Archive for June, 2008

10,000 Hits and Counting! But Who’s Reading?

30 June, 2008

AMAZINGLY, the pokey little blog that you are reading, has passed its 10,000th view. From humble beginnings six months ago, my Big Log is still humble, but with a lot of people reading it.

Now receiving well over 100 views a day, and often much more than that, it is raising some interesting questions. Questions such as who the hell is reading my stuff?

Less than a handful of people regularly leave comments at the end of posts. So, readers, here is your chance to stop lurking. Come out of the woodwork and leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Introduce yourself to the world. Or the tiny proportion who read this blog, at least.

Besides the question of who reads my pitiful efforts at hurling words together, there are more questions. Questions such as why do you read my little Big Log? What do you like about it? And what don’t you like about it?

Then there’s the question of where to go from here. I never set out to write a blog that was 99% about beer and cider. That happened by accident. Whatever I decide to ramble on about, you’re the person who will either be entertained or bored by it. So it’s over to you… What do you want to see on here?

Here are some more questions to get you fired up for the comment that you’re about to leave on this post. What changes would you like me to make around here? What about reviews of other things? Things like breakfast cereal, crisps, wrist watches or raves? How about comments on things in the news and politics?

If you’ve never left a comment before, here is your chance.
Thanks for reading. Now I’m putting my feet up to read what you have to say.

Cider Review: Savanna Dry Premium Cider

29 June, 2008

FOR some reason, I’m unusually susceptible to cider advertising. Which is why I’ve ended up with a bottle of Savanna Dry Premium Cider, even though I don’t like dry cider.

Savanna Dry Premium Cider bottle

This one came from Tesco, where they’ve been heavily promoting it for some time. Its long has premium shelf space, and, last week, a little tag hooked onto the place where they put the prices for each product. The tag suggested drinking it from the bottle with some lemon. As I don’t have any sour citrus fruit handy, and too much class to drink from the bottle, this is going straight into the glass. Let me know in the comments what you think of it with lemon. Is it better or worse for it?

At just over £1.50 pence, this little bottle is at the premium end. It does have the advantage of having a name that matches its character. Wouldn’t it be great it a Brazilian firm started producing Rainforest sweet cider?
[EDIT: I’ve just checked the receipt, and the actual price was £1.31. Cheaper, but still at a premium.]

What can I say about the bottle? Well, it’s small and dumpy looking. And it’s transparent. So you can see the pale yellow cider held within.

The front label sums up what you need to know with excellent imagery.

Savanna Dry Premium Cider front label

The crayon effect gives it an unusual look. The pictures of savannah landscape and the prominent word “Dry” all add to the image of a drink that will make you thirsty.

The back label doesn’t add much in the way of a description. But it does answer some questions about its origin.

Savanna Dry Premium Cider back label

First up, we learn this drink’s vital statistics. This little bottle holds the typical 330 millilitres of liquid. But it has an above average 5.5% alcoholic volume.

You won’t be surprised to learn that is contains sulphites. But what will surprise you is that we get a full list of the ingredients. For the first time, pretty much ever, we can see what goes into a cider. This one is made with “apple cider, glucose syrup, apple juice concentrate, flavourings, carbon dioxide, colour (E150c), antioxidant (sulphur dioxide)”. That was interesting to learn. Sort of.

There’s a web address. Which is www.savanna.co.za. The observant among you will notice the unusual “ZA” country code on that address. And, sure enough, it’s confirmed by the back label. Perhaps the most prominent part of it is the line “Product of South Africa”. Suddenly, you realise that the “Savanna” name and graphics aren’t just marketing.

This is the first African cider I’ll have tried. And I’m looking forward to it. The African lager I tried, Castle Lager wasn’t bad. This might even change my mind on dry cider. Either way, it’s time to open this expensive and well travelled bottle and see if it’s any  good.

Savanna Dry Premium Cider poured into a glass

First impressions are, it’s very fizzy. No head though. Possibly because of its dry character, it reminds my of some Strongbows. The colour is a darker shade of yellow. Apple juice colour. It has a similarly rich apple-y smell too. Appetising, if like me, you like apples.

The character is exactly as it says on the bottle; dry. No surprise there. But it is very effective. Just a couple of gulps, and you get that dry sour taste at the back of your tongue. The taste is, no surprise either, as it tastes of apples. Not strongly so. Nor with the barely noticeable weakness of some ciders. Savanna Dry is somewhere in-between. But you’ll hardly notice. And that’s because your mouth will be feeling as dry as the savannah of this cider’s name.

It is however, not as dry as I feared. I was half expecting Sahara levels of dryness and unpleasantness. But it never seems too dry. The high-quality is very much in evidence. And that makes it drinkable. Which, I never expected to say about Savanna Dry.

To sum up, Savanna Dry is an expensive, but quality dry cider. If you like cider. And you like it dry, this is a must. If you like cider, but don’t normally touch anything “dry”, it’s still worth giving this one a go.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Savanna Dry Premium Cider? Have you tried it with lemon stuffed into the neck of the bottle?
Then share your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations with the world here please.

Cider Review: Magners Original Irish Cider

27 June, 2008

PERHAPS the most heavily promoted cider in the recent boom is Magners Irish Cider. You can’t have missed the advertisements adorning every commercial break on television, or the billboards on the side of buses. So, cajoled by marketing, I have here a small bottle of Magners:

Magners Original Irish Cider bottle

It’s a nice looking little bottle of cider. The black cap certainly helps it in the style stakes. And the word “Original” is embossed upon the shoulder.

There is no neck label. But it does have golden foil wrapped around it. There is no writing on it, but it does have the Magners logo. And I think that logo could be vats of cider. Can anyone out there confirm?

Magners Original Irish Cider bottle neck

The classic roundel front label is where everything happens.

Magners Original Irish Cider front label

The background is golden. Isn’t it always, with cider? The “Magners Irish Cider” banners and logo prominently cut through it. The borders inform us that this is “Magners Original Vintage Cider”.

Inside the borders of this “Original” are all the vital statistics. They proudly tell us that this was “Produced In Ireland By WM. Magner”. That this bottle is the standard 330 millilitre size. And that the cider is the standard 4.5% alcoholic volume. Little sets it apart from the competition on paper at least.

Staying true to cider traditions, there is little to read on the back label.

Magners Original Irish Cider back label

That said, it does have more of a description than most. They inform us that “Magners Irish Cider is patiently vat matured to deliver a pure, crisp, refreshing flavour and natural character.” At least half of that is almost identical to what it says on the Bulmer’s Original label. But it’s hard to blame them, as there’s little to truly set one cider apart from the rest. Let’s hope this one really is crisp, refreshing and delivers flavour. Bulmer’s didn’t.

The only other details on the back label are either repeated on the front label. Or they are in another language. Which means we have faster the usual, reached the part where I open the bottle to tell you what it’s like. No mention of serving with ice on this bottle, so it’s straight in the glass. Although I’m sure that Magners marketing people would be delighted if you did have they’re cider on ice whilst out with friends on a hot, sunny day.

Magners Original Irish Cider poured into a glass

Pouring Magners Original Irish Cider is exciting. There’s lots of fizz. It never froths up, so you’re completely safe, but there’s lots of action. In the glass, it’s filled with more bubbles than I’ve seen in another other cider or beer. Amazingly for a cider, it leaves a head. Not a patchy few bubbles, but a complete head.

Colour is an orangey gold. A little like toned down apple juice. And the smell is more apple-y than I’ve sniffed for a long time. Not overpowering by any means. Simply a nice, rich smell of apples. Just as a cider should be in my opinion.

A few gulps in, and I’m enjoying this one. The taste is like the smell. And exactly what I expect from a cider; apple-y. Not too strong, simply a good taste of the fruit this is made from. As for the character, it’s not too dry and not too sweet. I may not have tried many, but it seems well balanced.

What do I like about Magners Original Irish Cider? The flavour for one. It actually has a flavour, unlike so many other ciders. And it has the right flavour in the right proportions. It’s not dry. It does what it promises on the label in that it’s crisp and refreshing. Although I suspect mine would be crisper and more refreshing if I’d have thrown some ice cubes into the glass first. Lastly, despite all the fizz, it isn’t too gassy.

What don’t I like about it? Very little compared to other ciders. If I had to nit-pick, I could say that it doesn’t taste of apples enough. Or that it makes you burp. A little. It might be almost flawless compared to other ciders, but even the best cider compared poorly to beer and ale. If you want lots of complex, interesting smells and flavours you won’t them in a cider. Not even a Magners.

For a cider, it’s an excellent specimen. If you want to introduce someone to a good quality example of what a cider should be, this is a good choice. This is probably my favourite normal strength cider. But it’s hard to give it a truly high rating, when you could be enjoying the complex blend of flavours in an ale.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Magners Original Irish Cider? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations with the world, here.

Beer Review: Imported Stella Artois

26 June, 2008

MY abstinence from lager isn’t going well. In the last few days, I’ve had a few, if not by accident, then through curiosity. And it’s curiosity that brought me to this one. I had decided to put off the notorious, and big-name Stella Artois for as long as possible. But a variety caught my eye. Here is a little bottle of imported Stella Artois.

Imported Stella Artois bottle

First impressions are, that it’s easy to confuse with the non-imported bottle. They’re both green. They both have almost identical labels. But this one has a big thing around the neck and the words “Imported” to set it apart. So you need to be observant not to end up with the faux Belgian Stella Artois premium lager.

Imported Stella Artois neck

As neck labels go, it’s unusual. More of a wrapper than a label. There’s perforated part around the cap, so you can get into it. The all important word “Imported” is suitably prominent. The words “From Belgium” are also good to see. I for one like to know where my beer has come from. Then there’s all the Stella Artois insignia. The logo seems to be a horn, with some barley and hops behind it. There’s also what look like stamps or medals, but they are much too small to see.

The front label looks almost identical to that of the non-imported bottle. But there are some differences. Sadly, I don’t have the other version to hand for a side-by-side comparison. And that would be nerdily unnecessary anyway.

Imported Stella Artois front label

The front label is unmistakable. Clear and well designed, this gold, white and red label sums up continental quality.

The writing in the border of the roundel tells you what you need to know. That this is a “Premium Lager Beer” and that is it “Belgium’s Original Beer”. That Belgian origin is a big reason why I decided to pick up this bottle. So many of the best beers I’ve tried during my arduous research for this blog, have come from Belgium. The country might not have contributed much else to the world, Tin Tin excepted, but they certainly do make terrific beer. Let’s hope this is one of them.

The middle of the label, above and below the label also tell us some important facts. The date for example. This has an “anno” or 1366. One of the earliest years I’ve ever seen on a bottle of beer. It must have been hard work harvesting the raw ingredients for beer, when the wheel had yet to be invented. And there’s the location. According to this Belgian tourist board website, “Leuven” is on the Flemish side of Belgium.

Some brewers put the vital statistics on the back label. Some put them prominently on the front. Others, like Stella, put them on the front, but in a microscopic size. The volume of this bottle is 33 centilitres. Which is unremarkable. And the alcoholic volume is 5.2%. Which is slightly remarkable, because I feared this would be another uninspired 5%.

Because this is an export version, the back label is a multilingual mess.

Imported Stella Artois back label

It’s hard to know where to start. Most prominent at the top is the description “The Classic European Beer”. Funny, as I half expected it to say “Lager Louts Choice” or “The Classic Wife Beater”. Maybe Stella Artois doesn’t have the same reputation abroad as it does here in the UK.

There’s little else to report from the back label. It gives the contents are being malted barley. The size and volume of the beer bottle is repeated in case you missed it on the front. And there’s a web address which is www.StellaArtois.com. You can choose your location and language from their flashy homepage.

With the labels out of the way surprisingly quickly, it’s time to answer those all-important questions. What is this imported Stella like? And will I feel the urge to punch strangers and family members after drinking it?

Imported Stella Artois poured into a glass

This is a premium lager, so be careful with the head. Pour gently though, and you get a good, controllable layer of froth sitting atop your drink. The colour is as you’d expect from a lager; pale yellow and full of bubbles.

The smell is good, for a lager. It smells richer and maltier than other lagers. Probably because of it’s Belgian origins.

And that quality carries over to the taste. The taste is light. No big, offensive, sudden or surprising flavours in here. Instead, you have a gentle malty bitterness.

What do I like about imported Stella Artois? It’s smooth. Impressively for a lager, it doesn’t taste horrible. It’s not too gassy. The quality is evident, unlike some so-called ‘premium’ lagers. And it’s slightly more potent than other mainstream premium lagers. All in all, it’s surprisingly drinkable. For a lager.

Inevitably, there are things I don’t like about Stella Artois. The taste for one. It may be good for a lager. But it’s still a lager. And as such, it still has that unpleasant ‘sharp’ bitterness. It’s missing any flavours beyond the small subset you find in a lager. Even though it’s a quality, premium lager, if you had to drink more than a bottle or two in a night, you’d soon get bored and start to feel as though you’re drinking dish water.

Compared to other premium lagers, Stella Artois is not at all bad. And it’s the first that isn’t a pilsner that I’ve said that about. It is still a lager, and therefore will never get far above average. But if lager is all that was on offer, I’d happily tolerate Stella Artois.

Have you tried Stella Artois? Of course you have. Here’s your chance to let the world know what you thought of it.
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Michelob Lager

25 June, 2008

A few days ago, I wrote about the seismic shifts in the brewing industry when European mega-brewer InBev made an offer for American brewing giant, and home of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch. I wanted to mark the occasion by trying an American beer from the Anheuser-Busch stables, but was deterred by Budweiser being a cheap lager. So I cheated and had an unrelated and equally cheap Miller Beer instead.

Since then, London taxis have continued advertising a new, and different looking beer from Anheuser-Busch. So, after much procrastination, I relented and picked up a bottle of Michelob Lager.

Michaelob Lager bottle

And it’s not a bad looking bottle. All the black and gold offers a premium look. And a nice change compared to the shouty look of other American beers. The dark coloured bottle even has a Coca-Cola-esque middle. And the name “Michelob” is subtly embossed upon the surface. All unusually classy.

The bottle top isn’t something I normally dwell on. But this one deserves mention because it’s a screw top. The quality of the bottle just went down a notch for me. But what do you think? Leave your opinion at the end of the post.

With no front or back labels cluttering up this stylish bottle, what we do have is a very large neck label. Something I think makes the bottle look like it’s wearing a spangly dinner-jacket.

Michelob Lager front label

I like the font of this neck label. And that’s because it has all the words the convinced me that it would be worth trying. Even though it’s a lager that comes from somewhere with a poor reputation for mass-produced beer. Starting with the gold coloured top, it describes itself as “a classic all-malt lager brewed with noble European aroma hop varieties”. I’m salivating already. Malt is good. European hops can be good. As for this being a lager, well, I’m staying open minded about this one.

The “Michelob” brand is new here in Britain. And I’d be interested in learning what reputation is has across the pond. To me, the discreet little flag, and typeface sum up elegance. They also remind me of after dinner mints.

Even after vowing not to bother with lager again, there are some things that get me interested. And the word “Imported” does just that in this instance. The Miller Beer turned out to have been brewed “under license” over here. That’s no good. I want to review real American beer. And beers genuinely from other countries for that matter. So this one fits the bill nicely.

Just like the cap, the best before dates aren’t something I normally mention. But this time I will.

Michelob Lager left of neck label

Some countries require food and drink to have a best before date. Others require the date that the food or drink was produced on. Because this is the export version, it sensibly has both. It has a “Born On Date” and a “Best Before Date”. Adding a belt to those braces are the words “Freshest Taste within 110 Days”. This isn’t something I’ve seen on many other beers. Not those from Europe, Africa or Asia at least.

Over on the other side of the neck label is all of the small-print.

Michelob Lager right of neck label

After seeing so many faux foreign beer that turn out to be brewed in the UK, the St. Louis address for Anheuser-Busch, Inc., is a welcome sight. This really is from the USA and imported to me, via Richmond in Surrey.

This bottle is the usual volume of 355 millilitres. But the alcoholic volume is a rather typical 5%. It contains, surprise surprise, barley malt. And there is a UK postal address for comments. Unusual not to see an email address or consumer helpline though.

With that out of the way, its time to answer the big questions of our time. Namely, are there exceptions to the rule of big-name American beers generally being terrible? And does Michelob Lager taste as good as it looks?

Michelob Lager poured into a glass

Be careful if you decide to pour it. The head fizzes up almost uncontrollably, so keep an eye on your enthusiasm. It does end up as a good, thick layer after a few moments though. The other thing you’ll notice, if you went for the half-pint glass, is that it wasn’t big enough. Frustratingly, 355 millilitres is somewhere between half a pint and full-pint.

The colour is typical for a lager. It’s a pale yellow. It’s also filled with bubbles. Oh dear.

The label talked about “European aroma hop varieties”. And I’m delighted to report that the smell is not bad. Even compared to European lagers, it smells good. It has a much more rounded smell of barley and hops than many others. Not quite up to the levels of a proper ale, but not bad.

The first gulps were hindered somewhat by the thick layer of foam. First impressions aren’t too bad. I liked that it was smooth. I liked the initially light taste of lager. I was starting to think that it wasn’t a bad example of a lager.

Then the aftertaste hit me, and everything changed. The initial taste of a light blend of malted barley and hops vanishes. To be replaced by an intense, sour and bitter aftertaste. It feels like it’s clinging on to every surface of your tongue. And it is ghastly. You might expect this taste if it were a 9% super-strength lager, but for a premium, imported lager, it cannot be excused.

I truly wanted to enjoy Michelob Lager. My expectations were modest, and achievable. It looks the part. And smells the part of a quality, premium lager. But that taste. It is one of the worst and most unpalatable I’ve tasted.

How can I sum it up? This is a beer for people who have spent their lives drinking Budweiser, and want to imagine that they’re experiencing a European quality beer. When in fact, all this is doing, is perpetuating the reputation that big-name American brewers produce urine and get away with it.

Rating: 1

Have you tried Michelob Lager? What did you think? What reputation does it have elsewhere in the world?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here please. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

Cider Review: Strongbow Sirrus

23 June, 2008

WHAT is your biggest complaint about your favourite cider? Is it too dry? Not apple-y enough? Whatever you want your cider to be more of, or less of, you’ve probably never complained that your cider wasn’t smooth enough. Fixing this problem that didn’t need fixing is Strongbow Sirrus. A “Smooth Cider”.

Strongbow Sirrus bottle

The bottle is cool and stylish. Being completely transparent, the orange-y cider within gives it a great look on the shelf in Tesco.

The neck label is the only part that isn’t transparent.

Strongbow Sirrus neck label

There’s the “Strongbow” name and logo. Then there’s the completely different “Sirrus” typeface. Besides all the arcing lines bouncing around, what catches your eye are the words “Best Served Over Ice”.

The main front label is much the same as the neck label. Almost identical in fact.

Strongbow Sirrus front label

The biggest differences are that it’s mostly transparent. And, instead of the advice about ice, it has “Smooth Cider”. I like it. The “Sirrus” name and arcing lines give it a different look to every other cider, including other Strongbow’s. This is a cider trying to appeal to the sophisticated young urbanite. Someone who has shiny granite surfaces in their kitchen, and complains about the carbon footprint of other people.

As is the custom with cider, there’s almost nothing to read on the back label.

Strongbow Sirrus back label

In this case, that’s no bad thing. What makes the bottle so stylish is that nothing gets in the way of your view of the orange liquid inside it. The extent of the description is that this is “a smooth tasting cider” and that it is “best served over ice”. Nothing we didn’t know already from the front of the bottle.

Fortunately, the vital statistics of this drink are the most prominent things here. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the alcoholic volume is a reasonable, for a cider, 5%. That translates into 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And if you were in any doubt as to how much of your daily amount that is, there’s a little guide on the subject here too.

The long list of ingredients has only one item. And it’s not, amazingly the sulphites that are the only item on every other cider. Instead, this one “contains sulphur dioxide”. What’s that? Is it the same thing as sulphites?

Strongbow is a Bulmer brand. And so, unsurprisingly, it has the HP Bulmer Ltd address in Hereford. It also has an email address and a telephone number in case you want to say something to them.

So, how smooth is Strongbow Sirrus? What’s it like and is it any good? Time to answer some questions.

Strongbow Sirrus poured into a glass

What caught me off guard was the head. Normally, cider doesn’t have one. But, poured onto a handful of ice cubes, a big head frothed up. It disappeared quickly, but watch out if you pour this one.

The colour is no surprise. More orange in colour than some. In looks at least, it’s the David Dickinson of ciders. As for smell, there is barely any. If you sniff hard enough, you can just about detect a whiff of apples. But it really is faint.

A few gulps in, and there’s little radically different to be found here. The taste is of apples, and has all the tanginess and sourness that goes with it. And that’s a taste which is welcome after the weak flavoured Bulmers ciders.

My main complaint with most Strongbow’s is the dryness. Why anyone would want a drink that makes you thirsty? Sirrus doesn’t go down that route. Not fully at least. I’m having a hard time figuring out if this is not very dry or not very sweet. So I’m going to call it as being a little sweeter than it is dry. Your thoughts in the comments at the end of the post as usual please.

Then there’s the smoothness. I have to agree, it is smooth. And why that is, becomes clear when you discover that you’re not burping. That’s because Sirrus is hardly carbonated at all. Despite the massive head that frothed up at first, there are hardly any bubbles in the glass.

The relatively sweet flavour, and the smoothness add up to a drinkable cider. They also give it qualities that I haven’t seen elsewhere, so it scores distinctiveness points too.

And I would give it a high rating, if it weren’t for a few niggles. Probably because of the smoothness , the refreshing-ness is lacking. Even with the ice in the glass, this crucial part of any cider was missing.

How to sum up Strongbow Sirrus? It’s a smooth cider. If you want a cider that’s reasonably tasty and doesn’t make you burp all the time, then this is one to try. If, however, you want a refreshing cider, or a dry cider, then look elsewhere. Overall, different and not bad.

Rating: 3.75

Have you tried Strongbow Sirrus? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Kronenbourg 1664

21 June, 2008

THE last Kronenbourg 1664 I tried was Blanc. It was very, very good. And the niche relation to regular 1664. I try and put off big-name beers as long as possible, but the recent television advertisements promoting it’s “smaller bubbles” and “smooth taste” got me interested. So, sooner than expected, here we are with a small bottle of Kronenbourg 1664.

Kronenbourg 1664 bottle

What am I expecting from it? I’m expecting a good quality if rather unadventurous beer. Why? Well Blanc was very high-quality. And this being a mainstream beer, it will be aiming to offend as few people as possible. And that means no risk-taking with flavours. But after yesterday’s abysmal Bass Premium Ale, that suits me just fine.

This little one shares a lot in common with its big, Blanc stable mate. The label for one, is big and wrapped around the neck of the bottle. The shape of the bottle too, is familiar. But that’s where the similarity ends. This bottle is green. And semi-transparent.

Kronenbourg 1664 front neck label

The front of the neck-label is unmistakably Kronenbourg 1664. The large white roundel; the crests; the red banners and even the typeface tell you that this is Kronenbourg 1664. More specifically than that, it tells you this isn’t a British ale. Nor anything from our Northern-European cousins. You don’t need to understand what “La Première Bière Française” to guess that this beer hopped over the channel.

Turning the label to one side brings up one set of small-print details.

Kronenbourg 1664 left side of neck label

And this happens to be the side that has this bottle’s vital statistics. This little bottle is 300 millilitres in volume. And that’s odd. 330 is the norm, with some around 275. But this is the first 300 millilitre bottle I’ve seen so far.

Then comes some bad news. This, is a “Premium Lager”. Darn. I didn’t spot that while browsing the shelves of my local off-licence earlier today. I try to avoid anything that describes itself as a “lager” because they are rarely worth the time I put into writing these posts.

The uninspiring news continues with the alcoholic volume, which is 5%. Which for this small bottle, gives you 1.5 of your UK units of alcohol. The news that it contains barley and wheat won’t raise any eyebrows either.

Turning the bottle around, and the news doesn’t get any better.

Kronenbourg 1664 right side of neck label

Well, it does start positively enough. We get a little description of how it is made. Apparently, Kronenbourg 1664 is “brewed with a unique hop blend including aromatic hops from Alsace”. Unique hop blends are good. Aromatic hops are good. And the Alsace region of France is an interesting one.

But then the news takes a sudden turn for the worse. This wasn’t even imported from France. But, was brewed in the UK by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. Sure, it might be under agreement by Kronenbourg SAS from Strasbourg. But it’s still not genuine.

My only hope is that Scottish & Newcastle did as good a job with this one, as they did with Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc. It could be good. It could be. But my hopes are ebbing away. There’s only one way to find out how good it is. It’s time to open it up.

Kronenbourg 1664 poured into a glass

Frustratingly, 300 millilitres is just over half a pint. You do get a nice, reasonably consistent head on it though. The colour is the familiar amber of lager, but slightly darker than that of the cheaper lagers. There are also a great deal of bubbles in there. How big they are, it’s impossible to judge.

The smell is… lagery. It has the same aroma of barley and wheat as every other lager. Just slightly stronger.

A few gulps and sips down, and the experience is, predictably, lagery. The taste has that ‘sharp’, lingering and boring bitterness that every lager has. And that flavour is stronger than many other lagers.

Despite it being a lager, there must be something I liked about it. And there are a few things. It is smooth compared to the competition. The quality is much in evidence. It’s somewhat refreshing. And it’s admittedly, fairly drinkable.

Being a lager, it’s laden with downsides. For starters, there’s that awful lager taste. If you like lagers, you’ll like it. But if you like lagers, you won’t be on here reading about beers. So I can say, without fear of disagreement, that it is as fun as a paper cut. Then there’s the bubbles. Small or not, they make you burp. Furthermore, it’s indistinctive, watery and lacking a compelling selling point against the competition.

Conclusion? Sadly, Kronenbourg 1664 is another disappointing lager. Okay, it’s good by lager standards. But a good lager is still only an average beer. If you truly like lager, buy something that has the words “pilsner” printed somewhere on it. There’s nothing to see, or enjoy tasting, here.

Rating: 2.5

Have you tried Kronenbourg 1664? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here please.
Also, do you want me to look at more lagers? Or is it a waste of time?

Beer Review: Bass Premium Ale

20 June, 2008

THIS is one I’ve been intrigued by for some time. From Bass, makers from childhood favourite Shandy Bass, is a pack of four cans from Tesco. They cost a meagre £3.31 pence, yet aim high with the name Bass Premium Ale.

Bass Premium Ale 4-pack

The cans are unmistakeably Bass. The square distinctive red triangle logo makes sure of that. And, being almost completely black, it looks different.

Bass Premium Ale can

Down at the bottom of the can, there’s a signature. Presumably from the original William Bass. The words “guaranteed quality”. And the “since” year of 1777. That makes this a very long established name indeed.

Most of the front faces of the can are taken by a huge roundel.

Bass Premium Ale logo

The unmistakable red “Bass” triangle takes pride of place in the centre. After that, your eye is drawn to the “Premium Ale” under it. And that surprises me. I never associated Bass with premium anything. Let alone ale.

Around the top of the roundel, we get a dose of the heritage. The words “William Bass & Co Brewed Since 1777” are a reassuring sight. Not seeing a business that ends with ‘ltd’ or ‘plc’ is always a welcome.

All the small-print is neatly and readably in one column down one ‘side’ of the can.

Bass Premium Ale barcode side of can

Unusually for a can, they even find room for a little description. Bass Premium Ale, it turns out, has been “specially conditioned” and “canned to deliver the distinctive taste of draught bass”. Not knowing what makes the conditioning special, all we can do it hope that it’s not empty marketing.

Next, we even receive some advice. They recommend that you pour this quickly for a good head. Is it me, or is that the opposite to what you’re normally taught? I’ve always thought “pour slowly to avoid a mountain of froth”. What have you always done when it comes to pouring?

Unusually, they’re not fussed at what temperature you care to serve it. Has anyone ever seen “Serve chilled or at room temperature” on any other drink? I admire their laid-back approach.

Then they raise expectations for this value priced ale immeasurably. “Expect Perfection”. For £3.31 pence, I don’t. But I admire the self-confidence of this ale. If it manages to be anywhere near that, it’s going to be extremely good value.

Deeper into the small-print, and there’s some bad news about the origins of this brew. It’s not from William Bass & Co. At least not anymore. That’s because this is from the international brewing giant, InBev UK. And from their Luton address too. There’s even a Luton postal address and consumer helpline. I can’t say it’s a surprise though.

Also in the small print is the news that it contains malted barley. And the Drink Aware message and website.

Fortunately, the most prominent bits of this side of the can, are also the most important. This 500 millilitre can has an alcoholic volume of 4.4%. Both of which translate into 2.2 UK units of alcohol. Definitely nothing special. But not bad for the price.

With that out of the way, it’s time to answer the big questions. How does it taste? Is it any good? Is it the best value if you’re stuck for cash? And is it perfection?

Bass Premium Ale poured into a glass

When it came to pouring, I forgot the advice to pour quickly until half-way through. I sped up, and did get a head. But sadly not enough. Within a few moments, I was left with a small patch of bubbles on the surface. Not good.

The colour was a surprise. A sort of amber brown shade. And one that reminds me of Shandy Bass. Any coincidence?

A good premium ale must have an interesting smell. Bass Premium Ale doesn’t. It barely has a smell at all. There is a weak smell of malted barley. But the weak character reminds me more of cheap lagers. Another bad sign.

A trend that continues when I take my first few gulps. The taste and flavour are purely bitter. Nothing else is noticeable. And the character of that bitterness ‘sharp’, unpleasant and lingering. It reminds me a little of Tesco Best Bitter, but mostly of cheap lagers. Definitely not of ale.

It can’t all be bad. What do I like about Bass Premium Ale? Well, it’s stronger than others on the market for the same price. It’s very light. And you could call it refreshing if you served it so cool that it dulls the taste. It’s also not gassy.

But this is faint praise. It’s light because it’s watery. Besides the awful, cheap, indistinctive taste, there’s nothing. Like so many cheap beers, it’s like drinking cold tea.

I wanted to like this one. I wanted to say that it’s cheap, yet good value. But it isn’t. The taste and flavour is unpalatable. And the quality is cheapness throughout. If this really is an ale, then it’s the cheap, horrible lager of the ale world. What were they thinking with the slogan “expect perfection”? Who is going to drink the remaining three cans from the pack?

Rating: 1.4

Have you tried Bass Premium Ale? What did you think of it?
Share your opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions with the world here please.

Cider Review: Bulmers Pear

19 June, 2008

A few days ago, I tried Bulmers Original cider. It was adequate, but light on flavour. So it’s with a mixture of curiosity and disinterest that I turn my attention to my first pear cider: Bulmers Pear.

Bulmers Pear bottle

The bottle is almost identical to that of Bulmers Original, only with green instead of gold. And with the word “pear” instead of “original”. I think it looks fairly attractive. But does green equal pear? My first thought was it was lime cider.

All the usual details are there on front label.

Bulmers Pear front label

The HP Bulmer signature. The established date of 1887. The news that this is a “select vat matured” “premium quality cider”. A couple of silhouette pears are the main indication that this isn’t a regular cider, but part of the growing trend for flavoured ciders.

The back label is much the same as that from Original too.

Bulmers Pear back label

The description takes the usual marketing route. No prizes for originality with descriptions of fine ingredients and premium quality. But at least the description that this has a “natural, refreshing taste and smooth character” gives us some clue about what to expect. Albeit a vague one.

The main part of the back label is a big box talking about units of alcohol. For the five people out there who are interested, this 1-pint (568 millilitre) bottle of 4.5% volume cider contains 2.6 UK units of alcohol. The rest of the small print has things like their Hereford postal address, Careline telephone number and email address (consumercare@bulmers.com). Lastly, like all ciders, the only ingredients they mention are sulphites. Which, apparently, have something to do with freshness.

Is pear cider worth the hype? Is it a fad? And is it any good? Time to find out.

Bulmers Pear poured into a glass

After last time when there wasn’t enough room in the glass for ice and the cider, I’ve given the ice a miss this time. Despite the recommendation on the bottle to “serve over ice”.

The colour is no different to non-pear cider. Or indeed many other ciders I’ve seen. Although it is lighter in it’s shade of yellow than some of the less natural ciders out there.

The smell is mostly of apples. But the character of the smell holds something else. Something that could be pear. It’s hard to know either way, since the smell isn’t very strong.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m wandering where the pears are. I’m tasting mostly the same light flavour of apples that Bulmers Original had. A few more gulps and sips in, and I am finally detecting something different. The after taste is of pears. Yes, they are in there. I think. If it didn’t say “pear” on the bottle, I would be struggling to identify what it was. Bulmers Pear then, has a lightly apple-y taste and an even lighter taste of pears in the after taste. And that gives it a slightly different character to normal cider. Although you’re left in no doubt what you’re drinking.

What do I like about Bulmers Pear? Well, the blend of flavours compliment each other rather then clashing. Both are light and inoffensive, making it very easy to drink. And it’s not dry, making it drinkable on it’s own and for the casual cider drinkers out there. Myself included. With some ice, this could be a very refreshing drink too.

What don’t I like about it? The flavours. They’re just too weak for my liking. I like a drink to take chances with strong and unusual flavours. Then there’s originality. Bulmers may have been one of the pioneers of pear cider, but with everyone jumping on the band wagon, I’m not sure what separates this from the pack. I’ll have to try more of them to figure that one out. Lastly, it’s rather on the gassy side.

What is Bulmers Pear cider all about? And how can I sum it up? Think of it as an alcoholic, fizzy fruit drink. Lightly flavoured, and easy to drink it’s one for summer occasions. I simply found it less than interesting. You can barely taste the pear. And every flavour in there is weak. There’s nothing shockingly bad about pear cider. It’s just less fun than it could be.

Rating: 2.35

Have you tried Bulmers Pear? Or any other pear or fruit cider?
What did you think?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, recommendations and suggestions here please.

Beer Review: Ruddles Rhubarb

18 June, 2008

IT has been a while since the last time I tried an eccentric British ale. And that’s a shame, because my favourite ales are British, and brewed with bananas, polar bears and mermaids. So it’s with some delight that I have here a bottle of Ruddles Rhubarb.

Ruddles Rhubarb bottle

The bottle is transparent, so we get a glimpse of the strange amber liquid within. And the bottle looks familiar. There’s a crown and the date 1799 embossed on the shoulder. Where have I seen that before?

The neck label deserves some attention.

Ruddles Rhubarb neck label

The top of it shows that this is an award winner. Apparently a “best beer” in the Tesco “Drinks Awards”. Other beers and ales I’ve tried that have won the same thing have been at least very good. This bodes will for Ruddles Rhubarb.

The rest of the neck label gives us a surprising amount of information about the drink itself. They start with describing it as “An English Ale with a vanilla aroma…”. Vanilla is a new beer smell for me. I’m looking forward to it already.

Then they go on to say that it “leads to a rich flavour” balancing the “refreshing sweetness of rhubarb with the lingering bitterness of the distinctive Brambling Cross hop.” Where can I begin with all this? Well rich flavours are always welcome. I’d never have described rhubarb as having “refreshing sweetness”, but I’m thrilled to see this root vegetable making an appearance in a beer at last. Then there’s the bitterness that the Brambling Cross hops will bring. And that’s another new one for me. I don’t recall seeing that type of hop in any other beer I’ve tried to date. All in all, this is promising to be original, complex and fascinating. A flying start for Ruddles Rhubard.

Lastly from the neck label, is the alcoholic volume. And you’ve got to look very hard to see it as it’s poorly contrasting text. Some squinting reveals the volume to be 4.7%. Not as high as I’d like, but not bad.

With so much on the neck label, there’s not much to put on the front label.

Ruddles Rhubarb front label

It reminds me that this is just one of the Ruddles brand of brews. And I’d be very interested in seeing what else they have to offer. Most of the label is taken by the logo, which is a huge horseshoe shaped thing. It gives off all the right rural signals. Something reinforced by the slogan “Serious Country Ale”. As a country boy myself, I can’t argue with that.

Over to the back label, and there’s some reading to do.

Ruddles Rhubarb back label

The bulk of the writing starts by telling us that Ruddles‘ Ales originally came from Rutland. An English county with the dubious honour of being the country’s smallest. Then we’re told about the horseshoe we saw on the front label. It turns out that this has been the symbol of Rutland for more than five-hundred years. Lastly, they give us the old rumour that royalty or peers of the realm had to give the lord of the manor a horseshoe when they passed through the town of Oakham. Does that mean they have to leave a spare tire when then pass through it today?

After that, things get all rather familiar again. The message to drink sensibly by taking as much care drinking it as they do making it is good. As are the little symbols informing us that it contains malted barley and that this is “beer to die for”. But all are familiar. Which big brewing parent is it from?

For those that count such things, the UK units of alcohol are listed. This 500 millilitre bottle has 2.4 UK units of alcohol. Frustrating because you can’t have another one of these bottles without going over the recommended limit.

We still haven’t answered the question of where this comes from. And why so much of it looks familiar. Maybe the answer will be in the tiny block of text in the corner of the label. And yes, it is. The address of Ruddles Brewing is the English town of Bury St. Edmunds. Isn’t that the home town of regional brewing giant Greene King? Time to check the website they give for some confirmation on that: www.ruddles.co.uk. Within moments, and a few clicks, my suspicions are confirmed. Ruddles is part of the Greene King. And according to this page of their website (http://www.greeneking.co.uk/brands_and_brewing.htm), I will now have tried at least one bottle from all of their brands. Hooray.

Now to answer the most important questions of all. And the reason for this entire post. Is Ruddles Rhubarb any good? What does it taste like? And does it deserve the Tesco Best Beer award? Time to find out.

Ruddles Rhubarb poured into a glass

In the glass, it’s easier to see the colour. Which is an amber-ish brown. The head is good. Initially filling my pint glass, it levels out to a consistent layer of foam, sitting atop the ale.

Pouring it out of the bottle, the smell that hit me reminded me a lot of those other Greene King ales, Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen. But closer sniffing reveals what they promised all along… vanilla. Yes, that is what this ale smells of. A tingly, rich smell of vanilla. Unusual and outstanding.

A couple of gulps reveals the taste to be as complex as promised too. The label described tastes of refreshing rhubarb and lingering hoppy bitterness. Not being a rhubarb fan myself, it’s hard to know if that’s what I’m tasting. What I am getting is a first taste that’s slightly sweet and vegetably. And that’s followed by the biggest contrast in aftertastes I’ve ever experienced. After the lightness of the first taste, you’re hit by an onslaught of lingering bitterness. That would be the Brambling Cross hops that they mentioned at work. It is quite the most intense and sudden flavour changes and bitterness I’ve experienced. No wander you don’t see that type of hops very often.

Things I like about Ruddles Rhubarb are numerous. The vanilla smell is something else. The combination of tastes and flavours is unique. That means it’s distinctive and has more character than Boris Johnson. I like the fact that it takes massive risks with big, bold flavours instead of catering for the easily offended mass market. It isn’t very gassy. And the quality is evidenced by surprising drinkability considering the strength and flavour. At least once you’ve grown used to it.

With ale that takes such risks, there’s inevitably going to be downsides. And the flavour is as good a place to start as any. With the first few gulps, my initial reaction was “what the hell is in this drink?” And that is purely down to the intense bitterness that follows so quickly and unexpectedly from the light flavour the precedes it. I got used to it by the half-way mark, but it’s going to be too much for a lot of people. It was nearly too much for me. That makes this not one for an easy and totally enjoyable and drinkable experience.

How can I try to sum up Ruddles Rhubarb? The blend of smells and flavours is unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. And probably will ever try ever again. The flavours are bold and adventurous, with the biggest change in taste and aftertaste I’ve ever tasted. I’m amazed that such an unusual ale won the Tesco award that it did.

This is one for people who like to be challenged. Something for beer connoisseurs. Or is it? It took a while, but I grew to thoroughly like it. If you are at all interested in interesting and unusual beers, I highly recommend that you try this exceptional ale. If you can find it. For me, this is one of those ales you experience rather than simply drink.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Ruddles Rhubarb? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please. I look forward to hearing what you thought of this one.

Beer Review: Holsten Pils

16 June, 2008

THESE days, there needs to be something special about a lager for me to spend any time on it. It would need to come from an unusual place. Or be brewed in an unusual way. Or, be a pilsner lager. That’s why I’ve chosen a can of the big-name Holsten Pils as today’s beer.

Holsten Pils front of can

I like the look of the can. It looks German. Which is handy, because that’s where it’s from. And the combination of green and yellow makes sure that you won’t confuse it with much else on the shop shelves.

Around the roundel logo is the name of, what I think is the brewery. Holsten-Brauerei AG is the name. And on the bottom of the roundel is the name of the place where it comes from. Hamburg in Germany in this case.

The logo features a silhouette of a knight on a horse, wielding a sward. And very large shield, bearing a large “H”. Whether the “H” refers to Hamburg or to Holsten is anyone’s guess. There’s a date on there too. 1879 means that it isn’t one of Europe’s oldest breweries, but old enough to have proved itself. Hopefully enough to justify the writing at the bottom of the can, which reads “Pure Brewing Excellence”.

The small-print is spread between two slim columns on different ‘sides’ of the can.

Holsten Pils join side of can

This one straddles what looks like the join between the start and end of the can printing. The bigger of the two blocks of text is one of the better descriptions I’ve seen on any can. They tell us about this lagers “unique and distinctive taste” from using more natural sugars in an “enhanced fermentation process”. How much to read into that, I’m not sure. But it apparently leads to “lower” “carbohydrates” than other lagers. Useful to know if you’re keeping an eye on your calories. I’ve got a feeling this means more to my female readers. So, girls, is that something you look for in a beer?

The other, little line of text simply confirms what we already knew. That this came from the Holsten brewery in Hamburg, Germany.

Over on the other side of the can, and all the usual small-print details are present.

Holsten Pils barcode side of can

This is the common 500 millilitre size of can. The alcoholic volume is the common 5%. It is best served chilled, as is common practice. It has the frequently seen 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And it contains the usual water, malted barley, yeast and hops. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

With that out of the way, it’s time to crack open this can and answer some questions. Questions like is my taste for continental Pilsner lager really justified? And will some otherwise good flavour be ruined by the aluminium taste of the can?

Holsten Pils poured into a glass

The head can best be described as healthy. Nearly overflowing my pint glass, it died down over the next couple of minutes. But it did remain as a thick layer, so be ready for a froth moustache.

The colour is a light yellow colour. And there are fewer bubbles in there than with some lagers out there.

The smell isn’t bad at all. It has a much richer blend of ingredients in the smell. Hugely better than the generic and cheap smell from most lagers. I like it.

The taste is much the same as the smell. The taste has that ‘sharpness’ that reminds you that this is a lager. And that brings with it an overall bitterness that lingers on the back of your tongue.

But this being Holsten Pils, it’s more balanced and better blended than ordinary lagers. It isn’t dominated by the horrible bitterness that consumes its cheaper competitors. Instead, it’s balanced by the malted barley. Which, you can taste a hint of in this blend. For a lager, that’s excellent news.

Other things I liked where how crisp and refreshing it was. It wasn’t very gassy. And overall, it’s very drinkable. The pilsner reputation remains intact then?

Or does it? It may be better than most lagers on the market, but it’s still a lager. And that means it never will have the taste and flavour I want. Being less bad, doesn’t make something good.

The lagery taste and bitterness will still put people off. The taste and flavour will leave people me bored after a while because there simply isn’t enough of it. And what little there is, isn’t particularly interesting.

To sum up, Holsten Pils is above average in the way that peas can be above average. They might be peas with a good reputation and live up to that reputation. But they’re still peas. Holsten Pils is the same. It’s one of the better Pilsner style lagers I’ve tried. I don’t hate it in the way I hate most lagers, and there’s a lot to enjoy here. But it’s still a lager, so if you want complex, unusual flavours, you’re in the wrong place. This is one that most people will happily drink, in quantity, but not love.

Rating: 3.1

Holsten Pils is sold everywhere for next to nothing, so you’ve probably tried it. In which case, what did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here.

UPDATE: Holsten Pils in a bottle

Sold in a can almost everywhere, this bottle was hard to find. But, after quite liking the can, this long-necked bottle seemed worth a try. It has no back label and no more information on the wrap-around neck label. But any chance to avoid the aluminium taste of a can is welcomed.

Holsten Pils bottleHolsten Pils front labelHolsten Pils front neck labelHolsten Pils join on back of neck label

UPDATE May 2010:
Out of the blue, Holsten Pils has become one of my favourite curry beers. On its own there’s little reason to love it, but add it to your spicy curry and it is outstanding. That light drinkability and taste just works when it comes to explosive food. The £1 price and availability in nearly every off-license in town helps a lot too. This dependable lager is growing on me.

Beer Review: Tesco Best Bitter

14 June, 2008

REGULAR readers might remember my brush with Tesco Value Lager. It was weak as water and cheap. Since then, I’ve stayed well away from beer that has a shop brand name anywhere near it. But one anonymous comment on that post from “Some Dude” has stuck in my mind. According to my anonymous commenter, the almost as cheap, almost as weak shop brand “bitter” is a much better drink. So in the name of consumer journalism, it’s time I answered perhaps the most important question in the world today: is Tesco Best Bitter the best, cheap shop brand beer?

Tesco Best Bitter 4-pack of cans

This one came as a pack of four cans. And it cost a whopping £1.63 pence. And remember, thanks to the increase in duty and inflation since I last looked at Tesco Value Lager, this is pretty darn close to that in terms of price.

The front of can is like a parody.

Tesco Best Bitter front of can

If you showed a nine year old child the logos of a few different beers. Something that today is probably quite common. And then asked that child to come up with a design all of their own, it would look something like this.

The black, red and gold colour scheme isn’t bad. In a beer mat kind of way. The red borders have text reading “Original British Beer” and “Serve Chilled”. And that’s good to read. Firstly because Value Lager didn’t even mention a country of origin. And secondly because the entire thing will confuse our American friends who mistakenly believe that all British beer is served warm.

Inside the border, there’s a meaningless shape which is supposed to look like a logo. And there’s the banner and name “Best Bitter”. Best compared to… Value Lager? Water? Air?

Under that is the alcoholic volume. And it is higher than expected. At 3%, it stands a chance of being potent enough to be nearly average.

The back of the can gives us the full-force of Tesco’s nutritional information. Allergy advice. Nutritional information. And everything else you can think of is on the enormous white panel.

Tesco Best Bitter back of can

Of this swathe of information, only a few bits are of interest. The ingredients for example, includes words that I’ve never seen before. In addition to the water, malted barley, yeast and hops, it also contains torrified wheat, carbon dioxide and ammonia caramel colour. Blimey.

Then there’s all the usual small-print. The advice to serve chilled. The Tesco’s postal address in Cheshunt. And the Drink Aware web address.

Fortunately, they haven’t forgotten the vital statistics. The cans in this pack are all 440 millilitres. Not the huge size of can, but not the short soft-drink size either. The UK units of alcohol are provided too. Which at 3% volume for this size of can, is a massive 1.3 units. You can safely have three of these cans before the Government will start telling you off.

With nothing else to read on the can, there’s no more delaying. I’m going to have to open this can and see what lurks within. Who knows? It could be a pleasant surprise.

Tesco Best Bitter poured into a glass

I’m impressed by how thick and consistent the frothy head is. And by how dark brown the colour is. It at least looks the part of a bitter. Most frustratingly though, is that it’s well over half a pint. But also well under a full-pint.

It smells right too. You don’t have to sniff hard to detect a rich, malty aroma. So it looks right and it smells right. But how does it taste?

The answer is, not as bad as I was expecting. A few gulps in and the taste is bitter. Mission accomplished then, as far as its modest claims are concerned. For a bitter, it’s very light. It doesn’t linger in a particularly bad way. And, unusually for a bitter, it’s refreshing. All of which makes it easy to drink. Even for people like me who don’t enjoy bitters.

But costing as little as it does, there is no way that Tesco Best Bitter is going to be problem free. And, indeed, it isn’t. The lightness, refreshing-ness and drinkability mostly come from the fact that you’re drinking mostly water. This means it lacks real taste and flavour. It’s also weak and uninteresting.

But at only £1.63 pence, perhaps I’m judging it harshly. Compared to almost anything on the shop shelves that doesn’t have a shop brand on it, Tesco Best Bitter struggles to compete. It doesn’t have the strength, taste, flavour or quality for you to choose it over a branded beer.

But, compared to Tesco Value Lager, it is much better. Vastly so. At around 50 to 70 pence more, it is by far the better choice. Unless you badly need to hold on to those few pence, you won’t regret choosing this over the cheaper shop brand ‘beer’. It is more than worth those few pence. At just 40 pence per can, this is not only the best shop brand beer I’ve tried. It is also one of the best compromises of quality to price out there.

All of this leaves me with dilemma as to how to rate it. There are plenty of rational reasons why it is good value. And while it’s better than anything else even near this price, it’s still weak, lacking taste and generally poor. Just like the beer itself, my rating is a compromise.

Rating: 2.2

Have you tried Tesco Best Bitter? Or any other shop brand cheap bitter?
The leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, recommendations, requests and suggestions here please.

Beer Review: Miller Beer

13 June, 2008

GEARS of the brewing industry grinded yesterday, when Belgian brewing giant InBev (home to countless European beer brands) offered to buy American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch (home to Budweiser) for $46.3 billion US Dollars. This, Forbes postulated, was bad news for that other international brewing giant, SABMiller, because no one wanted to buy it. This raised an important question for me. Namely, how good are their respective beers?

InBev have so far provided the highs of Hoegaarden, intriguing Gold Label Barley Wine and lows of that alcoholics choice, Tennent’s Super Strong Lager. And that’s just a microscopic portion of the brands they own. The only brew from the SABMiller stables that I’ve tried so far was the very average Castle Lager from Africa. I’ve not even tried anything bearing the Anheuser-Busch name in the small-print. So the time was right to fill in some gaps.

Whilst visiting my local purveyor of alcohol, I was disappointed to note that Budweiser is a lager. And therefore no better than average from the word go. Furthermore, the Czech Budweiser, Budwar is also a lager. If there is any demand out there for me to give them a try, I will, but most lagers are a waste of time.

I needed to find a beer. And, in the nick of time, one turned up. Here is a can of Miller Beer. An American beer, and part of the SABMiller family.

Miller Beer cab

First impressions are that is looks cool. The silver background is fetching, and makes everything printed on it readable. The “Miller” logo goes for the über-American look. There’s a large bald-headed eagle clutching a bunch of barley and hops. There are stars around the circular border. And the typeface looks as though it belongs on the jerseys of a baseball team. It does have a date on it though. 1855 isn’t at all bad in terms of heritage.

Under the big logo, the origins are proudly displayed for all to see. “Miller Brewing Company Milwaukee U.S.A.” Maybe my American readers can leave a comment saying if being from Milwaukee is something to be proud of. Or not.

At the bottom of the ‘front’ of the can is a big blue band. And in it, we can clearly see that this beer has an alcoholic volume of 4.2%. Not very strong. Barely moderately strong. But above weak. And there’s the ubiquitous advice to “serve chilled”. Don’t worry, I’ll be very relaxed when serving.

The small print is all tucked into a single column. And it begins with some bad news. This can wasn’t imported from Milwaukee. Instead, it was brewed “under license” by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. There’s a UK customer careline. A S&N email address at miller@scottish-newcastle.co.uk. And their Edinburgh postal address. It’s not the S&N are bad. It’s that I’d love to have more American beers over here that aren’t simply pretending to be so.

Miller Beer side of can

The can size is the homogenous 500 millilitres. Which, at 4.2% volume has 2.1 of your UK units of alcohol. Besides a summary of recommended maximums and the news that this contains barley and wheat is something unexpected. If not often that you find a full breakdown of nutritional information. But this has it. Energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat content are all listed. So if you’re on a calorie controlled diet, or looking for a product to write about for your biology class, this one is for you.

With nothing else to write about, it’s time to answer that all-important questions. Is Miller Beer any good?

Miller Beer poured into a glass

Be careful with the pouring. It has a tendency to froth up. My pint glass was able to cope, but you wouldn’t want a can that had dropped several times. After a couple of minutes the head died down to a thin and patchy layer, so it was time to get a closer look.

The colour is a decent shade of amber. Not to cheap looking and not artificially bright. There’s not much of a smell though. An indistinctive smell of beer ingredients is there. You just need to sniff extra hard.

A few gulps down, and first impressions are okay. The taste is very mildly bitter and sour, with hint of barley, wheat and hops. But not much.

About half-way through now, and there are a few things I like about Miller Beer. It’s very light. It’s very easy to drink as there’s little for the taste-buds to dislike. And it’s refreshing.

But all of those things can’t cover up some gaping holes. For starters, where is the flavour? It is almost tasteless. I’ve had bottled water with more flavour. Then, the taste and flavour it has, is cheap and nasty. Good beers and ales make you feel as though you’re drinking a carefully chosen blend of natural ingredients. This doesn’t. It could easily have something to do with coming out of a can instead of a bottle or keg at the pub. But it’s hard to escape the economy quality and artificial taste it leaves in your mouth.

To sum up, Miller Beer is tragically disappointing. I really wanted to like this one. Or to at least find it to be a quality if indistinctive beer. But it roundly fails to reach even average status. This is bland and low-quality. I’d rather have a lager.

Rating: 1.7

Have you tried Miller Beer?
What reputation does it have in the States? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, suggestions and recommendations here please.

Cider Review: Bulmers Original

12 June, 2008

CIDER has been booming. This article from the trade press sums up what we had all guessed from the ads that fill every TV commercial break. Namely, that cider has been the fastest growing category of drink recently, that new ideas are being tried and that fortunes have been thrown at advertising.

Since I’ve always liked cider, this has all been no bad thing. The trouble comes with trying to review the stuff. Sure there are some differences between them. K from Gaymer was sweet and strong. Strongbow Super was strong and dry. And the multitude of strong, white ciders, also all from Gaymer were strong and bland. But they suffer the same problem as lagers. They’re made to almost exactly the same formula, with hardly anything to distinguish one from the other.

With ciders being such big business, the time seems right to revisit them. And hopefully to be proved wrong about them in the process. I’m going to be looking for the big names, the new and unusual and anything that isn’t dry. Dry isn’t as fun as sweet, so unless anyone out there wants to request a dry cider, you won’t find many turning up here.

Proving that advertising does work, I returned from Tesco today with a bottle of Bulmers Original. This one was priced £1.33.

Bulmers Original bottle

It’s hard not to like the way it looks. It might look almost identical to certain other bottles of cider, but the look works for me. The gold foil around the top says “quality”. Have you ever seen an “economy” drink that has gold foil wrapped around the top? This one has the “Bulmers Original” name, the “B” apple logo. And the “Estd.” date of 1887. Nice to see that Bulmers have some experience when it comes to ciders.

Bulmers Original neck foil

The main front label is cheesy. Or should that be “apple-y”? That’s because everything is either inside, or floating around the Bulmers apple shaped logo.

Bulmers Original front label

Around the top, it reads “Select Vat Matured”. After initially puzzling over what Value Added Tax had to do with it, it clicked that they meant this had been made carefully and with patience. Around the bottom, the straightforward “Premium Quality Cider” is rather plainer. And as they don’t refer to it as “dry”, I should be safe with this one.

The middle of the apple logo has nothing of surprise. Everything is well laid out. The established date is there. And there’s a signature from “HP. Bulmer”. Uninteresting, but my mouth is nonetheless watering for the cider contained within.

Back labels on bottles and cans of cider are always let downs. This is no exception.

Bulmers Original back label

Unlike beer bottles, they simply don’t know what to write. So you always end up with the small-print taking an uneasy centre stage. To Bulmers credit, they have taken the time to come up with a short paragraph of actual writing. It might only be about the “finest apples”, vat maturing, “refreshing taste and smooth character”, but at least they gave it a go. The “refreshing” and “smooth” part even gives us something to judge it by. Bulmers and other cider producers, have a look at the labels on bottles of ale to see how it’s really done.

The most prominent part is the block about units of alcohol. This bottle has 2.6 UK units. But if you’re in any doubt about how much out nanny-ing Government recommends, there’s a tabling telling you about it.

Under that, we can see how to get in touch with HP Bulmer Ltd if we ever feel the need. Their Hereford postal address is there. As is the number for their “Consumer Careline” and an email address, which is consumercare@bulmers.com.

Beneath that are the vital statistics. This, the most common size of bottle is an unusual 568 millilitres. Unusual, but welcome, because that makes this a full pint. The first I’ve seen since Wells. This fact deserves to be shouted about, not hidden away in the small-print. Even so, well done Bulmers for steering clear of the 500 millilitre Euro homogenisation.

The other vital statistic is the alcoholic volume. For Bulmers Original, 4.5% is the order of the day. Not high. Quite low for a cider, isn’t it? But that’s probably a good thing considering how this stuff is consumed.

The ingredients list is interesting too. I say list, but for this, as with every other cider I’ve looked at, the only thing they mention is “sulphites”. I’ve always had no idea what they are. But this one says “contains sulphites for freshness”. Some sort of preservative then?

They also suggest serving over ice. This seems to be the new trend driving cider. Of course that’s going to up the refreshment factor, but I’m not sure whether to try it on ice. To keep the playing field even with the other ciders I’ve tested, I’m tempted not to bother. On the other hand, I want to give each drink a fair chance. Which is why I’m going to make this my first review of a cider with some ice cubes.

I’m looking forward to this. More so than I expected to be at this point. Time now to see if Bulmers Original is any good.

Bulmers Original poured into a glass

Immediately, I’ve fallen into an obvious trap. With ice cubes in there, there is no way this pint glass is going to have room for the pint in the bottle as well. So either get a bigger glass or a smaller bottle if you’re going down the cider on ice route.

First impressions are that it’s orangey. Maybe artificially so. I kept being reminded of Robert Kilroy-Silk whenever I saw it. The smell? Of apples rather predictably.

The first few gulps were spent trying not to accidentally swallow an ice cube. First impressions of the taste are that it doesn’t taste as much of apples as I had expected. With most ciders, it’s as if you’re drinking concentrated crab apple. Not in this case. The apple-y flavour is surprisingly subdued.

A citrusy bitter and sour taste is the first thing you notice. The aftertaste is where you notice the hints of apple. Aren’t most ciders the other way around?

What I liked were that it was very refreshing. I’m not sure if the ice is adding anything apart from obstacles, but it is cool, crisp, clean and refreshing. Exactly what you want from a cider. It’s also very drinkable. With no strong flavours to contend with, it’s clear how this has become mainstream. It’s also smooth, exactly as promised on the label.

What I didn’t like was that there simply wasn’t enough taste and flavour. The flavours were so weak, it was almost like drinking apple flavoured water. Something not helped by the cubes of frozen water floating on the top.

Bulmers Original is a totally competent cider. But I don’t love it. Yes, it’s refreshing and drinkable. But it’s also light on flavour and weak. Some people will love these things about it. And on a hot day, at a party or a barbeque, I’d happily cool down with this cider. I just can’t find enough good reasons to want it over the alternatives.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Bulmers Original?
Got any opinions, correction, requests or suggestions? Then leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Bangla Premium Beer

11 June, 2008

SOME rummaging through the off-licenses of Brick Lane brings me to yet another beer from the Sub-Continent. Why do I say “Sub-Continent” instead of “India”, as was the case with Kingfisher Lager Beer and Cobra Extra Smooth Premium Lager Beer? That’s because this one is from Bangladesh. Here is a little bottle of Bangla Premium Beer.

Bangla Premium Beer bottle

The price was reasonable. And there were big versions over 500 millilitres in case you decided you liked this obscure and hard to find beer.

The neck label sums up everything to expect from the labels wrapped around this bottle. Plenty of bright, bold yellows, oranges, greens and golds. And everything written in not only English, but also, presumably, Bengali. So, can anyone out there confirm what language it is? And if you can translate any of it, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

Bangla Premium Beer neck label

As far as what it says, the message is kept simple. “Bangle Premium Beer” says everything you need to know. And what’s better, it doesn’t say “Lager” anywhere on it. Good news indeed.

The front label stays with the lively, colourful style. And it’s one that I like. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen, and gives it a fantastic and distinctive look.

Bangla Premium Beer front label

The border looks like the decoration you see on the walls of curry restaurants. Normally, that would be cheesy, for this beer, it looks just right. Under the bi-lingual “Bangla Premium Beer”, there’s even a little map of Bangladesh. At the bottom of the label, the alcohol volume catches your eye first. 5.2% is the above-average volume for this beer. Either side of that, are things that look like medals. But I think they are just there for show.

It’s hard to see everything on there properly. And even harder with the photos taken by the Mesolithic era camera phone I’m using for the photos on this blog. There is one solution though; buy the bigger bottle version. Is there any demand out there for me to get the bigger version of this bottle?

The back label keeps things simple. All the details you want to know are there. And in both languages.

Bangla Premium Beer back label

Besides the slightly unusual 5.2% volume, the bottle size is out of the ordinary too. No 330 millilitres here. This is 275 millilitres. Why that is, I’m not sure.

The bi-lingual blocks of text aren’t anything out of the ordinary. The first part reads like a tourist brochure for Bangladesh. The next part purports that Bangla Premium Beer is inspired by Bangladesh’s cultures and “culinary delights”. And, that it’s brewed stronger to go well with “strongly flavoured foods”. Do you think they’re hinting that this should go with a curry? What a novel concept for an Asian beer.

The UK units of alcohol are on there. This little bottle has 1.4, so you’ve got room to have at least two before the Government starts wagging its finger. Like every beer, this one contains barley malt. And they have a website. Theirs can be found at www.banglabeer.co.uk. Although there’s not exactly a world of content to be found there yet.

That’s nearly it from the small print. Apart from one small and disappointing fact. This beer wasn’t imported from Bangladesh. Instead, it was brewed and bottled in Manchester, here in the UK. Disappointed? I am a bit. It’s like going on holiday to Italy and having pizza made over here. Not necessarily bad, but not genuine.

Now though, it’s time to set aside these worries and answer some questions. Such as is Bangla Premium Beer better than other Asian beer? And how does it taste?

Bangla Premium Beer poured into a glass

In the glass, the rationale behind the odd size of bottle becomes clear. It fits the half-pint glass perfectly. Fantastic. All 330 millilitre beer bottles should be replaced by proper half-pint bottles. And 500 millilitres bottles supplanted by full-pints. Who else is with me on this?

The beer itself is golden amber in colour. And the head doesn’t disappear moments after pouring. What you get is a creamy layer sitting on top. Not bad at all.

The smell is good too. It’s a blend of the usual beer smells, but it has some sort of rich quality to it. More emphasis on the malt perhaps. Whatever it is, it’s better than I expected.

All of which prepares you well for taste. Which is also rich. But also smooth and surprisingly full-flavoured. The bitterness is what you notice most. It lingers for a time, but it’s well balanced by the rest of the blend.

Amazingly, this is the most ale-like beer I’ve ever tried. The flavour is rounded out by one of the best blends of ingredients I’ve seen. Besides the tangy, hoppy bitterness, is the presence of everything else. Malted barley probably. All of which make it full-flavoured, rich, smooth and delicious. Staggering for a cheap beer brewed in this country. It’s also refreshing, not gassy at all and very drinkable.

If I had to look for downsides, it would be difficult to find many. Comparing it strictly to big, heavy ales that are full of soil and leaves, you could say that it’s rather light on strong flavours and smells. But that’s unfair, since it only ever calls itself a “Premium Beer”. What is my biggest legitimate complaint? For the time being then, that it’s not imported and that it’s so hard to find. So far, I’m only award of one shop on Brick Lane that sells it. It also doesn’t break new ground as far as flavours are concerned. There are no fruits, honeys or gherkins amongst the flavours.

To conclude Bangla Premium Beer, I recommend you try it. If you can find it. For me, this was the beer that thought it was an ale. It actually has taste and flavour, which is very welcome after the dross I’ve been trying recently. Those flavours are balanced nicely. It’s very drinkable and the whole package is quality.

Rating: 4.2

All of this makes it the best Asian beer yet. It’s better than Cobra Extra Smooth and much better than Tiger and the other utterly average Asian beers on sale in Britain. So if you know a better one, leave a message
Leave a message too, if you can translate anything on there. Or if you have any opinions, corrections, ideas, suggestions or requests.

Beer Review: Peroni Nastro Azzurro

9 June, 2008

SO far, my look at beers from the Latin world hasn’t exactly been a stunning success. Sol, Damm Estrella, Corona Extra and Peroni, the cousin of today’s beer, veered between average and frustratingly disappointing. Desperados was ok, but cheated by being a French parody of a Mexican Tequilla tinged beer. So it is with low expectations I move on to Peroni Nastro Azzurro.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro bottle

Exactly how different this one is to the Peroni I tried a couple of days ago, I’m looking forward to finding out. The look is utterly different. This mainstream looking green bottle is widely available from nearly every shop in the country. But green-ness and ubiquity is no guarantee of likeability. Eco-fundamentalist Tony Juniper for example.

A big wrap-around neck label is present again. But this one only has writing on the front. That’s because this bottle, unusually for a Mediterranean beer, has a back label.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro neck label

Like the Peroni of a couple of days ago, there’s nothing but Italian on the labels. This one has a neck label featuring a crest. The familiar year of 1846. And some writing saying something about this being the original beer of Italy and using natural ingredients. As is the way with non-English language labels, I need to the help of translators out there. If you can translate anything on this bottle, do please leave a message at the end of the post.

The main front label is again totally different to that other Peroni beer. The only familiar details are the 1846 year and Giovanni Peroni’s signature. Which is good to see, as it means we’re not dealing with some other company ripping-off the Peroni name. There are some banners around the top and bottom of this dull and mostly white coloured label. And those wavy banners have words such as “Tradizione”, “Naturalita” and “Superiore”. Nothing exciting there.

The back label doesn’t set the world alight either.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro front label

The main block of writing is in Italian. But that doesn’t matter. It’s good knowing that this beer is the “Itaniana numero uno”. The other words I’m not so sure about so, translators, you know what to do. My suspicion is that they say something about refreshment and Italian style. Even with my Officer Crabtree grasp of Italian, there’s little to impress.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro back label

It’s not all bad news though. The alcoholic volume in this 33cl bottle is 5.1%. That’s more than the other Peroni and more than most others from the Latin world. The ingredients are in English and they are “water, barley malt, corn and hop”. And it’s easier to see where this came from. And from whom. The brewer is S.p.A Birra Peroni. And they are from Roma. Somewhere also known as Rome. I don’t think it will catch on with the tourists.

Will Peroni Nastro Azzurro be any good? Will it be a lot like Peroni? Hopes are low, but we’ve come this far. Time to open the bottle.

The colour is a very pale yellow. And the head, which looks good at first, almost completely vanishes within a minute. Good thing I was brought up not to judge by appearances.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro poured into a glass

The smell does start to redeem it though. The blend of beer smells in the aroma is good. If generic.

And that carries over to the taste. The blend of tastes isn’t bad. It tastes of a blend of the ingredients that went into it. The malted barley, corn and hops come together to leave a taste of an indistinctive beer that has a light bitterness.

To its credit, there’s little about the taste that anyone can really complain about. It’s not very bitter at all and none of the flavours are strong enough to put anyone off. It’s also very light, refreshing and very easy to drink. It’s not at all gassy either. The quality of the ingredients is evident too.

But all that is faint praise. It’s hard to escape the fact that you feel as though you’re drinking water. The flavours are weak and unoriginal. There’s so little character, you’d be hard pressed to know if you were even drinking Peroni Nastro Azzuro if you weren’t drinking it from the bottle.

In conclusion then, Peroni Nastro Azzurro is well made, but indistinctive, weak and boring. If you end up drinking lots of this at a bar, you won’t mind much. Nor will your friends if you buy in a crate load for a party or a barbeque. But if it is taste and flavour you’re after, you’ll be disappointed.

Rating: 2.7

What can we conclude from my look at beers from the Latin world? That they are mostly bland and tasteless. Sure, they are mostly drinkable and refreshing. If you end up drinking them on a night out, you won’t complain too much. But if you’re buying for yourself, just don’t. There are so many better choices you could make. And they all originate from Northern Europe and Great Britain. Sorry North America, I haven’t tried enough of your beers to say anything yet. But I’m sure they’re not as bland as those I’ve tried over the last few days.

Recommendations? This one, Peroni Nastro Azzurro is one of the best. Damm Estrella was ok too. But that’s not saying much. Desperados was the joker in the pack, and, amazingly, the best of the bunch.

Where next? Yes, I know, there’s Brahma from Brazil and San Miguel from Spain. But I’ve tried each of those once before. They’re both lagers and they are both below average. If you want a review, simply read one of my other reviews of any below average lager. If you want a real review, leave a request in the comments and I’ll consider sacrificing an evening of my time to write one for you.

Have you tried Peroni Nastro Azzurro? Can you translate anything? What reputation does it have at home in Italy? And why when your wines are so fine do you make such rubbish beers?
If you can answer any of these questions, leave your opinions, translations, corrections, thoughts, ideas, recommendations and suggestions here.

UPDATE
SINCE posting this back in June 2008, it has gone on to become the most popular post on my blog! To celebrate, I’ve come back, in August 2009, to upgrade the photos and take another look. There must be something about Peroni Nastro-Azzurro that makes it so much more popular than the rest.

So what did I think of Peroni Nastro-Azzurro second time around? Maybe I was a tiny bit harsh first time. It is exceptionally easy to drink, especially when cold. There’s almost nothing about the taste to put you off. And it’s clean, crisp, quite refreshing and well made. That said, it’s still watery and taste is hard to find.

My new conclusion? I think it would be an outstanding curry beer, and I’ll happily enjoy a bottle or four at a trendy bar. There. If you feel slighted that someone on the Interwebs has a different opinion to your own, do please leave an impassioned comment below, highlighting the superiority of your opinion over mine.

Beer Review: Peroni

7 June, 2008

NEXT stop on my tour of beers from the Latin world is Peroni from Italy. Not to be confused with Peroni Nastro Azzurro which is much more widely available and the subject of my next review. So check back for that one. But first, we turn out attention to this, and totally Italian language bottle.

Peroni bottle

First impressions are that it looks high-quality and classy. And that is looks mysterious. Not just because the dark brown glass means that we can’t see what lurks within. But because everything, on every label is in Italian.

How hard can it be to make sense of what it says? I’ll have a go, but anyone who can offer up any translations, do please leave a message at the end of the post.

This bottle goes for having a big wrap-around neck label, a front label and no back label. So up here is where we start.

Peroni front of neck label

The front of the neck label goes with the heritage angle. There’s a picture of what could be a brewery. It almost looks too beautiful to be a brewery. But then it is in Italy.

There’s a date too. 1846 appears to be as far as Peroni goes back. Not fantastic by North European standards. But in a climate where grapes and wine make sense, they can easily be forgiven for not bothering with beer for so many centuries.

The signature of the founder is there too, to add to the sense of heritage. And around the bottom of the neck label, a red bar proudly displays its “Italiana” origins.

Turning the bottle around to the back, and the neck label gives up this beers vital statistics.

Peroni right of neck label

This little bottle is the predictable 33cl. And it has a volume of 4.7%. Lower than lots of North European beers. But about average for the top-end of those from the Latin world. Interesting trend that.

The “Ingredienti” are “acqua”, “malto d’ orzo”, “granturco” and “luppolo”. Of those, I understood water and what is probably malted barley. Any help with the rest please?

Around to the front label now, and there is not much to say about it.

Peroni front label

It’s a simple circle with a banner through the middle featuring the “Peroni” name. The top of it has an illustration of Mr. Pironi. I assume it is him. Who else could it be?

The signature and the date are all there. Around the bottom of the label are words which I think translate to “Tradition and Quality”. Is that right?

Unbelievably, that is it. None of these beers are laden with small novels on the back label. There’s no stories about how it was created, how it got its name or the way it’s brewed. Just the basics. I do like a something to read on a bottle of ale, but with these, it’s great not to have to set aside an entire evening just to write one of these reviews.

All of which means that we’re down to the point where we answer some important questions. Such as will Peroni be any good? What is it like? And is it better than the likes of Sol, Damm Estrella and Corona Extra? With Desperados being one a kind, we’ll be hard pressed to ever find anything to compare it against. Which means it’s up against fairly lousy competition.

Peroni poured into a glass

Once poured, the head you thought you had vanishes quickly. After a few moments, you end up with some patches of bubbles clinging to the rim of the glass for dear life. The colour is a deep shade of amber. A refreshing sight after so many pale yellows. The smell is… hard to describe. Mainly because it’s so weak. There is a teeny tiny hint of the blend of beer ingredients, but you’ll struggle to smell it. Even after a few hard sniffs. Not what I expected.

The taste is equally unexpected. There is hardly any. About the only taste you’ll notice is, an admittedly smooth, malty bitterness. Not much. And it doesn’t linger for long. Apart from that, you’ll be struck by the utter absence of taste, flavour and body. The upside to this watery drink is that it is immensely easy to drink. Served cold on a hot Italian summer’s day, I’d happily quench my thirst on a big bottle of this. It’s not too gassy either, so you can maintain your composure among the beautiful people of the country.

Maybe it’s my hurried, anxious, Northern European mentality that leaves me feeling empty from this bottle. The lack of any meaningful taste and flavour are big disappointments. While I could say that this gives it character and distinctiveness, it wouldn’t be for the right reasons.

I truly wanted to be impressed and surprised by Peroni. What surprised me was that this was little more than mildly flavoured, alcoholic water. Refreshing and drinkable, but nothing to get your teeth into. About average compared to it’s competitors.

Rating: 1.95
Have you tried Peroni? Or any other Italian beer? What did you think of it?
Leave your translations, corrections, additions, opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here please and remember to check back again soon.

Beer Review: Desperados

6 June, 2008

THE one and only time I tried Tequila, I spent the rest of the night, and the next day either vomiting or wretching. It’s with more than a little trepidation then, that I approach my next beer from the Latin world: Desperados.

How bad can it be? Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer tasted of whisky, and I thoroughly enjoyed that beer even though just the smell of whisky makes me wince. And with Sol, Damm Estrella and Corona Extra hardly delighting, it isn’t up against tough competition.

Desperados bottle

First impressions are that it is sticking to the Mexican formula. The glass is clear. There’s no real neck label. And what labels there are, are mostly transparent. All of which lets you glimpse the orangey-yellow liquid within. I do like the embossed “Desperados” etched onto one side of the bottle though.

The front label is something to behold.

Desperados front label

The wild-west “Desperados” name. The typeface. The surrounding graphics. It’s the Leslie Nielson of Mexican beer labels. As if someone picked the cheesiest elements they thought summed up the old wild-west. At least I hope it is a parody. If not, it’s just plain cheesy.

The things that look like medals across the top of the label, aren’t. The word “Beer” is repeated in five different languages, cluttering the label horribly. But under that is the interesting part. That this beer is “flavoured with” Tequila. Not only that, but this 33cl bottle has a volume o 5.9%. Above average and a very welcome sight.

Sadly, on closer inspection, there’s some bad news. At the bottom of the front label we learn where this beer originates. And no, it’s not from any country where they speak Spanish. Not even Portuguese. This beer was brewed in France. Still a mostly Latin people, but a disappointment none the less.

Over on the back label, and predictably, we are treated to another huge, multilingual block of text.

Desperados back label

That means that there isn’t much to read. The brewer is the appallingly named H Entreprise-BP. This little bottle has 1.95 UK units of alcohol. Or 1.6 units of some unidentified European alcohol uniting system.

Normally the ingredients are boring. Usually there isn’t even more than “malted barley” printed somewhere. But this time, it’s worth at least a glance. This one gives the full list: “water, malted barley, glucose syrup, corn, sugar, aromatic compounds (75% Tequila), citric acid, hop extract”. That was worth the few seconds of your day it took to read because it shows just how little Tequila there is in it. Hardly any. Yet enough of that, and other unusual ingredients to, hopefully, ensure that this has some character.

So does Desperados have character? Will it have flavour? And will it be an improvement on the Latin world beers I’ve tried before it? Time to answer some questions…

Desperados poured into a glass

First thing you’ll notice is the head. It’s uncontrollable. And it takes a while to die down. So be prepared for either patience or a foam moustache.

The smell is good. It has all the distinctiveness I was hoping for. Not being too familiar with the smell of Tequila (I’ve intentionally purged it from my memory), it nevertheless smells good. Mostly of citrus, with the hint of alcohol and beer ingredients. Imagine a combination of Jif Lemon surface cleaner and a run of the mill regular beer.

First gulp in, and I’m very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to find it vile and disgusting. But it simply isn’t. The flavours that you’ll notice most are citrusy and tangy. There is a slightly sour aftertaste too. It is surprisingly similar to the way a good quality lemon and line soft-drink would taste. And the result is refreshing. And most importantly, easy to drink. Amazing considering that this is nearly 6% in volume. The £1.29 pence price makes it pretty good value, too.

There are downsides however. It doesn’t taste natural at all. More like an alco-pop, which as we all know, are as natural as Gordon Brown’s smile. Then there’s the head. It has died down enough to be drinkable by this stage. But it does make pouring it almost impossible. One to drink from the bottle probably. Which is probably what will happen at most student parties where this will end up. You can’t hide from how gassy it is, either. Also, even though I liked the strong-ish, fake-tasting citrus flavours, not everyone will. I would be surprised if this gains more than a cult following.

How can I sum up Desperados? Well, it is a unique (as far as I know) beer with an unusual, if low-quality taste that I enjoyed. If you like experimenting with unusual beers, this is definitely one to try. I’ll buy it again, but not very often.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Desperados? Or anything from the same brewer? Or even any other Tequila tinged beers?
If so, then leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and requests here. And look out for more reviews soon.

Beer Review: Corona Extra

5 June, 2008

THUS far through my exploration of beers from the Latin world, Sol was as enjoyable as paying water rates. And Damm Estrella the beer equivalent of a potato. Unexciting average-ness. Let’s see if Corona Extra from Mexico can improve things.

Corona Extra bottle

First glance says that this is a lot like it’s Mexican counterpart, Sol. The transparent glass. The partly transparent front label. The pale yellow drink within. It shouts sunshine.

The front label is a mess. The top-half with the white background is fine enough. There’s an attractive crest and everything. But under that, on the blue background is a mass of multilingual text. Look hard enough though, and you can make out this beer’s vital statistics.

Corona Extra front label

The little bottle is 33 centilitres. And the alcoholic volume is a reasonable 4.6%. Not weak, but you would need the build of Victoria Beckham to get drunk on it. Elsewhere on this mess is the name of the brewer. Which I think, is someone called Modelo S.A. And the country it is from. Which I think, is Mexico.

Unusually for a beer, the front label is ruined by too much text. Whilst the back label is virtually empty.

Corona Extra back label

Apart from the size and volume, which we already know, there’s not much else on there. In fact, the semi-transparent label seems too large for the tiny quantity of information it holds. We learn that the importer is Belgian. And that this bottle has 1.5 of your UK units of alcohol. This won’t make much of a dent in your recommended daily limit. Girls, you can have two of these before the Government will start making tutting noises.

Now time to answer the important questions. What will it taste like? Is it any good? And is it better than Sol or Damm Estrella?

Corona Extra poured into a glass

In the glass, the colour is no surprise. But it does look very fizzy indeed. We’ll see if that translates into gassiness. The head is good though. A consistent layer of bubbles. And one that’s controllable during the pour and that doesn’t disappear in a flash.

The smell is nothing special to behold. It’s a rather typical blend of beer ingredients. I’d say that it smells a bit cheap. Not bad, but definitely not special. Like almost anything manufactured by Kia.

And that’s exactly what the taste is. The flavours you notice are a blend of archetypical beer flavours. The malted barley, the hops, everything usual. But nothing that stands out. Or that is distinctive.

Besides a weak offering of malt, barley and hop flavours, there is a bitterness. Not a strong one. But a light, possibly tangy bitterness that lingers for a little while on the back of your tongue. To its credit, it isn’t terribly gassy. And the blend of tastes and flavours is not at all bad. It is even quite drinkable and refreshing.

On the list of downsides, it is hard to find a compelling reason to choose this. If you did a blind taste testing, you would be hard pressed to identify it from the multitude of indistinctive beers out there. And while the flavours aren’t bad, there simply aren’t enough of them. Nor are they standing out particularly prominently. So, you can level the criticism that it’s also a bit weak, watery and lacking character and body.

Around London, Corona Extra has been marketed as the “party beer”. There was even an open top bus promoting the brew, travelling down Oxford Street a few weeks ago. As a party beer, I would have no problem if I turned up at a party and all my host had was a big crate of Corona Extra bottles. And I would have no problem drinking this in Mexico. There’s little to truly dislike about it. Better than that, it is better than Sol. And at least on par with Damm Estrella.

This is a beer to buy in for guests, parties and barbeques. But if you want real taste, quality and flavour for yourself, then look for a different bottle on the shop shelf.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Corona Extra? What did you think?
Corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions here please.

Beer Review: Damm Estrella

4 June, 2008

AFTER a miserable start to my look at beers from the Latin world, it’s time to move on, and see what Damm Estrella can offer.

Damm Estrella bottle

More conventional looking than Sol, you get the impression that this is what the locals would drink. First glances show that Estrella is imported from Barcelona, Spain. And the embossed crest around the shoulder has the date “1876”. So this beer has some heritage.

For some reason, beer bottles from the Latin world try to fit a lot onto the label around the neck. Damm Estrella is no exception. Here’s the front of it…

Damm Estrella front neck label

Is it me, or does the “Estrella Damm” lettering look more north European than Spanish? The ring of repeated “Imported” words is good to see. No “brewed under license in…” here I hope. And under that, “Le Cerveza De Barcelona”. You don’t need to be a linguist to work out what that means.

The all-important vital-statistics appear on the neck-label when you turn the bottle around.

Damm Estrella left neck label

Printed larger than anything else to make sure you can’t miss them are the size of the bottle. Which is the standard, and unimaginative 330 millilitres. And the alcoholic volume. Which is a slightly unusual 4.6%. Not 5%. Not 4.5%. But somewhere in between “moderately strong” and “quite strong”.

Also on this side of the neck label is the address of the brewer. Up to this point, I was under the impression that this beer was called Damm, brewed by Esrtella. Turns out it’s the other way around. The brewer is S.A. Damm. So this must be their Esrtella beer. See, it does pay to read the small-print. There is also a web address which is www.estrelladamm.es. Fortunately, they have an easily findable English language section, which is at http://www.estrelladamm.es/home/home.asp.

Over on the other side of the neck label is some more small print.

Damm Estrella right neck label

There really is nothing to say about it. It’s simply mundane details you find on every product, but repeated in several European languages. Nothing to see on this side of the label.

So we make our way to the main front label.

Damm Estrella front label

And I’m delighted to see that it’s quite tasteful. It’s not a shield or a roundel like you find elsewhere. More an unusual amorphous label shape. And it’s red. Mostly.

There’s a big gold start sitting in the middle. The “1876” date is on there. And under the big name and “Barcelona” pride, lies the news that made this bottle stand out for me on the shop shelf. The word “Imported”.

Over on the back label, and there is a gigantic block of impenetrable multilingual text.

Damm Estrella back label

Fortunately, they left enough room for a brief English language description. Sadly, it’s wasted on marketing speak. We already know that it comes from Barcelona, that it dates back to 1876 and the web address from elsewhere on the bottle.

In the big, impenetrable block of multilingual writing are the odd fact. Like the ingredients which are water, barley malt, rice, maize, hops, yeast and “E-405 stabilizer”. Most ingredients lists are identical from one beer to the next. The rice is a good addition. It’s what beers with interesting flavours sometimes have. But the E number? That’s a first. Most beers pride themselves on natural ingredients. Not this one apparently.

There’s no UK units of alcohol symbol here, but there is something else. The UK isn’t the only place to have something like this. In some unknown country, this bottle is equivalent to 1.2 of their “Standard Drinks”. Without knowing what one of their “Standard Drinks” are, that information is useless. So sorry for wasting your time. But it is still interesting to see how other countries do what we are doing, isn’t it? What do you think?

Time now to open up this bottle and answer the age old question: is this beer any good? And more specifically, is it better than Sol? I certainly hope so.

Damm Estrella poured into a glass

Into the glass, and Damm Estrella comes with a good, if thin head of foam. After a couple of minutes, it died down enough for a hole to appear in the surface. And there’s no worry about it overflowing the glass. You’ll be able to fill your glass nearly all way with this pale yellow and fizzy beer.

Give it a sniff, and you get “generic beer smell”. It’s not bad. Just not exceptional or unusual. Simply the smell of a blend of malted barley, hops and so on. Good though, so long as you like beer.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m liking Estrella. The main flavours are of the blend of arable crops that went into it. The malted barley, the rice and maize are all part of the blend of flavours. And the hops give it a slight bitterness. None of these flavours are strong enough to dominate it, however.

What else can I say about it? Well, the blend of flavours and character is a little different to most of the European beers I’ve tried so far. It remind me a bit of the Asian beers. Probably because of the rice. It’s not at all gassy. It is very easy to drink. And drinkable by all but the most timid drinkers. Served cold, this quality brew can be quite refreshing too.

If I had to look for faults, I would say that Damm Estrella doesn’t take any chances. There’s no bold, strong flavours to make it interesting and truly distinctive. In fact, you could write it off as a boring, generic beer that is unexceptional in any way.

Or would that be unnecessarily harsh? Damm Estrella might be dull, but it doesn’t do much wrong. In fact, it does a lot right. If I were travelling in Spain, I’d be more than happy to enjoy this drink. And over here, if all you want is a decent beer that won’t upset anyone, this is a great choice. One for the party or the barbeque.

Rating: 2.9

Have you tried Damm Estrella? What did you think?
Opinions, corrections, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and anything else you can think of in the usual place please. Thank you.


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