Archive for March 22nd, 2008

Beer Review: Carlsberg Special Brew

22 March, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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