer right neck label

If you’re interested, this bottle has 1.7 UK units of alcohol. But next that that label were a couple of little symbols I thought were nice touches. There’s a tiny, circular “Premium Extra Beer” symbol. And a little, rectangular picture of a cobra. What the point of them are, I don’t know. But quirky beers are good beers in my book.

The front of the thin, wrap-around label in the middle of the bottle features all the medals it’s won.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer centre of middle label

And the words “The Most Celebrated Beer In The World” raise keep your expectations sky-high.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer left middle label

The left-hand-side of the narrow label tells the origin of Cobra. Dating back to 1989, it doesn’t have heritage. But it does have Karan Bilimoria deciding that the world needs a different kind of beer. The world needs more Karan Bilimoria’s. Good on him.

The right-hand-side of the narrow label expands the story still further.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer right middle label

We learn that Cobra is now made in five different countries. And that it’s Indian, British, global and local. You’ve got to admire their ambition and diplomacy.

After all of that, I feel like I know Cobra quite intimately. And that’s before we’ve even got to the taste testing. Without further delay, let’s crack open this intriguing little bottle.

After opening the bottle, I was surprised to see something printed on the inside of the bottle top. This time a “CoolBrands” award from 2006/07, awarded for “Innovation”, “Style” and “Desirability”. This is the first time I’ve seen anything printed on the inside of a bottle top.

After pouring, there was a fizzy head, but that soon died down to practically nothing.

Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer poured into a glass

The drink itself is a lager-y amber colour. And with a typical amount of bubbles rising to the surface.

Perhaps because of the blend, the smell is a bit different. It does smell of malted barley, yeast and hops. But, there’s more to it that I can’t put my finger on. And it’s not in the same proportions as it is with other beers.

This is reflected in the taste. Which is equally unusual in its blend of tastes. This is going to take much more than the 330 millilitre in this bottle to figure out.

The main tastes that I’m picking up are a slight, but not lingering bitterness. Then you notice, or start to notice all the things that went into the blend. Hints of the arable, like the malted barley, maize, hops and yeast are there. I think. It’s hard to be sure. I certainly can’t rule out some hint of rice being in there too.

This truly is an unusual beer. It doesn’t taste like any other, let alone any other lager. Yet none of the flavours really jump out at you. They’re all surprisingly subtle. Yet because of everything in there, it has a fuller-flavour than most beers. Nearly up to the level of an ale.

Other things to say about it are that it isn’t gassy. Exactly as promised on the bottle. Although I still managed a couple of burps, thanks to this bottle. I can also see why it’s one of the curry beers of choice. Without having strong flavours of it’s own, it would be just what you want with your vindaloo.

To look for downsides, I’d say that it’s not so great on its own. Without a meal to go with it, it’s lacking. You find yourself wishing that one of its many flavours would stand out and give you something to focus on.

I liked Cobra. And I can see why it won so many awards. I was expecting another bland Asian approximation of a beer. But instead, Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer was a very pleasant surprise. It is distinctive and unusual. But also refreshing and drinkable. Surprisingly good stuff.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Cobra? What did you think?
Got any translations, correction, ideas or suggestions? Then leave a comment in the comments box!


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