Archive for May, 2008

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.

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Beer Review: Newcastle Brown Ale

30 May, 2008

NEWCASTLE Brown Ale is another beer I’ve been putting off. Like Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen, it’s a big-name, high-volume and very popular beer with a place in the nation’s heart. And that means if I don’t like it, there’s be angry mobs with pitchforks leaving comments at the end of the post. I better be good then.

Newcastle Brown Ale bottle

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that this is the bog standard bottle. If you check your supermarkets and corner shops, you’ll see that there’s a 10-year anniversary edition with special labels. This isn’t one of them.

This oh-so-traditional bottle has become rather iconic in recent years. It was even used by Conservative activists to taunt recently crowned Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when he refused to call a general election back in October. Or in their words, “lost his bottle”.

It stands out by not having a neck label. And by having the embossed words around the shoulder reading “The One and Only”. The glass is transparent too, so you can see exactly how brown this brown ale really is.

The main front label is on the cluttered side. But it’s symmetrical clutter, so that’s ok.

Newcastle Brown Ale front label

Around the top, we learn that this has been brewed since 1927. Odd, since the other bottles I saw in the shops were celebrating the ten-year anniversary. The name of the brewery is on there too. Newcastle Federation Breweries Ltd is behind Newcastle Brown. And I’m pleased to see it too. I assumed it would be another product of the faceless Scottish & Newcastle. I wander if there is any rivalry between them? Or, knowing what Scots and Geordies are like, just how much rivalry is there between them?

The big roundel has the instantly recognisable “Newcastle Brown Ale” in big red writing. The middle features a blue star with the famous bridge crossing the river Tyne. Like the Angel of the North on other label variations, this one isn’t ashamed of it’s Northern roots.

Either side are what look like medals. But unlike most bottles, these are large enough to read. One is a “Brewers & Allied Traders International Exhibition & Market”. The other is a 1928 Championship Award for a beer competition. All very contemporary then.

Back to the middle, and around the big blue star in the middle are some more little pictures. And some writing. The pictures are of hops and barley. The writing says “Drink Cold”. And there’s something that’s unusual. A millilitre indicator that’s bigger than normal. This bottle has 550 millilitres. That’s 50 more than normal in case you missed it. But disappointingly 18 short of a full-pint.

Down at the bottom of the front label is the alcoholic volume. 4.7% isn’t high. But it’s not too low either. Unless you’re a Geordie, in which case it is weak.

The back label does some different and clever things. And points out something clever about the front label too.

Newcastle Brown Ale back label

The back label has different facts. This one has “Fact: 4”. Of how many, I don’t know. This fact is on the subject of “name”. And, brilliantly, it’s written in Geordie. There’s even an asterisk explaining that “reet canny” translates to “rather frightfully good”. The fact in question is about the Norman origins of ” New Castle” by William the Conquerors son, Richard in 1080 on an existing Roman fort. But it’s the most entertaining beer label I’ve ever read.

Down to the small-print now, and Newcastle Brown Ale contains barley and wheat. The Tyne and Wear postal address is there. There’s a little box explaining that this has 2.6 of your daily UK units of alcohol and that 4 is the maximum for men. And 3 the daily maximum for women. In case you haven’t noticed the recent Government advertising campaign.

One of the most fascinating things is right at the bottom next to the forgettable little symbols. It turns out that the blue star on the front of the bottle is in fact a temperature gauge. It turns from grey to blue when the temperature reaches around 12 degrees centigrade. Presumably, that’s cold enough for the ale to be drank. Clever idea. And an excellent little label.

Now to answer the question I’ve been dreading. Is Newcastle Brown Ale any good?

Thanks to the transparent glass bottle, the colour isn’t a surprise. It’s a deep, dark brown. But the 550ml nearly completely fills the pint glass. Sadly, the thin head that covers the surface after you pour is almost totally vanishes within a couple of minutes.

Newcastle Brown Ale poured into a glass

The smell is pungent, and unlike almost any other beer I’ve sniffed. The barley and wheat of the ingredients are more prominent than I’ve seen for a long time. There’s almost no trace of malt or hops in the very strong smell. It’s not bad either. Something tells me this is going to be a full-flavoured drink.

And that’s exactly how it tastes. The overall taste is mildly bitter and sour, with the flavour being balanced and dominated by the arable crops that are in there. Barley and wheat mostly. The flavour is full, but it isn’t as insanely strong as, say, a stout. Newcastle Brown Ale is strong, but it’s all well balanced and easy to drink.

As well as being balanced and strongly flavoured by barley and wheat, what else can I say about Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, those flavours and the bitterness are rich, and smooth. All that flavour means that it’s full-flavoured and fairly full-bodied. And as you easily work your way through the contents of the bottle, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get used to those strong flavours. With the blend of flavours it has, it’s also quite distinctive.

On the other hand, the strong bitterness and flavours will be too much for some people. Southerners probably. What’s more, the easy with which I became accustomed to it shows that it’s not quite as strong and full-bodied as I might like.

And there’s that taste. The blend of flavours that you’ll love, hate or tolerate. I tolerate it. It’s not as fun or as imaginative as some beers and ales. And after a while, it reminded me of stewed tea after the tea bad had been left in for too long. Do you know what I mean? But these are trifling gripes. There’s little to dislike about the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown Ale.

How can I sum up Newcastle Brown Ale? Well, it’s a strong, distinctive, balanced and drinkable ale. Some people will love the taste, others won’t. And some, like me will be somewhere in between. There’s no doubting that this is an excellent quality and very drinkable beer. But compared to the other beers on the shop shelves. And compared to that other brown ale, Leffe Brown, it’s up against tough competition for the money in your wallet.

Rating: 3.85

Have you tried Newcastle Brown Ale? What did you think?
Insults, opinions, comments, thoughts, ideas and suggestions below please.

Beer Review: Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale

29 May, 2008

THE last Fuller’s ale I tried was the pretty good London Pride. Only I knew that Fuller’s had more up their sleeves; the names of their other beers are on the sides of the delivery lorries that drive around the city. Except the only bottled beers they sold, on their own doorstep here in London I might add, were London Pride. Until now. The Polish run corner shop that keeps delighting, has done so again. Because here, for the super-premium price of £1.99 pence, is a bottle of Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale. Expectations couldn’t be much higher.

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale bottle

The neck label sticks to the Fuller’s formula.

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale neck label

Simply featuring the Griffin Brewery griffin. Which, incidentally, has a claw atop a barrel of beer. And surrounded by lots of little medals, featuring the words “Voted Britain’s Best”. Exactly like London Pride, apart from the colour scheme. Which for ESB is a fetching gold, red and blue.

The front label sticks mostly to the same formula as London Pride too. No points for originality.

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale front label

The big Fuller’s logo sits on top of the shield. Proudly displaying their Chiswick origins. With the sad demise of Truman twenty years ago, that makes this West-London brewer my local.

Under that are the reassuring words “Extra Special”. And then the huge ESB name. Which, for some reason, includes and oversized letter “S”. Hopefully the back label will explain that.

Under the “ESB” name, we’re told that this is “Champion Ale”. With that and the “Extra Special”, they really are getting my hopes up that this will be awesome. Under that are some more little pictures of medals. Not only do these have the words “Voted Britain’s Best”, but some also say “Voted World’s Best”.

The expectations go higher still when we see, barely, the alcoholic volume. Which is mysteriously written in very small lettering. 5.9% is great to see. It’s a big reason to want this over those generic Euro-5% beers and lagers and deserves to be much more prominent. But what do I know about marketing.

Over on the back, and we have a tall label stretching from the top to the bottom of the bottle.

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale back label

Starting from the top, this is a 500 millilitre bottle. I would dearly like to see a bottle as British as this one go for the full-pint. Well’s do it after all. What do you think? Opinions gladly welcomed in the comments section please.

The main block of text opens by informing us of ESB’s awards. ESB has twice been “World Champion Bitter”, thrice “Champion Beer of Britain” and won some other unnamed awards besides. I truly hope their assertion that ESB is “one of the world’s greatest beers” isn’t just marketing-speak.

They then describe ESB as being “smooth” and “full bodied”. And that the taste, with which it is bursting, is none other than marmalade. The same fruity conserve you might spread on your toast at breakfast. Is there nothing you can’t put in beer?

“Malty notes” are in the description. As is a list of the hops that “balance” it out. ESB Champion Ale has Northdown, Target, Challenger and Goldings hope. Now I’ve read a fair few beer bottle label at this point. And most have about two or at most, three types of hops. But four types of hops takes hop blending to the extreme. Maybe there’s something to ESB’s reputation, what with the marmalade and all those hops.

Next, they recommend you serve this beer cool. And they seem keen that you have it with some sort of meal. Beef, lamb and even game and mature cheeses are mentioned. I don’t know what sort of people regularly eat game and cheese with a bottle of beer, but I want to be that sort of person. That would be the life.

After that, they go on to promote their website and ale club. Their web address is www.fullers.co.uk. We also have the full postal address of Fuller Smith & Turner Plc. And a warning to drink responsibly.

The last small-print details on there are the ingredients; which are malted barley. But you knew that. And the UK units of alcohol. Which are a nice and round 3.0. No more beers today for you, girls.

Finally, it’s time to crack open this very expensive bottle. And to answer the simple question, is it any good?

If you pour it into a glass, you’ll notice how dark ESB is in colour. It’s the darkest, reddest shade of amber I’ve seen for a while. It also has almost no head.

Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale pourde into a glass

The smell is of a rich, complex blend of malt and hops. Traditional, yet delicious for the ale aficionado.

After a few gulps, the first thing that struck me was how balanced it all is. None of the countless flavours in there really jumps out at you. Which can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you look at it.

After a few more sips, I’ve decided that this is one of the most complex tasting ales I’ve tried. And that out of the blend, the things you’ll notice most are the hoppy bitterness and sour aftertaste. It doesn’t linger, and it’s not unpleasant.

A few more sips into it, and I can hardly taste any malt at all. Let alone any marmalade. There is something slightly tangy to it though, which could be the marmalade at work.

Things I like about this ale are that it’s smooth. That it’s so full-bodied and full-flavoured, I’m surprised the bottle manages to contain it all. And that even with the strong flavours, high-strength and bitterness, it is still very drinkable. Plus it has quality in spades.

On the other hand, some people will be put off by the strong taste of hops. The shopping list of hops that went into this ale are amazing, but if you don’t like hoppy bitterness, you won’t find much to enjoy here. It also doesn’t play enough on the marmalade. More citrusy tanginess would add to the character. Apart from it being slightly gassy, my main complaint is that it’s so expensive.

How can I sum up ESB Champion Ale? It’s a hop driven ale taken to the extreme. If you like bold, hoppy bitterness, this is one to try. I love that this ale takes risks with big flavours. But it could make more of the marmalade inspired citrus and it’s an expensive way to offend the taste buds of someone who can’t appreciate bitter flavours. Very good, but not one of the greatest.

Rating: 4.175

Have you tried Fuller’s ESB Champion Ale? What did you think of it?
Got any corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas or suggestions? Then do please leave a message in the usual place.

Beer Review: Wells Banana Bread Beer

28 May, 2008

BACK from my experiment with bland Polish lagers, I’m feeling the need for something quirky. And British. What better place to start then, than with Wells Banana Bread Beer.

Wells Banana Bread Beer bottle

So far, I’ve only seen one corner shop in the Bethnal Green and Brick Lane area selling this. And at the ultra-premium price of £1.89 pence. Needless to say that you could need to put in some leg work to track down a bottle of this oddly-named beer.

Remember that this is the same Wells that brought us the excellent Bombardier Satanic Mills. And that they’re part of the Wells & Young’s who came up with the above average Young’s Special London Ale and honey-tinged Young’s Waggle Dance. With the Wells name on the bottle, it’s looking promising that Banana Bread will be good.

I’m certainly stumped by the connection between bananas, bread and beer. They’re as unrelated as soap, gravel and Incan sun gods. The front of the bottle doesn’t solve the mystery, but it does have good news. That’s because, in true Wells fashion, this, is a full-pint bottle. Not one of those homogenised continental millilitre measures here.

Wells Banana Bread Beer neck label

The main front label doesn’t exactly answer any questions. But it does add to the sense of quirky eccentricity. Which is what I hope they were aiming for.

Wells Banana Bread Beer front label

Under the big “Banana Bread Beer” name is a picture you’ve probably never seen before. Nor ever will anywhere else. If you’ve ever imagined what a peeled banana would look like with a glass of beer where the edible part would normally be, then you’ve got a strange imagination indeed. And, as it happens, the same sort of imagination that came up with the picture on the front of this label.

Also on the front label, in very small writing, is the volume. Which comes in at 5.2%. Not bad. At least it’s above the ever-so-unimaginative 5% you see everywhere these days.

Over on the back of the bottle, you’re subjected to the full-force of the Wells style of back label.

Wells Banana Bread Beer back label

With a pamphlet worth of information, it’s hard to know where to begin. To save you the trouble, I’ll start with the big small-print at the bottom of the label. Then try to summarise the novella on the subject of how this beer came to be.

The bottom of the label is where you’re eyes are drawn to first. Mostly because, ironically, the small-print details are bigger than anything else around them. You’ll be pleased to see that this “Full English Pint” weights in at 568 millilitres. And that this “Premium Ale” contains “malted barley”.

All this adds up to a whole 3.0 UK units of alcohol. So girls, if you care to follow such guidelines, which you don’t, you’ll have had about enough for one day after one bottle of this beer. Gents, you can have around half a cheap lager more.

Now to take on this enormous, two-column block of writing about this beer. And try and answer some questions about what a beer has to do with bananas. And bread. First, they boast about using water from their own well. Then, they tell us that the hops they use, are English “Challenger” and “Goldings” hops. They go on to say how they brew this beer using Fair Trade Bananas. And that this provides “roundness in flavour” and an “appealing aroma”. No mention of why bananas. Like it’s normal.

Instead, they go straight on to say that these ingredients are fermented for seven days. And that this “intriguing” beer is award-winning. Although there’s no word on what award it was. Award for most unusual combination of ingredients would be my guess. Lastly, they inform us that they named this beer, in part, after the Saxon name for beer, which was “Liquid Bread”. It’s a tenuous connection, but you can just about see how the bananas, bread and beer came to be on the same beer label together.

What am I expecting from this? Almost no idea. Apparently it’s a bitter, but it could have some trace of banana in the smell and taste. How drinkable that will be, I look forward to finding out, because now it’s time to see if it’s any good.

Pouring this full-pint into a pint-glass, the main worry is whether the head will overflow, making a mess of your kitchen countertop. But that wasn’t a problem, because Banana Bread Beer has only the thinnest layers of head.

Wells Banana Bread Beer poured into a glass

The colour is a darkish, reddish deep shade of amber. Bitter colour, I suppose. The smell is where Banana Bread Beer really starts to deviate from the usual. Dominating the aroma, is the smell of bananas. Just as promised on the label. Only stronger than I expected. You’ll get your first whiff of it as you’re pouring. It reminds me of those bags of bright yellow, bananas flavoured sweets that you can buy in bags. I cannot do it justice. You’ll have to see, or smell this for yourself. A beer that smells of bananas, and smells delicious too.

A couple of gulps in, and like with Waggle Dance, I’m surprised by how normal the taste is. The tastes that strike you are the usual, yet high-quality, hoppy bitterness and sourness. Underneath the mad-as-a-brush exterior, you’ll find a bitter-tasting, good-quality ale.

The flavours don’t stop there though. There’s a pleasantly tangy, if somewhat hidden banana flavour still present. And this gives an otherwise typical ale, an unusual and citrusy twist. I’m thoroughly enjoying the imagination that went into this.

Other things I like about it are that it’s not too gassy. It’s smooth. It has that full-bodied, full-flavoured and complex quality I’ve been missing recently with all those bland European lagers. The character and originality of that blend of flavours scores it marks too. And the quality of everything that went into Banana Bread Beer shows in how drinkable it is. You would have to be a very timid drinker to be offended by anything about this beer. I’d happily get a few bottles in, if I could afford them.

And that starts a look at the downsides. It is expensive. At least it is from the shop where I bought it. And it’s not as if there’s much choice of where to buy it. And, while I loved the blend of bitter ale and banana, I couldn’t help feeling that more outrageousness was in order. Anyone, who buys a beer called Banana Bread Beer wants something totally off-the-wall. But that eccentricity, instead of taking centre stage, is obscured.

I absolutely enjoyed Wells Banana Bread Beer. It’s not as unusual as I’d hoped, but it’s more unusual than honey beers like Waggle Dance. It takes and smells unlike anything else I’ve tried. Unusual, drinkable and recommended if you can find it and afford it.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Wells Banana Bread Beer? Or any other banana beer? What did you think?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the usual place please and thank you for reading.

Beer Review: Lőwenbräu Original

25 May, 2008

AFTER my recent look at East-European beers with unpronounceable names and no English writing on it, I felt like a change. So here’s a German beer, with an unpronounceable name and no English writing on it. It’s a can of Lőwenbräu Original. It cost £1.19 and it’s available from a surprising number of off-licences in London.

Lőwenbräu Original can

Painted in light-blue, it’s hard to confuse Lőwenbräu with any other beer on the market. The top features a shield with a typically Germanic looking dragon. Or is it a lion? Whatever it is, it looks German.

Either side of the logo is some writing. It’s hard to read, not only because I can’t understand it, but because of the typeface. I think it says “Ein Bier wie Bayern”. Not knowing any German language, it’s hard to translate. But that never stopped me with the Polish beers. So, I think this says that this beer has “Bayern”. Whatever that is.

Under the Lőwenbräu Original name is some more text that I can’t read. Nor make any sense of. There’s something in there about tradition, but apart from that, I need your help. If you can translate what’s written on this can, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

Under that is the usual small print. That this is a 500 millilitre can. And that it has a slightly above average 5.3% volume.

Rotating the can slightly, and there’s a column of symbols. Some familiar, some not.

Lőwenbräu Original other side of can

There’s also some description of what refund you could get from this can. If you live in Québec. All of 20 cents. Still a good idea, though. We should give refunds for recycling a try, here in the UK. That would clean the streets of bottles and cans in a hurry.

Rotating the can a little further, and we arrive at the biggest and least comprehensible blocks of text I’ve ever soon on a beer can.

Lőwenbräu Original barcode side of can

It’s not the sort of things that you’d try and read just for fun. Sadly, these ‘reviews’ of mine are only 99% fun and opinion. The 1% of actual fact and research of this so-called review is going into trying to make sense of this big block of writing.

First off, we learn that this was brewed by Lőwenbräu AG from Munich, Germany. That is contains water, malted barley and hops extract. Furthermore, this 50 cl can translates into 16.9 US fluid ounces or 17.6 Imperial fluid ounces. I didn’t even know that two different fluid ounce systems existed, but indeed they do.

And that’s all the information there is on that giant block of text. There’s a lesson to be learned here brewers. Tiny text, lots of languages and a big foreboding block aren’t something to aim for.

With no more information to read. And no information that I can understand, there are more questions than usual to answer about what this will be like. The only things I know for certain are that it’s beer. Of some sort. And that it’s from Germany. How bad can it be? Germany is well known for beers isn’t it? So it’s with some optimism, that I crack open the can to see what’s inside.

Be careful with the pouring if you decide to go down that route. The head froths up easily. But luckily, settles back down to a decent, consistent layer of froth in a few moments.

Lőwenbräu Original poured into a glass

The colour is a pale yellow. And it’s very bubbly. I’m starting to fear that this might be a lager. I hope it isn’t.

The smell is not something to write home about. It smells faintly of malted barley. There’s nothing premium, complex or sophisticated about that.

A few gulps in, and my fears are realised. Or are they? With few hints on the can, I could well be wrong. But I’m detecting something lagery about the taste. If you know for certain if this is a beer or a lager, then do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

The taste and flavour is dominated by an ever-so familiar blend of malted barley and hops. The sort that’s so sharp and sour, that it lingers at the back of your tongue. Apart from the taste, that I cant only describe as lagery, there truly aren’t any others that I can find. Even if this doesn’t turn out to be a lager.

To Lőwenbräu’s credit, served cold, it is clean, crisp and refreshing. It’s also not as gassy as I thought it would be. And even though I don’t much like the taste, I can appreciate the quality of the ingredients and the blend. All these things make it easy to drink.

On the other hand, Lőwenbräu Original’s taste is not great. Not bad. Especially when compared to the terrible Polish lagers I’ve tried recently. But it’s not good either. If you like lagers, you might like Lőwenbräu Original. Even if Lőwenbräu isn’t a lager. That mystery remains unsolved.

Lőwenbräu Original also has a watery consistency. And not much originality and character. In a blind taste test, I would have a hard time identifying it.

How can I sum up Lőwenbräu Original? Without being able to read the writing on the can, with some difficulty. Whether Lőwenbräu Original is a lager or not, it is still cheap and foul tasting. Some of you may like that. Others, I hope, will agree with me. And this means that it’s hard to find many good reasons to buy Lőwenbräu Original. Imported to the UK, it becomes more expensive than similar drinks. And it’s certainly not much better tasting.

Rating: 2

Have you tried Lőwenbräu Original? Or any other Lőwenbräu beer?
Can you translate or explain anything about this beer?
Translations, corrections, opinions, thoughts, comments, ideas and suggestions in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Švyturys Ekstra

23 May, 2008

JUST like Britain’s recent waves of immigration, not every East-European beer is Polish. As well as the great many Polish beers sold in shops here in London, there’s a couple from the Czech Republic. And even an Estonian beer. Most of which have been distinctly average. Or worse. Will Švyturys Ekstra from Lithuania be a Baltic saviour for East-European beer?

Švyturys Ekstra bottle

I like the way this bottle looks. It stands out from the crowd. The stubby neck, foil wrapping light-gold colour scheme mean its hard to confuse with any other bottles on the shop shelves.

The foil around the top, and the bottle top itself have the Švyturys name and coat of arms. A coat of arms that seems to consist of an eagle, hops and some sort of tower. There’s also a date. A year to be exact; 1784. Is that the year this Švyturys brewery was established?

Švyturys Ekstra neck foil

The big label on the front of the bottle is an unusual shape. It looks like an ordinary roundel from a distance. But look closer, and you see it’s actually made up of three bulges.

Švyturys Ekstra front label

Around the top of the label, it say, interspersed by writing I can’t understand; “Brewed by Švyturys-Utenos Alus, Klaipėda, Lithuania”. Not knowing who, or what a “Klaipėda” was, I hit Wikipedia. Klaipėda it transpires is a Lithuania town, historic port and, presumably, home town of this brewery. The coat of arms of the town also offers some clues as to the origin of Švyturys coat of arms.

Around the bottom of the label, it says “Lithuania’s Most Popular”. A good sign if Lithuania is overflowing with choice. Not so good if this is Lithuania’s only beer.

Under the big Švyturys logo is the name of this particular brew; “Ekstra”. Which I think is supposed to be read as “Extra”. Underneath that, we get several indications of how much is in this bottle. 500 millilitres, 1 pint or 0.9 fluid ounces in case you were wandering. And the alcoholic volume; which is a slightly above average 5.2%. Not worth getting excited about, but more than the boring 5% that seems to be everywhere these day.

Under that is what looks like a selection of medal. Most are too small to read. But one that is readable says “World Beer Cup 2000”. It looks then, like this is an award winning beer. Albeit, of an award no one’s ever heard of.

The back label is a jumble of text in several different languages. Not an inviting block to try and read. The main English language paragraph describes Ekstra as a “golden beer”. A beer made from hops, barley malt, yeast and rice so pure, they could be used to cleanse even Cliff Richard. Rice is an interesting addition. Cobra Extra Smooth is the only other beer that I’ve seen to have it. And I found it much full-flavoured and interesting than other bland Asian beers. Maybe Ekstra’s unique blend will turn out to be more interesting than the bland East-European beers?

Švyturys Ekstra back label

There’s also some more detail about the awards we barely saw on the front. Apparently, this was the “Gold Award Winner of the 2001 World Beer Championship and Silver Medal Winner at the 2000 World Beer Cup”. I might not have heard of them, but they’re recent enough for these them to mean something.

There’s also a web address. And that address is www.svyturys.lt. A bit of hunting takes us to their English language version, which is at http://www.svyturys.lt/en.

Under that is something that’s easy to miss. And hard to understand. What is looks like is a couple of descriptions. One is how to pronounce the name Švyturys, with the text “[shvee – to – rees]”. And the other is the word “Lighthouse”. It’s a leap, but I think that’s a reference to that mysterious tower on the coat of arms. And it makes sense because Klaipėda is a port on the Baltic coast.

There’s an ingredients list and… not much else worth describing. Which means that it’s time to answer some questions. Principally, is Švyturys Ekstra any good?

In the glass, Ekstra is a light-yellow colour. And, as promised, it has a head. But after a few moments, not much of a head.

Švyturys Ekstra poured into a glass

There’s not as much to say about the smell as I had been hoping. A weak aroma of malted barley is all that awaits. It’s a tiny bit different to the smell of others beers I’ve tried recently, but not very much.

A few gulps down, and Ekstra isn’t bad. It tastes of a light blend of malted barley and hops that leave a light, lingering sour bitterness at the back of your mouth. The tastes and flavours are very light indeed. You’re far from overwhelmed by strong flavours.

Ekstra is clean and crisp. At least this bottle is after I stored it in the freezer compartment for 45 minutes. And the inoffensiveness of the flavours makes this a very easy-to-drink drinkable beer. And the quality of the blend is more than evident.

Sadly, it does have its downsides. Some people, myself included, won’t appreciate how subtle the flavours are. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Ekstra is dull and uninspired on the flavour front. The blend might be quality, but is certainly is boring. There are simply no big flavours to give it character. And it’s a little gassy, but that’s a minor gripe.

How can I try to sum up Švyturys Ekstra? Well, it reminds me of the Asian beers I sampled a few weeks ago. They were all trying to be ‘beers’. And in so doing, that’s what they became. Well made, yet indistinctively tasting generic beers. And that’s what this is. Ekstra is a quality blend of indistinctive beer.

By all means try this to say that you’ve had a Lithuanian beer. If I were visiting Lithuania, I’d happily drink Ekstra by the keg load. But on a shop shelf full of distinctive and full-flavoured beers and ales, that are also cheaper, it’s hard to find many good reasons for you to buy this.

Rating: 2.85

Have you tried Švyturys Ekstra? What did you think?
Can you translate anything on the bottle? Do you know what reputation this has in Lithuania?
Corrections, comments, thoughts, opinions, ideas and suggestions in the comments please!

Beer Review: Warka Strong

22 May, 2008

REMEMBER yesterday’s look at the surprisingly just-above-average Warka? This time, I’m testing its stronger stable mate. The appropriately named Warka Strong.

Warka Strong can

This can looks completely different. The gold, black and red colour scheme looks just like Strongbow Cider. But whatever lurks inside this can, isn’t going to be cider.

The front of the can has words such as “Unikalny Smak” and “Najwyższa Jakość”. To the translators out there, any help with this can, would be great. On that subject, thank you to everyone who has been commenting and translating the last few Polish beers I’ve had a look at. It’s good to hear from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

Back to the can, the top has a picture of someone. Presumably named “Kazimierez Pułaski”. Not the creator of this beer, nor the head brewer. According to Wikipedia, Kazimierez Pułaski was a member of Poland’s nobility, and a military commander in the 18th century. Not an obvious choice for the front of a beer can. And not the first. Broughton put an Old Jock on their strong Scottish ale.

Also on the front, is the proudly displayed “Warka” name. And the 1478 date. As that predates even Kazimierez Pułaski by a few hundred years, its doubtful Poland’s medieval population enjoyed Strong. What is undeniable on the front of the can is the alcoholic volume. 7% puts it in “Mocneterritory. Hopefully, Strong won’t be as appalling as other strong Polish beers.

Just like Warka, there’s a side dedicated to a big, sideways logo. Useful if you like to store your cans on their sides. Presumably.

Warka Strong other side of can

Whilst the barcode and ingredients are thrown together on their own ‘side’ of the can.

Warka Strong barcode side of can

I say thrown, because some text is orientated one way. While other bits of text are at 90-degrees. Would it be so hard to put them all the same way around?

Don’t bother trying to read it from the photo. My six year-old camera phone is as useless at seeing the mess in front of it, as a Burmese dictatorship.

Starting with the ingredients list… I can’t understand any of it. But the Grupa Żywiec name is still there. Reminding us that this beer comes from good stock. There’s also a consumer telephone line and an email address. So that you can tell them what you think of Strong. If you do do that, just remember to leave a comment at the end of this post, as I’d be interested to know what you think of this too.

Also on there are some other bits and pieces. There’s the usual “500 ml”. And a web address, which is www.strong.com.pl. A nice, but completely Polish language website.

Now it’s time to see. Is Strong any good? And is it better than what I’m expecting? Which isn’t very much at all.

In a glass, Strong is a darker shade of yellow than I was expecting. It also has practically no head. Just a few bubbles here and there. Nothing like Warka.

Warka Strong poured into a glass

The smell is different too. But equally indistinctive. Just a bland blend of malted barley and some other unidentifiable things. And it smells as natural as energy drink.

After a few gulps, the taste is… nearly as bad as I feared. It’s dominated by an awful, synthetic bitter taste. Similar to the “Mocne” beers of a few days ago. But it’s not quite as undrinkable as they were. Strong tones it down almost enough to be bearable.

Even though I’d rather taste the flavours of the river Thames, you can’t accuse Strong of lacking flavour. The Strong name is true in every sense with this beer. And if you serve it cold enough, and I mean ice-cold, the horrendous taste is hidden enough for you to call this beer clean, crisp and refreshing.

The downsides, start with the taste and flavour. You can’t escape the fact that Strong tastes like a blend of chemicals. And what’s more, that taste lingers at the back of your tongue. On top of that, it’s gassy.

Strong is not an easily drinkable, sophisticated beer. It’s the disappointing black sheep of the Warka and Żywiec family. But, it is marginally better than those other Polish strong beers. If you live in the Britain, there are better, stronger and cheaper lagers with which to get sozzled. If you live in Poland, try Strong before deciding which strong beer is your favourite.

Rating: 1.9

UPDATE: Better than the other Polish strong/mocne beers? What was I thinking? A few hours after posting, and sanity has (partly) returned. This chemistry set inspired flavour is much worse than either “Mocne”. Hence…
New Rating: 0.5

Have you tried Warka Strong? Can you help translate or explain anything?
What did you think of Strong? Is there anyone out there who actually likes this stuff?
Corrections, comments, thoughts, opinions, ideas, suggestions and information in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Żywiec Warka

21 May, 2008

THANKS to a local corner shop, I’m able to bring you two more reviews of what will probably be more awful Polish beer. This one has the name “Warka”. It also has the words “Uznany Smak”, but I haven’t a clue what that means. Is the brewer called “Warka” and this is their “Uznany Smak” type of beer? Translations gladly received in the comments section at the end of this post.

Warka can

The can looks pretty good. More western in it’s appearance than some of the other Polish beers. There’s some illustrations of hops. And what looks like a castle with the date “A.D.1478”. That’s some heritage behind it.

Despite not knowing any Polish language, even I can make sense of some of the words. Around the top of the roundel for instance, there’s something about traditional beer. And around the bottom of the roundel, something else about an original recipe.

But as for the rest of it, I’m utterly stumped. What does “Uznany Smak” mean? And what do the other words on the front of the can mean?

Turning the can around, we find what must be an ingredients list. With no English, the only things I can make out on there are the size of the can, which is 500 millilitres. And the alcoholic volume, which is an impressive 5.7%. Not bad.

Warka ingredients side of can

Around on the barcode side, and there’s still nothing in English. That fact hasn’t stopped us so far, so let’s press on regardless.

Warka barcode side of can

Apart from the barcode. And the “500 ml”, which of course we already knew, the most noticeable thing is a message. I can’t understand what it say, but I believe it’s something about not drinking and driving. The sign featuring car keys and a cross through them gives that much away. And it’s something of a surprise. Here in the UK, drinking and driving is no longer a big cultural problem. Is it still a problem on Poland? Leave your thoughts in the comments at the end of the post please.

Under the drink drive warning, there’s an address. And it starts off with some good news. It turns out that Warka Uznany Smak is made by Grupa Żywiec S.A. That must be the same Żywiec behind Żywiec Prized Original Beer. And it’s good news because Żywiec wasn’t awful. It was average. And average is better than what I initially expected.

Also on there is an information line telephone number. There’s an email address. And there’s a web address which is www.warka.com.pl. But be warned, in the few moments I spent there, I couldn’t find any links to an English language version.

Looking around the can a little more, and there’s another logo side to it.

Warka other side of can

Instead of the classic roundel logo, this side has the “Warka” name sideways up the side of the can. Something that reminds me of Lech.

With nothing left for me to mis-translate, it’s time to crack open this can, and sample the contents within.

In the glass, Warka is yellow. And fizzy. But it does have a better head than I expected. Maybe this won’t be so bad afterall?

Warka poured from the can

The smell is hardly worth describing. It’s just a cheap malted barley aroma. Utterly unremarkable.

A few gulps in though, and I’m rewarded by something that is surprisingly drinkable. The taste is barely present. The only things I noticed about the taste was a mild bitterness and sourness that doesn’t linger for long. Taste and flavour then, is not what Warka is about.

Where Warka stands out is everything apart from taste and flavour. What it has, is a clean, crisp and refreshing character. And these things make it one of the easiest beers to drink of such high-strength that I’ve seen.

It’s not without downsides however. The head comes from the fizziness. And the fizziness makes it gassy. And the gassiness, predictably, will make you burp. My main gripe with Warka, is that it’s almost tasteless. Body, taste and flavour are almost totally absent. It’s nearly like drinking water. Or Tesco Value Lager. Which, as it happens, are almost identical when it comes to flavour.

Warka Uznany Smak, despite the funny name, is one of the better Polish beers I’ve tried. But that isn’t saying much. Compared to everything else on the market, this is around average. If you want to test the Polish beers being sold here in Britain, Warka is worth a try.

Rating: 2.75

Have you tried this beer? What did you think? Can you translate any of what’s on the can? What reputation does this have in Poland?
Leave your thoughts, corrections, translations, ideas, suggestions and everything else below.

UPDATED 13 Sept. 2008:

I know how popular Warka is, so here’s an update to this post. I managed to track down a bottle. Which, as we all know, is better than anything from a can. There seems to be some sort of promotion being advertised. But I can’t tell what it’s all about. Pics are below. I also tidied up the (Żywiec) title of the post.

Warka bottleWarka neck labelWarka front labelWarka back labelWarka poured from a bottle

Beer Review: Karpackie Premium Lager Beer

18 May, 2008

CHEAP Polish lager has swamped the shops of Britain in recent months. Undoubtedly to quench the thirst of the hundreds of thousands of Polish tradesmen and builders here. This one is Karpackie Premium Lager Beer. This 500 millilitre bottle cost £1.19 pence from an off-licence corner shop, but this one is much harder to find than its competitors.

Karpackie Premium Lager Beer bottle

First impressions are that it’s trying to be a Tyskie or a Zywiec. Put them next to each other on the shop shelf, and from a distance, they look almost identical.

The neck label is uninspiring. White background, gold colour scheme and the “Karpackie Premium” logo. And nothing else.

Karpackie Premium Lager Beer neck label

Maybe the main front label is better?

Karpackie Premium Lager Beer front label

No. It isn’t. On the same, plain white background, is simply a bigger version of the same logo. It’s not all bad though. It is a fairly good logo. Even if I have no idea what the implements it features are. There are some Polish words around the edge too. One of which I think means “Tradition” or “Traditional”. And other which I think say “Original Polish Recipe”. Is that right? Can anyone out there translate what’s on this bottle? If so, do please leave a message in the comments box at the end of this post.

That’s nearly everything on the front label. But not if you look very closely. That’s because there is some tiny writing on it. And that writing tells us that this 500 millilitre bottle has a 5% volume. A fact so unremarkable, you can understand why it’s the size of our national defence budget.

Like the back labels of most Polish beers, it’s hard to learn very much from it.

Karpackie Premium Lager Beer back label

It does have the odd bit of English writing however. The ingredients are water, malted barley and hops. It also tells us, in English, the size (500 ml) and volume (5%). That’s it’s best stored in a cool place. And that Karpackie comes from a company called Van Pur SA, who are from the Polish city of Warszawa. A city you might know as Warsaw.

Apart from that, there’s nothing else to read on there. That means it’s time to see if Karpackie Premium Lager Beer is any good. I doubt it will be. So the new question is, will it be better than the other Polish lagers? I doubt that too.

Poured briskly into the glass, a thick head froths up. But give it just a few seconds, and it’ll die down to a thin and inconsistent little layer of bubbles.

Karpackie Premium Lager Beer poured into a glass

The colour is a weak shade of yellow. It certainly doesn’t shout flavour and body. And it’s visibly full of bubbles, which hardly inspires confidence. Still, this is a lager. Low quality is a pre-requisite.

The smell is… lagery. Fortunately, not the ghastly ultra-strength lagers or “Mocne” style smell. Karpackie smells of cheap lager. That is to say, a mild blend of malted barley and hops.

The taste is equally as unimpressive. Apart from the lagery bitter and sourness, there’s nothing else in there. The bitter isn’t strong. The sourness doesn’t linger for long. And there’s no complex blend. This is a straightforward cheap lager.

In its favour, it is refreshing if you have it cold. And, it’s easy to drink.

On the other hand, it’s easy to drink because it’s so watery. And that means it’s got no body. And that it’s not full-flavoured. Karpackie is, sadly, yet another cheap and sub-standard lager.

If you want a good lager, then try one of Karpackie’s competitors. You’re not short of choice. You’d have to be very short on choice or taste to choose this over something better.

Rating: 0.9

Have you tried Karpackie? What did you think of it?
Got any translations, corrections, comments, ideas or suggestions? Is there something you really want me to review for you?
Leave your messages in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne

17 May, 2008

Okocim Mocne was a disappointment. But it wasn’t the only Polish “Mocne” beer in the shop. So, to see if there are better, or worse, Mocne’s out there, here’s another one: Dębowe Mocne. At a very premium £1.69 from the corner shop where I found them both, Dębowe Mocne is 10 pence pricier. Let’s hope it’s worth it.

Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne bottle

First impressions are that it looks almost identical to the Okocim Mocne. Dark colours with splashes of gold seem to be the norm, when it comes it strong Mocne beer.

The neck label simply has a smaller version of the main logo.

Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne neck label

Quite simply, a picture of a tree. Not as powerful as Okocim’s eagle. And an unusual choice of imagery.

The big, main, front label has no English. So it’s down to you. If you can translate anything, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne front label

Besides the name, the only detail I can make sense of, is the alcoholic volume. Which, like Okocim’s Mocne, is 7%. Like every other Polish beer, there’s a 14.5% “WAG”, whatever that means. Why does every Polish beer have this percentage? What does it mean?

“Naturalna Moc” must be hinting at “natural ingredients”. But “Bogaty Smak”? Possibly the two funniest Polish words I’ve ever failed to understand, together in one place. Priceless.

The back label doesn’t answer any more questions. At least not in English.

Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne back label

There is what looks like a medal. A 2006 “Grupa Media Partner” “Laur Konsumenta” medal. Does that mean anything to anyone reading?

Next to the medal is a paragraph I can’t understand. And a bar cutting across the label with the words “Dębowe Laurowe”.

Then we get to the ingredients. This is always a good place to look for clues. And this one yields a surprise. The familiar name brewing name of Kompania Piwowarska SA from Poznań. Familiar, because it’s what was on that can of Żubr a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t raise my expectations. The only thing good about Żubr was its television commercials.

Also on the back label is an “Infolinia” information line telephone number. And confirmation that this is a 500 millilitre bottle. But you could probably tell that from it being exactly the same size and shape as countless other bottles on the shop shelf.

With little learnt from the outside of the bottle, it’s time to answer the big question about what’s inside the bottle. Is it any good?

In the glass, there’s a good, creamy head.

Piwowarska Dębowe Mocne poured into a glass

It’s dark amber in colour. And, unlike Okocim Mocne, doesn’t look all that fizzy.

The smell is utterly unremarkable. Like any cheap yet strong beer or lager, it smells of malted barley and yeast. It’s not the most pleasant of beer aromas.

And the taste isn’t any better. A ghastly bitter and sour taste prevails. And lingers. Not the fine, sophisticated bitterness of a proper beer or ale. Dębowe Mocne tastes like the worst of the high-strength lagers.

On the other hand, at least it’s full of flavour. Even if that flavour is as delecious as a dose of ebola virus. And, if you chill it enough to dull the taste, you could call it refreshing. It’s also not as gassy as Okocim Mocne.

Is Dębowe Mocne better than Okocim Mocne? No. Amazingly, it manages to be even worse and less drinkable. If you want a very strong lager or beer, then Tennent’s Super Strong Lager or Carlsberg Special Brew are stronger, cheaper and at least as drinkable. There’s even less reason to buy this, than there was with Okocim Mocne? One to avoid unless you’re a “Mocne” fan.

Rating: 0.6

Have you tried Dębowe Mocne? Can you translate anything on it? What did you think of this dreadful beer? What sort of reputation does it have in Poland?
Comments, corrections, ideas and suggestions in the usual place please.

Beer Review: Okocim Mocne

15 May, 2008

REMEMBER my review of above-average Polish beer Okocim? Well, I’ve since found a corner shop that sells it in bottles instead of cans. And, best of all, they sell a more exciting version: Okocim Mocne

Okocim Mocne bottle

This bottle cost a premium £1.59 pence. So let’s hope it’s worth it.

The bottle and labels have a much darker and more foreboding look. My first thought was that this must be a stout or a dark ale. But after closer inspection, I think the word “Mocne” must simply mean “strong”. Or, if you’re Polish, “medium”.

The neck label kicks things off with pictures of what look like medals. But they’re much too small to read. It does start the stylish gold on black colour scheme which I like though.

Okocim Mocne neck label

The main, front label is where the imagery gets serious. An eagle symbolises one thing: power. And this label uses it to great effect.

Okocim Mocne front label

Most of the text at the top, I can’t read. Apart from the part that says “Strong Beer”. Under the Okocim Mocne logo and name, is that year again: 1845. A year that makes Okocim one of Polands most established beers.

At the bottom of the label are all the usual details. That this was brewed by Okocim in Poland. That the bottle holds 500 millilitres. And the alcohol volume. Except that little detail is worth re-reading. And that’s because it’s 7%. That brings this beer into the territory of strong ales. And nearly up to the level of the strong ciders and lagers. If it’s even moderately drinkable then, it will be doing very well indeed compared to its UK counterparts.

Just like the can, the back label doesn’t give up many details.

Okocim Mocne back label

There’s a UK consumer helpline number. And a Polish Infolinia number. There is also a set of ingredients in both Polish and English. For the very curious, the ingredients are water, hops, malt and yeast. Just like the can, the Polish side of the ingredients mentions the name of European brewing colossus, Carlsberg. Plus, there’s a mention of the town, or city, I really don’t know, called Brzesko. What is that place like? It sounds delightful. Lastly, there’s a web address of www.okocim.pl, but you might need to look for links to the English language pages.

In the glass, I’m a little disappointed to see that it’s not as black as crude oil. But rather, it’s light shade of amber. It’s also big-headed. But wait a few moments, and it settles down to a reasonable, creamy layer. There are a lot of bubbles in there, so I’m preparing myself for a lot of burping.

Okocim Mocne poured into a glass

The smell is not exactly distinctive. Yeast, hops and malted barley are the order of the day. But its strength makes it slightly more pungent than usual.

Three gulps in, and I’m already burping. This is a gassy beer. It’s also surprisingly full-bodied. No wateriness at all. The strong flavour that hit me was familiar. It reminded me of the mega-strong lagers. It’s a sharp, tangy bitterness. And it lingers on the back of your tongue. Different in character to the hoppy bitterness of ales. I don’t like the taste, but at least you get a lot of it.

It could be refreshing if you serve it cold. And, for the strength, it’s easy to drink. At least compared to the super-high-strength lagers on the market.

But it’s hard to see past the downsides. Okocim Mocne will make you burp. And the taste is as pleasant as blue tongue disease. If getting drunk is your aim, then there’s no reason to choose this, over the cheaper, and more potent lagers (9% vol.) and ciders (7.5% – 8.4% vol.) on the market.

I truly wanted to like Okocim Mocne. Especially after enjoying Okocim Beer. But there is simply no reason for you to spend your money on this beer.

Rating: 1.8

Have you tried Okocim Mocne? What did you think?
What does “Mocne” mean? Can you translate anything else from the labels? What reputation does it have in Poland? Are other strong Polish beers better? Or worse? If you have any corrections, additions, opinions, suggestions or ideas, do please leave them in the comments.

Beer Review: Greene King Abbot Ale

14 May, 2008

MY previous post involved testing big-name, high-volume ale Morland Old Speckled Hen. It turned out to be better than I feared. And it turned out to be from the Greene King brewing goliaths of the South-East.

It’s with some trepidation then, that I turn my attention this time, towards that other big-name, high-volume ale Greene King Abbot Ale. You know the one, normally on the same shelf as Old Speckled Hen, pretending to be competing with it.

Greene King Abbot Ale bottle

This 500 millilitre bottle is from my local Tesco. For exactly the same premium-end price as Old Speckled Hen.

The neck label starts us off with the familiar Greene King logo. And the “1799” date either side of it. A logo that looks suspiciously similar to the Morland logo.

Greene King Abbot Ale neck label

Under the big “Abbot Ale” name is some encouraging news. It transpires that Abbot Ale was a winner in the 2005 International Beer Competition.

Down to the front label, and everything is tasteful and stylish. In a way that’s similar to Old Speckled Hen? Let your thoughts be known in the comments please.

Greene King Abbot Ale front label

At the top, we get a closer look at that Greene King logo. Didn’t we see a simple line drawn logo dividing an established date on Morland Old Speckled Hen?

The “Abbot Ale” text and red and gold logo featuring, presumably, an abbot does an excellent job of creating the right romantic image. Next to that, in poorly contrasting lettering is the alcoholic volume, which is 5%.

Under that is a sentence. The sort of sentence that long to see on any proper ale bottle. And it reads thus: “Brewed longer for a distinctive, full flavour”. How appealing is that? You would normally only see that on the most obscure, rural ales. Remember that this ale is even available in tin cans. If they truly do pull off longer brewing and strong, distinctive flavours, that is quite a feat.

Over on the back label, and things are a little different to Old Speckled Hen. But there are some similarities.

Greene King Abbot Ale back label

The little “Beer to dine for” and “Contains Malted Barley” symbols are there. As is the quaint “Please take as much care enjoying our beers as we do brewing them”. Just below that is the confirmation of the link with the rest of the Greene King empire; the names “Bury St. Edmunds” and “Suffolk”. There’s also a web address of www.abbotale.co.uk. This website though, is rather more open about its Greene King credentials.

The bulk of the back label gets down to what Abbot Ale is all about.  They describe it as “full flavoured” and “smooth”. And that it has “fruit characters”, “malty richness” and “hop balance”. Good, but vague. But they haven’t finished there. This ale has been brewed with pale crystal, and amber malts. Whatever they are.

What haven’t I covered yet? The ever popular  UK units of alcohol. A good, round 2.5 units are in this bottle. If you count such things.

In the glass, the head is smaller and vanishes quicker than with Old Speckled Hen. It’s also somewhat darker in hue, and fizzier.

Greene King Abbot Ale poured into a glass

The smell is good. Mostly of malt. But accompanied by some hints of malted barley and hops. It’s a good blend. And again, different to what I expected.

And that blend is mirrored by the flavours. The main thing that you’ll taste are those malts. Which are quickly followed by fruitiness. And by some bitterness from the hops. But that bitterness doesn’t linger for long.

Just as the label describes it. It’s rich, smooth, full flavoured and well balanced. It really is all of those things. There’s plenty of flavour, yet none dominate. It’s also very drinkable. With so little to offend, even the more timid drinker will find Abbot Ale easy to stomach.

The downsides? It’s a little gassier than O.S.H. And because of that balance, none really stand out. And that makes it less distinctive and character filled that it would like to be.

Abbot Ale is another pleasant surprise. For a big-name, high-volume ale, it’s good. But not as good as some other ales out there, big-name or otherwise. This is drinkable on its own, but the entire time, I kept feeling the need to shovel a pub meal into my mouth. Abbot Ale then, is an ale best served with a hearty plate of pub grub.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Abbot Ale? Or any of it’s other varieties? What did you think?
Got any corrections, additions, comments, thoughts, ideas or suggestions? Any other products you want me to “review”? Then leave a message in the usual place.

Beer Review: Morland Old Speckled Hen

12 May, 2008

THERE are one or two big name bottled ales that I’ve been putting off reviewing. And that is because they are so widely available. Surely no big volume ales can be as good as those brewed in miniscule quantities by rural, country farmers in medieval barns. Then I’d have to tell you that they aren’t much good. And that would upset all the people out there who think that these big name ales, are real ales.

But there’s only one way to solve this dilemma. And that is to actually try them. So we start with Morland Old Speckled Hen. This one is from Tesco, but you won’t have much trouble finding it on sale in any supermarket.

Morland Old Speckled Hen bottle

The bottle is classy. Tall and transparent, it has the words “Morland” and “Est. 1711” embossed upon it. 1711? That’s pretty good. Well within the territory of “proper” ales. There’s a fox embossed on the back of the bottle. And the area around the front label is indented. Understated and classy in my opinion.

The neck label keeps the good news, and style coming too.

Morland Old Speckled Hen neck label

It starts off with a little description of what this ale will taste like. The description they go with is “A Distinctive Rich Malty Taste Bursting With Character. Fruity Aroma & Deliciously Smooth”. If you’re new to my beer reviews, we’ll see just how accurate that is a little later.

The good news on the neck label continues. This time with the alcoholic volume, which is 5.2%. And that makes this a fairly strong ale. Not very strong. Not weak either. But fairly strong.

The front label is, I’m delighted to report, almost entirely free from clutter.

Morland Old Speckled Hen front label

Usually, the bigger the name, the more stuff they try to cram into the front label. Old Speckled Hen though, keeps just a few choice words within an octagon. An octagon? Unusual, but it helps it stand out.

The top of the label has the “Morland” logo. Not very prominent. And neither is the “Est 1711” either side of the simple illustration of what looks like, an eighteenth century fellow holding a paint brush.

The “Old Speckled Hen” name takes centre stage. And is, for some reason, within quotation marks. Which technically makes it “”Old Speckled Hen””.

Below that is the simple description “Strong Fine Ale”. And I certainly hope that’s exactly what it is.

The back label is rather bigger. And full with quite a lot more detail.

Morland Old Speckled Hen back label

The opening paragraph on the back label starts with some bad news for anyone hoping that this ale dates back to 1711. You see, this ale was first brewed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an MG car factory. With an old MG car used around the factory, gaining the nick name “Owld Speckled Un”. “Old Speckled Hen” is named then, after an old speckled car. Let down or delightful story? Let your views be known in the comments at the end of the post.

The next part of the back label fleshes out the description from the neck label. They use words like “finely balanced” and “great with friends and food”.

Then we get down to the small print. This 5.2% volume bottle is 500 millilitres. Would a full-pint be too much to ask?

The usual responsible drinking message is a little more elaborate than normal. The message “please take as much care enjoying our beers as we do brewing them” heightens the expectations yet further.

All the little logos you normally find scattered around the back label are neatly organised into a row. Next to the recycling logo, there’s that familiar UK units of alcohol symbol. Which indicates a decent 2.6 UK units of alcohol for this bottle. Well below your daily limit in case you worry about such things. Then we have a couple of logos I’ve not seen before. The first is of a little bottle with the tiny words “Beer to dine for”. And another informing us that this beer contains malted barley. Both nice presentational touches.

As usual, there’s a postal address on there. Let’s see where this actually comes from… according to this, it comes from Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England. That place rings a bell. And that’s because it’s the same place that the mediocre Greene King IPA originated. Could this be from the same brewer?

There’s a website on there too. Maybe we can get some answers from www.oldspeckledhen.co.uk? After a bit of searching, their “Contact Us” page reveals a clue. Their “Contact Us” email address is oldspeckledhen@greeneking.co.uk. So my hunch was right. Whether Greene King just happen to own Old Speckled Hen or if they’re brewed in the same place in the same way, I’m still not sure.

But it’s too late for any further conjecture. And that’s because it’s time to see if this ale is any good. I’m going into this with low-ish expectations, but wanting to be proved wrong about big name ales.

In the glass, the colour isn’t a big surprise. It’s exactly the same shade of brown as it was in the bottle. And that liquid is topped by a thin, but healthy looking head. Which is a surprising as it didn’t look particularly carbonated in the bottle.

Morland Old Speckled Hen poured into a glass

The label described it as have a “fruity aroma”. My untrained nose is picking up some hints of fruit and arable crops. Only I think it smells more of hops and malted barley. Regardless of what they actually are, it does smell good. Rich and roasted I’d describe it. But then I’m hopeless at deciphering what my nose picks up.

A few gulps in, and I’m enjoying this. That might have something to do with all the tasteless lagers I’ve reviewed over the last few days, but it’s great to have a big, full flavour again.

The label describes it as having a “rich malty taste”. I’d have to agree. But it is rather less malty than I had been expecting. Malt is a big part of the flavour blend, but it shares flavour duties with the hops. And the hops, I presume, are responsible for the bitter taste and lingering after taste that Old Speckled Hen leaves you with. This then, has a malty and hoppy, bitterness.

Fortunately, the “finely balanced” quality comes into play. And this is important because it makes sure the maltiness and hoppy bitterness don’t clash or overwhelm one another. And that is a good thing.

The label also promises “distinctiveness” and “character”. Tough qualities for such a big name brew. But they do a reasonable job. The blend of tastes and flavours is different to almost anything else I’ve tried. And that gives is some of the uniqueness I look for. But that said, it’s not a huge distance from many other ales on the market.

There isn’t much to truly dislike about Old Speckled Hen. Sure, it isn’t pushing any boundaries. But all the niggling downsides I can think of eventually come down to my own prejudice against big name ales. I can’t escape the fact that this does a very good job, even though it’s sold by the hanger load.

To try to sum up, Old Speckled Hen is decent, quality, strong ale. The tastes and flavours are well balanced. And that makes it very drinkable and easy to drink. It doesn’t break new ground and take any risks, which is what I look for. But if you’re at the supermarket looking for an ale, you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy this ale. And enjoy it even more than I did.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Old Speckled Hen? What did you think?
Opinions, corrections, thoughts, comments and insults in the usual place please.
Next time: Abbot Ale. Which will be the best big name ale?

Beer Review: Okocim

11 May, 2008

EXCELLENT news, chaps. I’ve found another Polish beer on sale at a local shop. And this one is a can of Okocim.

Okocim can

Okacim faces a competition of mediocrity. The other Polish beers of Tyskie, Zywiec, Lech and Żubr weren’t bad. Some were slightly better than others, but all we

re simply vehicles for the consumption of alcohol cheaply and easily. And nothing more. Will Okocim buck the trend? Somehow, I doubt it.

Okocim looks more like Żubr or Lech than it does Tyskie or Zywiec. On it’s green background, the gold coloured text and smattering of red afford it a premium and traditional quality.

The top of the roundel has the English text “Traditional Polish Taste”. That’s’ unusual. Why is it written in English instead of Polish?

The logo is unintentionally hilarious. It features a goat and a huge glass of beer. It’s not clear if the goat wants to drink the glass, or hump it. Either outcome would make me laugh.

The large banner cutting through the roundel has the name “OKOCIM”. No unusual Polish text this time. Above it are the words “Polish Tradition” and below it “A.D. 1845”. That’s good. It gives it heritage. More established than Zywiec and the rest, but not as established as Tyskie.

Under that, is the word “Beer”. Rather obvious. But I’m just glad it doesn’t say “Lager”. Under that, in very small writing are some important details. Namely, that this is 500 millilitres. And that is has a volume of 5.5%. Okocim, then, is going to be strong stuff.

Below that are what look like medals. Does anyone know if they actually are? Did Okocim win any prizes, or are they just there to look like medals?

Running around the bottom of the roundel, we can spot the name of the brewery. The unimaginative Okocim Brewery, Poland. Again though, why is this all in English? Especially when the big, prominent word at the bottom of the can proudly announces “IMPORTED”.

On the barcode side of the can, the puzzle continues. There is both a Polish “Infolinia” phone number. And a UK telephone number for a “Consumer Helpline”. This particular can doesn’t know if it’s Polish or British. Time to read on for more clues.

Okocim barcode side of can

The ingredients side of the can has everything, but in only two languages: Polish and English.

Okocim ingredients side of can

If you happen to be interested in such things, the ingredients are water, malted barley and hops. Absolutely nothing unusual there.

The address of the brewer tells us that this was brewed somewhere called Brzesko in Poland. Sounds delightful. The web address is given as www.okocim.pl. Which, as you’d expect from a website ending in “.pl”, takes you to a Polish language website. Some clever navigations however, does led us to http://www.okocim.pl/okocim.htm. Which even I can understand.

The English ingredients text doesn’t solve the riddle of why this Polish beer has everything written in English. Reading the Polish language ingredients list does give us a clue. You see, this seems to have been produced by Carlsberg Polska. The Polish part of the brewing goliath, Carlsberg. And that would explain why this can is more international than, say, Żubr.

In the glass, Okocim has a thick, frothy head. It also has a light amber colour. An lots and lots of bubbles rising to the surface.

Okocim poured into a glass

The smell is a blend of malted barley and hops. Yes, I know, that how nearly every beer smells. This one does have a blend that is, in some way, different to most others. I like it. It’s got a rich and premium quality to the way it smells.

The taste is not bad. But not great either. The main taste you’ll notice, is the dry bitterness. That bitterness lingers briefly, but doesn’t stick around for long. The malted barley is barely noticeable.

The positives are that Okocim is very easy to drink. And that the blend of tastes and flavours is pretty good quality. You’d have to be very sensitive indeed to find any of it offensive to your palate. Served chilled, Okocim could also be quite refreshing. There’s also a couple of things that are different about it, when compared to it’s Polish counterparts. The blend of flavours being one. And the higher strength being another.

The negatives, though, are that Okocim is cheap and watery. It’s easy to drink because it has the consistency of water. And water that is too sparkling at that. Which means that it’s rather gassy. It’s also lacking much real flavour, but that could be down to my preference from strong ales from the around Britain.

How can I sum up Okocim? Simply, it’s stronger and marginally better tasting than the other Polish beers on sale here in the UK. If you want taste and flavour, it’s not much better than the other Polish beers. But if you want a strong, drinkable beer, this fits the bill nicely.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Okocim? Are you Polish? How do you pronounce the name Okocim? What sort of reputation does it have in Poland?
If you have any corrections, opinions, suggestions, ideas or insults, then leave them in the comments box below.

UPDATE: And this is the rather more handsome looking bottle of Okocim. The only difference as far as the label is concerned is the English language paragraph proclaiming its 160 year heritage, fine ingredients and Polish recipe.

Okocim bottleOkocim back of bottle

Beer Review: Praga Czech Premium Lager

10 May, 2008

THE last Chech beer I tried was Ostravar. And I didn’t think much of it. It was good, but nothing special. So it’s with low expectations that I move on to Praga.

Praga Czech Premium Lager bottle

This 500 millilitre bottle was cheaply purchased from my local corner shop.

The neck label has the word “Pilsner” on it, which is a good start.

Praga Czech Premium Lager neck label

But all the labels are among the worst I’ve seen.

Praga Czech Premium Lager front label

That plain white background. It looks terrible. Not so much “Premium”. More “Economy” and “Cheap”. Remembering the saying that “It’s what’s inside that counts”, we shall press on. It could be a pleasant surprise, right?

The label does have an “Est” date of “1363”. In the corner, it mentions a volume of 5%, which is respectable. And at the very bottom, it tells us that this is a “Product of the Czech Republic”. And that means that this is an imported beer. Which works to its favour.

Over on the back label, and things don’t get much better.

Praga Czech Premium Lager back label

Giving it the benefit of the doubt, let’s read on.

Grabbing your attention is a red bar running across the middle of the label. And that bar features the text “The Award Winning Bohemian Pilsner”. This is award winning? Seriously? Maybe it’s worth giving a chance to after all.

The label continues by informing us that Bohemia is the origin of Pilsner. And that it is world renowned for the quality of its beer. And that comes as something of a shock. I didn’t even know that Bohemia was a place.

It continues by saying that Praga is an outstanding example of premium lager from the Bohemia region. So outstanding in fact, that it was voted number one 5% Pilsner at the Czech Brewing Industry Awards in both 1997 and 1999. Mind you, with only the likes of Ostravar to compete with, that couldn’t have been a particularly big mountain to climb.

There’s also a brief sentence informing us of the origin of Praga. Apparently, this comes from the Hostan brewery. And that it’s heritage dates back to 1363. A very long time indeed.

The ingredients list includes barley, malt and hops. Lastly, the producer is listed as a “Starobrno” from Brno in the Czech Republic.

It’s a hot evening here in London, so I need a refreshing beer. Time to see if Praga does the job.

In the glass, Praga has a decent, foamy head. And a deep, amber colour. Good start.

Praga Czech Premium Lager poured into glass

The smell is stronger than I was expecting. It’s of malted barley and hops – no surprise there. But at least it’s strong enough to identify. And not bad if you happen to like the smell of beer.

A couple of gulps in, and I must admit, Praga isn’t as bad I had been expecting. It has a pronounced, lingering bitter taste. Certainly more of a taste than I’d been expecting. Praga is also smooth. And sufficiently refreshing to cool me down on this unseasonably muggy day. And that’s something that makes it easy to drink.

So refreshing is it, that I’m practically ignoring the downsides to Praga. Which are that it’s a gassy old drink. And that there’s not much else to the taste apart from some bitterness. Apart from the bitterness, you can just about make out the malted barley, but this isn’t what you’d call full-flavoured. Not by a long way. And it gets worse. If, like me, you’re not keen on drinks that are mostly bitter, there’s not a lot here to like about Praga.

Praga then, is refreshing, especially if chilled. It’s also drinkable and has more of a bitter taste than you might expect. On the other hand, it’s more bitter than I like, and pretty dull and watery.

Would I recommend it? Yes, if you want a refreshing pilsner lager after a day spent sweating your own weight in liquid. No, if you want flavours so full that they burst over the top of the bottle. Or if you don’t like bitter flavours.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Praga? What did you think?
Corrections, disagreements, ideas, suggestions and opinions to be left in the usual place.

Beer Review: Tiger Lager Beer

9 May, 2008

THE last in my Asian beer round-up. At least until I find more. This is another favourite accompaniment in restaurants for spicy foods and hot curries. It is, the famous Tiger Lager Beer.

Tiger Lager Beer bottle

This small 330 millilitre bottle was from my local off-licence. But you can probably find Tiger bottles on sale for very reasonable prices almost everywhere. But not at my local Tesco. Strangely.

The neck label has all the important details.

Tiger Lager Beer neck label

The “Tiger” logo features an “Est.” date of 1932. That makes it the most established Asian beer, by a single year, of this round-up. Whether the extra year will make a difference, I’m doubtful. But having been around for so long must be a sign of some sort of quality.

And the good news from the neck label downwards continues. That’s because this is imported. Just like that other, well established Asian beer, Singha Lager Beer, it was brewed in Asia. Unlike Asahi Super Dry and Cobra Extra Smooth, it wasn’t brewed here and pretending to be from overseas. And that does count for something.

The blue, orange and gold colour scheme stays for the main front label. But in comes a lot more clutter. Let’s make some sense of it all.

Tiger Lager Beer front label

Under the big “Tiger” logo, they describe this as “World Acclaimed Lager Beer”. Under that is what looks like five medals. And under those, in rather small text is our explanation: “Awarded Championship Gold Medals: London Geneva Paris”. The tiny pictures of the medals themselves are too tiny for me to read, but they look like the real deal. This really is an award winner, and in recent years too.

Under that is a confirmation that this genuinely is imported. This was “Brewed and Bottled by Asia Pacific Breweries (S) PTE Ltd”. Not the most imaginative name for a brewery.

Under that and on the border of the label are a few measurements. Less than Singha, but more than your typical bottle. Maybe it has something to do with both this and Singha having been imported? In addition to the millilitres (330 in this case), we’re also given the fluid ounces, which are 11.2. Again I ask, who measures beer in fluid ounces? Anyone?

There’s not much to say about the read label.

Tiger Lager Beer back label

The little ‘story’, if you can call it that, tells us that it’s been brewed in Asia since 1932. But we knew that from the front of the bottle. It goes on though, to mention a “distinctive taste”. I hope that’s what it has. The world has enough bland lagers.

The label goes on to tell you the temperatures, in both C and F to serve it in. Good because usually, we only get it in C. That the ingredients are water, malted barley, maize, hops and yeast. Nothing unusual there.

There’s a couple of addresses and a web address on there. These deserve a closer look. Tiger Beer UK is based in Surrey. But the address of Asia Pacific Breweries is Singapore. They kept that a well hidden secret. Instead of promoting Tiger as Asian, how about promoting themselves as Singaporean? I don’t remember seeing any other Singaporean beers on the shelves. Would that work? I think it would.

The UK Tiger website is also on there. And it’s website is at www.tigerbeer.co.uk. Lastly, hidden away under the “330ml” and next to the barcode is “alc. 5% vol.”. Nothing out of the ordinary, but strong and respectable enough to be more prominent. Surely it deserves a place on the front of the bottle. What do you think?

In the glass, it looks just like every other lager. That is to say, it’s yellow and fizzy. It is keeping its head better than most other, however. Which I take to be a good sign.

Blue Zone - Feels So Good poured into a glass

It smells a little different to other lagers too. There’s something richer and less cheap about it. Even though it is still dominated by the usual blend of malted barley and hops.

The taste is… somewhat better than I had been expecting. Unlike most lagers, this one does give a certain amount of hop powered bitter and sourness. And one that lingers too. Not quite up to proper bitter beer standards, but for a lager, it’s doing well. This gives it the “distinctive taste” that was mentioned on the label.

It’s one of the smoother lagers out there. As you’d probably expect, it’s also refreshing and easy to drink by the barrel load. Most important for me is that it isn’t a bland imitation of western beer, intended cool the diner of spicy hot cuisine. My gripe with Asahi Super Dry and Singha Lager Beer was that they none of their flavours stood out. Cobra Extra Smooth did better by having some taste. And this does much the same by having a flavour that stands up to be counted.

The downsides are that it’s still a lager. It’s a little on the gassy side. The little taste that it does have, isn’t pronounced enough for my taste and it can’t match European beers in terms of flavour or body.

That said, Tiger is one of the best Asian beers I’ve tried. It has the character that comes from being distinctive. It’s easy to drink, good quality and deserving of it’s medals and heritage.

Rating: 3.75

Out of my brief round-up of Asian beers, Tiger and Cobra are my favourites. Asahi and Singha were okay but too bland. None of them score very highly because they are all lagers. And that makes them all poor relations to real beer and ale.

If they are brewing such acceptable lagers now however, how good will their proper beers be when they go mainstream in a few years time? These could be the big names that dominate the shop shelves in years to come.

Have you tried Tiger? What did you think?
Any suggestions, ideas, corrections or insults? Then leave a comment!

Beer Review: Singha Lager Beer

8 May, 2008

NEXT up in my round-up of Asian beers is Singha Lager Beer.

Singha Lager Beer bottle

This large 630 millilitre bottle is from Tesco. I’ve not seen it sold in cans or smaller bottles, only ever in this gigantic quantity. Let’s hope that it’s a good beer then.

The bottle top has Singha’s dragon logo and the name of the brewer. Which, if I’m reading it correctly, is Boon Rawd Brewery Co. Ltd.

Singha Lager Beer bottle top

The neck of the label isn’t surrounded by a normal label. But rather that crinkly foil that sometimes gets used to add that ‘premium’ feel.

Singha Lager Beer neck foil

This neck foil keeps the attractive white and gold colour scheme. It has an impressive, if unintelligible symbol, and the words “Thai Beer”. That nails the origin then. This beer is from Thailand.

The main front label keep the same colour scheme. But it’s dominated by an enormous gold dragon.

Singha Lager Beer front label

Just under the Singha name are the words “Premium” and “Import”. Both of which are good, but “Import” is what stands out. That’s because both Asahi Super Dry and Cobra Extra Smooth weren’t. They were brewed here, not in Asia. And that’s something that makes Singha a little more special.

Under the huge gold dragon and pictures of hops, Singha describe that as a “Lager Beer”. And that this has been the “Original Thai Beer Since 1933”. Good stuff. An Asian beer with heritage behind it. The first so for on this round-up, in fact.

Underneath that, in rather smaller text is the name of the brewer; “Singha Corporation Co., Ltd.”. And the place of origin, which is apparently “Bangkok, Thailand”.

The back label is quite a lot smaller. And much more crowded than the front.

Singha Lager Beer back label

The ingredients are listed as “Water, Malt and Hops”. The amount of beer is listed in more ways than I’ve ever seen it listed before. It’s given as 63.0 cl, 630 ml, 0.630 l and 21.3 fl. oz. Has anyone here ever measured their drinks by fluid ounces? If that’s your thing, then you’ve got it listed on this bottle.

This bottle was imported by Entbe Ltd of Slough, England. If you want to write them a letter or give them a phone call, all of that information is on here. There’s also an email address listed, which is info@singhabeer.co.uk. I’ve not tried it, so if you do try emailing them, let me know in the comments section if you get a response from them.

The website address of www.singhabeer.com is printed on there. But if you’re British, you’d probably want to go to www.singhabeer.co.uk instead.

The brewing and bottling of this beer in Thailand is confirmed yet again on the back. And, hidden away for some reason is the alcoholic volume. Which at a respectable 5%, could be more prominent. Why not print it on the front label like everyone else?

When it came to pouring, I took a chance on my big, continental glass. And guess what? All 630 millilitres of it went in perfectly. None left over and no spillage.

Singha Lager Beer poured into a glass

The head looked promising at first. But sadly, it died down to become just a cluster of tiny bubbles on the surface.

The colour of the stuff looks about right for a lager. It looks fizzy, too. Hopefully it won’t be too gassy.

The smell is roughly what you’d expect from a lager. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual blend of malted barley and hops. All of which are hardly noticeable.

A couple of gulps in, and everything seems normal. In fact, there’s not much that makes this lager stand out at all. It has a faint bitterness and sour aftertaste from the hops. And not an awful lot more, in terms of flavour.

What else can I say about this lager? Well, it is refreshing. It’s a hot day here in London, and I’m glad to have a cool bottle of Singha Lager Beer to hand. Were I to visit Thailand, I’d happily buy a few bottles of this brew.

It’s not as gassy as I feared it might be. And for a lager, it does have a “premium” quality feel to it.

It’s also very easy to drink. With no flavours to offend the taste buds, it’s almost like drinking water. And therein lies my complaint. Although it’s a complaint that I level at all lagers. I like character, body and flavour, but that’s not what a lager is all about.

Singha Lager Beer is exactly that, a lager beer. It’s easy to drink, refreshing and fairly strong at 5%. Compared to other lagers, it’s not bad. But seeing this on the shelf next to bottles of beer and ale that are packed with flavour, this one couldn’t possibly get picked.

This is one of those straightforward, quality lagers that would go very well with a spicy meal. Or a trip to Thailand. On it’s own, it’s not as interesting as what else is on the crowded shop shelves. But in the right place, at the right time, it’s ideal.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Singha Lager Beer? What did you think of it?
Got any corrections, thoughts, ideas or suggestions? Then leave a comment!

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!

Beer Review: Asahi Super Dry

5 May, 2008

THIS week, I feel like trying some of the growing number of Asian beers on our shop shelves. The big names like Cobra and Tiger will follow shortly, but I wanted to start this round-up with this: Asahi Super Dry.

Asahi Super Dry bottle

Just one corner shop on my local Bethnal Green Road stocks this Oriental oddity. Curiosity took over and I just had to see what this would be like. The closest I’ve had, have been Chinese beers like Tsingtao during my gap-year. Whether this Japanese beer will be anything like that legendary Chinese beer, I’m looking forward to finding out.

The bottle top has a very stylised “Asahi” name. Plus the Japanese calligraphy for what I presume is the same name. If you can translate the Japanese text, I’d be very interested to hear from you, so leave a comment at the end of this post.

Asahi Super Dry bottle top

The neck label is the first time we see Asahi’s unique look. The black and red print on a shiny silver background is excellent. The text on the neck label tells us that Asahi is Japan’s number one beer. A fact that must count for something. The word “Premium” is on their too. Whether that means that this is “Asahi Premium” or if the “Premium” refers to something else, I’m not sure.

Asahi Super Dry neck label

The front label is somewhat overcrowded. There’s definitely a lot on there to get through.

Asahi Super Dry front label

At the very top and outside the octagonal border are the words “Asahi Beer”. Also outside the border, and in equally small lettering, it tells us that this has been brewed under licence from Asahi Breweries Ltd, Japan. And again, outside the border, but this time at the bottom of the label, we’re told that this is a 330 millilitre bottle. And that it has a volume of 5%. Not outstandingly strong, but far from weak. And that’s a promising sign.

In the bordered area of the label are all sorts of text and Japanese text. It’s hard to know where to begin. Under the Asahi Breweries Limited logo is the slogan “A Beer For All Seasons”. As slogans go, it’s not what I’d call memorable.

The Super Dry description is amusing. For reasons know only to themselves, only the word “Dry” has quotation marks. Not the word “Super”. So it reads as Super “Dry”. As if the characteristic of dryness is ironic. Has something been lost in translation here?

Under the large, stylised Asahi name is an unusually big block of text. And that block is split and underlined by some Japanese text. If you can translate what it says, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

The English text however, starts off with the usual mentions of quality ingredients. It then describes what to expect with words including “Richness”, “Refreshing” and “Smoothness”. And an extended version of their slogan: “All Year Round You Can Enjoy the Great Taste of Asahi Beer”. Not if you live in London. It’s not exactly widely available yet.

Over on the back label, and everything is cleaner and neater.

Asahi Super Dry back label

It opens by telling us that Asahi is pronounced “Ah-Sah-Hee”. Also that it’s Japan’s number one premium beer. And that it is known for being “clean”, “crisp” and “refreshing”. All good, if vague stuff in my opinion.

Under where it says that it contains barley malt is a disappointing piece of news. Asahi Super Dry hasn’t been imported. Instead, it’s been brewed and bottled in the UK. Still, at least you can write to their European headquarters in London using the postal address given. Or visit their website at http://www.asahibeer.co.uk/. Finally, tucked away in the corner is the familiar UK units of alcohol symbol. All of 1.6 for this little bottle.

In the glass, everything looks fine.

Asahi Super Dry poured into a glass

There’s a thick head, which dies down a little over a minute or two. And the colour is a light yellow with a lot of bubbles. This is going to be a fizzy and gassy experience by the look of things.

The smell is… not sophisticated. It’s of malted barley and possibly hops. But it’s not overpowering either.

Just a couple of gulps confirm just how gassy this is. It is one of the most gas filled beers I’ve tried. Asahi Super “Dry” tastes much as you’d expect. An indistinctive blend of malted barley and hops. It reminds me of lager rather too much.

But it’s not all bad. It is “clean”, “crisp” and “refreshing”. And quite a fun, drinkable beer. But the “richness” and “smoothness” it promised are hard to find. And what’s “Super “Dry”” about it, I’m not certain.

To sum up Asahi Super Dry, this is a decent, if unsophisticated beer. It’s not got complex flavours or aromas, but then it never promised that. Instead, it provides a simple, straightforward and refreshing beer. Not bad, but I want something more. I will though, be looking out for Asahi’s other beers. If they have a Super “Wet” to compliment their Super “Dry”, I’d be interested in sampling it.

Rating: 2.5

Have you tried Asahi Super “Dry” or any other Asahi beers? Where did you find them on sale? Can you translate any of it? Is the authentic Japanese version better than the one brewed here in the UK? If you can answer any of these questions. Or just want to leave a rant, comment, suggestion or correction, then do so now.

Beer Review: Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer

3 May, 2008

COULD this be my new favourite? You remember how much I adore Hoegaarden White Beer. And you remember how much I like fruit beers like Badger Golden Glory? Well this distinctive, white bottle, bought at a premium price from Tesco, promises to combine them both. So let’s see… will we have a new favourite here?

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer bottle

The bottle top, not normally worth a mention is the only place on this bottle that you’ll find the coat of arms.

Kronenbourg Blanc bottle top

Instead of the usual neck label, front label and back label combination, this bottle surprises yet again. Instead, it has a main front label, but all the usual back label small print is on the little label around the neck of the bottle.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer front neck label

Here’s the front of the neck label. The Kronenbourg 1664 brand name is still here though, reminding us of its connection to it’s more mainstream sister. Above it, is what I think is French. And it reads “La Bière Blanche De” And then the Kronenbourg 1664 logo follows. Using my almost non-existent French language skills, I’d say that it means “The White Beer of…”. Is that right?

Turning the neck label clockwise takes us to the UK units of alcohol warnings.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer details side of neck label

This bottle has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And the label gives a summary of the daily maximums for men and women. Four and three respectively. All very dull.

Next to that though, we get a clue as to this beer’s origin. This one was “Brewed in the EU by Scottish & Newcastle” before giving their Edinburgh postal address. Even if that is under agreement from Brasseries Kronenbourg from Strasbourg, France, this news comes as a let down. If you feel strongly about that, then you might want to contact their consumer care line or email, both of which are directly under their postal addresses. Their email is given as kronenbourg@scottish-newcastle.co.uk, although I haven’t tested it. If you give it a try, leave a comment at the end of this post to let us know if they’re any good at replying to emails.

Turning the bottle further, brings us to the barcode side of the neck label. This is the side where all those important little details are hiding.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer barcode side of neck label

As you would imagine, being only the little label around the neck, there’s not an awful lot of detail. It describes itself as “White Beer”. And says that it “Contains Barley & Wheat”. Hardly surprising for a beer of any type. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And I’ve never seen it in any smaller quantities. Have you? Does it exist in can form? Lastly, this has a volume of 5%. Strong-ish, but not remarkable.

Where you would expect it, there’s the main front label. And I think it fits in rather nicely with the rest of the bottle. The text is stylised, but easy to read. And the background matches the colour of the bottle, so it has a very classy appearance.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer front label

The word “Blanc” is the most prominent part of it. And for the few people who don’t know that “Blanc” means white, directly under that is the description “White Beer”. But it’s the text below that in a sort of gold colour that tells us most about this beer. It describes itself as a “Refreshing”, “Fruity”, “Imported White Beer”. I’m salivating already. Are you?

With nothing else to read on the outside, it’s time to open this bottle up and see if it’s as good as I’m hoping it will be.

Poured into a glass, you’ll do well to keep the pouring slow and smooth. But even I managed to keep the head under control, so you won’t have a problem. And what a creamy head you’ll get atop your beer. And it dies down to a drinkable level within a minute or two.

Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer poured into a glass

This is also a very cloudy, nearly opaque beer. I’d guess that this is because it’s live rather than filtered, like other white beers out there. Even though it doesn’t say so anywhere on the bottle.

The smell is as gorgeous as I had hoped. The fruitiness of the aroma is the first thing you notice. And not of one particular fruit. More like what you’d smell if you were standing over a big bowl of fruit salad. Not unlike the many other fruit beers out there. Sniff a little harder, and you’ll notice the rich, yeasty maltiness. A similar yeasty maltiness to Hoegaarden White Beer and Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brown. Am I the only one who loves the way that these all smell?

After all of that, I was expecting an explosion of flavours. But did in fact find my first few gulps to be treated to some very subtle flavours. None of which really dominate or jump out at you. And that surprised me.

After some pondering and tasting a few times, I’m starting to make sense of it. The main flavours are yeasty and malty. And that’s not surprising, considering that this is a white beer. What is surprising is how much they are in hiding. The other flavours that you’ll notice are of fruits. No one fruit group stands out, but there’s definitely something citrusy in the there. Again though, it doesn’t jump out at you.

Kronenbourg Blanc is very very smooth. It has the full-bodied taste and consistency that I demand of beers and ales, so no complaints of watery-ness here. Not only is it surpremely drinkable, but the lack of bold flavours means it won’t offend anyone. And that makes it accessible. Accessible enough for it to appeal to female drinkers too, I suspect. Girls, what do you think of Blanc?

If I had to look for downsides, I’d say it’s a little bit gassy. Although my belching during this review might have been due to the kebab eaten just before posting. Also, while the lack of strong flavours might make it inoffensive, it’s not quite what I was hoping for with Kronenbourg Blanc. I was hoping for the strong flavour of Hoegaarden or Leffe, but they just weren’t there. It’s clearly not what Kronenbourg were aiming for, but I found it rather disappointing for this reason, none-the-less.

What Kronenbourg Blanc is all about, are tasty aromas and flavours, deliciously arranged in subtle, understated ways. Some of you will adore the way that nothing about it is too strong. Other, like me, will be wishing that at least of it’s many qualities were more prominent.

Rating this beer, isn’t easy.

Rating: 4.35

I’ll happily drink Kronenbourg Blanc again. And recommend it to people. But it misses out on the highest scores by failing to take a chance and stand out with its flavours. That said, it’s still a feast of smells and flavours.
Have you tried Kronenbourg Blanc? What did you think?
Got any corrections, suggestions or ideas of your own?
The leave a comment now. Go on. Do it. Now.


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