Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

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: Obolon Premium

1 September, 2008

IT wasn’t only Russian beer I picked up from west-London, Russian shop, Kalinka. Here’s my first beer from the formerly Soviet Ukraine: Obolon Premium.

The gold labels on the green bottle look good. And embossed on the shoulder is the Obolon name in Cyrillic. The labels even have some English. So everything is looking rather more export worthy than Zhigulovskoye.

The swooping neck label looks good too.

Even if it doesn’t say anything. Really. It doesn’t. Just the name of the beer.

The roundel is a little quirky too.

Obolon Premium front label

For some reason, there’s a small curve protruding from the top-right corner. It looks a bit like a growth or a handle. Unnecessary, but a strangely welcome addition to an otherwise conventional label.

It features a powerful looking crest. It has griffins and everything. The “Obolon” logo looks unusual and Ukrainian, at least in my uninformed opinion. Unusually, they’ve elected to write the size of bottle right in the centre. So you’re there’s little reason to miss the fact that this is a 500 millilitre bottle, or 1 pint, or 0.9 Fl. Oz.

Back around the edges and some sanity returns. Around the top, is that ever so welcome text “Brewed & Bottled By Obolon Brewery, Kiev, Ukraine”. That god it wasn’t brewed in Luton or Edinburgh like so many so-called foreign imports.

Around the bottom border are what look like medals. Just slightly too small for me to read, they look real. Obolon Premium is award winning. Excellent. The alcoholic volume is down there too. This bottle comes in at a slightly above average 5.2%.

Over on the back label, and the interesting facts keep on coming. And in English too.

Obolon Premium back label

Although this was brewed and bottled in Kiev in the Ukraine. It was “specially made for” Gary Magan & Co Ltd London, UK”. What’s going on? Maybe the web address it lists at www.garymagan.co.uk will answer some questions. And it does. It turns out that Gary Magan is a UK imported of Ukrainian drinks. Their page on Obolon is at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm. But I must warn you, that page will make you want products that you don’t have.

Back to the label, and they describe Obolon Premium as having been made “using classic technology and special recipe”. The ingredients are part of the same sentence. And those ingredients are “select malt, high quality hop, brewer’s yeast and pure spring water”. Top marks for effort. I’ve never seen a label try so hard.

It’s trying so hard, that they even add details you never thought to ask about. Did you know that per 100 grams, this beer has 45 kcal or energy? Or that it’s best kept between 5 and 20 degrees C? Did you care? Me neither, but I’m glad they thought to put all that on there.

As there’s nothing left to read. Or make fun of. It’s time to discover exactly what Obolon Premium is like. As it’s the first Ukrainian beer I’ve tried, it’s going to set the bar for all others to follow. Will it be better than Polish, Czech, Lithuanian and Russian beer? Let’s find out.

Well, it pours easily enough. It comes with a head, but there’s nothing uncontrollable about it. After a few minutes, it settles down into a blotchy layer of cream. Sitting on top of the amber coloured liquid, it all looks quite acceptable.

It smells ok too. Kind of malty and hoppy. I little like that of the better lagers out there.

But how does it taste? A few gulps in and, I’m not enjoying it. It’s bitter. And with a lingering bitter bite that doesn’t let go. The flavour is a little malty in a malted barley lager kind of way. But that diminutive flavour is dwarfed by that brutal aftertaste.

I desperately want to like Obolon Premium. So, there must be something I like here. But what? Well, it is crisp. And somewhat refreshing. But I can see that vanishing after you’ve had a bottle or two. What else is there? It is strong enough. I’m about three-quarters of the way through now, and starting to forget about the horrid aftertaste. I’m also finding it surprisingly easy to drink.

As you’ve probably guessed, Obolon Premium has downsides. Let’s start with that taste. First, there’s little in the way of flavour. Then you get an overwhelming, bitter bite. As usual, the fanatics will leave comments saying that I’m a clueless clod. But to me, that taste is as cheap and nasty as a students diet. Besides that, it’s a little too carbonated and gassy.

So where does all this leave Obolon Premium? It’s a disappointment. Not as easy to drink or interesting as I wanted it to be. You’ve got to pity Ukrainians if this is typical of what’s available there. Compared to competitors from the old Eastern-Block, things don’t look good. Obolon Premium tastes ghastly. But it’s good enough to make me want to try some other Obolon beers. Try it just to tell people you’ve had a Ukrainian beer.

Rating: 2.1

Have you tried Obolon Premium? Or another Obolon or Ukranian beer?

Then leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.


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