Archive for August, 2008

Beer Review: Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye

30 August, 2008

YESTERDAY’S Baltika 3 was all very good. But it wasn’t real Russian. That slick and professional little bottle was produced by our very own Scottish & Newcastle after all. What I needed was a real Russian bottle of beer. And that’s what the Russian shop Kalinka from Queensway, west London sold me for £1.80 pence. Here is a bottle of Zhigulovskoye from the Ochakovo Brewery in Moscow.

You don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t a classily presented product. The dull brown bottle and cheaply printed labels give that away. On a western beer, that would be grounds to accuse it of being cheap and shabby. But this is Russian. And that makes it quirky, interesting and baffling.

Lets start with the neck label.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye neck label

It has what I think is the name and logo of the brewer at the top. With what looks like barley either side of it. The equally plain name of the beer has a couple of symbols either side that are too small to read. Under that are a couple of words to do with beer. Maybe it says “Lager Beer”? Translators, get on it and leave a comment at the end of the post. Under that is what must be the alcoholic volume. Which is a surprisingly low 4%.

The main front label is just as bad. Or should that be quaint? And badly stuck on too. All the labels seem to be coming unstuck by the perspiration on the outside of this chilled bottle.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye front label

Inside the egg-shaped roundel is a crest made up of barley, hops and a shield with a tankard of frothing beer. The medals from the neck label are here, and bigger, but I can’t make any sense of them. In fact, I can’t make any sense of any of the other words on this label. Translators, do please leave a message at the end of this post translating what it says!

Sadly, my utter lack of foreign language skills fails me again. This time it’s on the back label. And it fails me in a big way. I can’t understand anything on there.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye back label

All I can understand from this label are that it’s a 0.5 litre bottle. That the web address is www.ochakovo.ru where the English language version didn’t work. And that it contains the word for Moscow. So that’s probably where it’s from.

Fortunately, clueless foreigners like me have been given some invaluable clues by the importer. Clues in the form of this little white label.

importers little white label

It’s hard to read, but if it wasn’t for this, I’d be stuck. It has, written in English, the name of the beer and the brewery. It confirms that it’s from Moscow, Russia. That it’s 500 millilitres and has a volume of 4%. And what’s more, it has a tiny description of the beer and ingredients. They describe it as coming from “purest water, barley malt, barley, selected hops and no additives”. I wander if Pierhead Purchasing Ltd import any other obscure Russian beers into the UK? I hope so.

With nothing else to read. Or at least nothing I can understand, its time to open this bottle and sample the contents within. Will it be better than Baltika? Probably not. But there’s only one way to find out.

Once poured, you get a big frothy head that rapidly subsides. After a couple of minutes, it’s retreated to be a consistent layer of creamy froth. Predictably, the colour is yellow. But not as pale as some.

The smell is surprisingly strongly of barley. And a little stronger than you expect it to be. You can tell its part of that familiar lagery blend, of smells. But that smell is strong and different. I wander how it will taste?

A couple of gulps in and it’s not as bad as I predicted. Like Baltika 3, it doesn’t seem to have much, if any flavour. But it leaves you with a light aftertaste. Like the smell, that aftertaste seems less about hops, and more about the barley. Although it’s a struggle to make even that out. What you’ll notice most is that lager bite and lingering bitterness. The bite hits you quite hard. And the lingering bitterness isn’t hiding from view either. But the whole thing is well balanced enough to be drinkable.

What is there to like about Zhigulovskoye? A respectable list of things. It’s crisp and refreshing. At least it is if you serve it chilled and don’t drink too much of the stuff. It’s smooth. It has a taste. And sometimes inspite of itself, it’s easy to drink.

As you’ve probably guessed, there are downsides to Zhigulovskoye. I’m about half-way through the bottle now, and that bite and bitter aftertaste are wearing thin. Let’s be honest, I can barely stand it. Lager aficionados will love it, but not me. And not people looking for a truly accessible drink or full-bodied ale. Apart from that taste, it’s a little gassy. And weak, too.

So where does all this leave Zhigulovskoye? Well, it’s a lager with a wheaty bite and bitter aftertaste. It’s not as high-quality as the smooth Baltika 3. But it’s not bad as lagers go. By all means, track it down if you like unusual bottled lagers. As for me, I’ll be enjoying something with flavour.

Rating: 2.75

Have you tried Ochakovo Brewery Zhigulovskoye? What did you think of it? What reputation does it have in Russia? And can you translate anything?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the little boxes below.

Beer Review: Baltika 3

29 August, 2008

DURING my gap-year, I had much fun trying some of Russia’s beers. So I was delighted to discover a Russian shop called Kalinka in Queensway, west London. A quick visit, and I left with a handful of unusual Eastern-European bottles. First of which is one I tried during my time in Saint Petersburg. That’s because this is Saint-Petersburg’s own Baltika. Baltika 3 in fact.

Baltika is the drink of choice in Saint Petersburg. I counted about ten varieties of the stuff, and the shop shelves are filled with them. Here’s a picture of a cooler cabinet I snapped in a small supermarket in the Russian city.

Shop Shelf in Saint Petersburg

Shop Shelf in Saint Petersburg

With so many to choose from, I opted for Baltika 7. I can’t remember why. Probably because it looked strongest. Here’s what the genuine bottle of Baltika looked like.

Russian Baltika 7

Russian Baltika 7

My understanding is that Baltika is the Tsingtao or Guinness of Russian beer brands. You might have seen their poster advertising last year or even seen them for sale in Tesco or other mainstream UK shops. Baltika came to be after the collapse of the USSR, and so far looks to be Russia’s only beer making a push for international distribution. Lets hope its not the last. We might wring our hands at their government, but the quirkiness of Russian products is awesome.

Back to the beer, and let’s start with the neck label. And a very functional label it is too. The main purpose being to separate it from all the other numbers in Baltika’s extensive range.

Baltika 3 neck label

The main front label is good though.

Baltika 3 front label

The logo does a good job of looking well established. Even though the date on it is 1990. It also features hops and a crown. Why a crown for a republic I don’t know. Maybe a hint of the Tsarist past? And can anyone explain what the three wavey-lines logo means? Answers in the comments at the end of this post please.

Also on the front label roundel is the non-anglicised Baltika name. You’ve got to love Russian Cyrillic. So very nearly readable by anyone only who only knows English. For the curious, read this Wikipedia article on the Russian alphabet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_alphabet. If only to reassure yourself that it says what you think it does.

Also inside the roundel, they describe it as “Classic beer”. Whatever that is. And on the bottom border, the volume is given as 5.1%. Not strong, not weak and not conventional either.

Let’s see what the back label is hiding.

Baltika 3 back label

It’s good to see that they have English and Russian language descriptions. Although I’ll only be reading from one. This side, they call it a “Premium Beer”. In the description, we learn a great deal. For instance, that it’s the number one beer in Russia. That they sell it in over thirty countries. And that it’s won over thirty international and Russian awards. We also learn the Russian for “cheers”, which is “Na zdorovye”. That’s one to try if ever you visit or meet some Russians. But, if your attempts at speaking Russian are anything like mine, you’ll only receive a look of incomprehension at your failed attempt to talk.

Under the Russian language version, the small print begins. This little bottle is the common 330 millilitres. And at 5.1% volume, it has 1.7 UK units of alcohol. Then, there’s some bad news. It also contains barley and wheat. This is not the genuine article. It’s not been imported. This has the address of Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes this as Russian as tartan. Despite this immense handicap, S&N usually do a pretty good job, so this could still be good.

Ultimately, there’s only one way to find out. It’s time to open the bottle and see how it tastes. Should you buy it? Let’s find out.

It’s got a thick-ish creamy head. Which was a surprise. And it’s a pale yellow colour. Which wasn’t a surprise.

How does it smell? It smells faintly lagery. But better than most. You can just about make out a blend of barley and wheat. But not the same way as cheap big-name lagers do. I like it.

How does it taste? It tastes rich, smooth and with a lagery bitter bite and aftertaste. It doesn’t seem to have any flavour. But it does have a startlingly easy bite and bitter aftertaste. What you’ll notice most is that smoothness and soft lagery bite.

I hadn’t tried Baltika 3 before and I didn’t expect to like it. As it’s a take on lager, I certainly don’t love it. But as lagers go, I think it’s one of the better ones out there. For a start, it’s much easier to drink than lots of lagers. And that’s because it’s so smooth and the taste, that bite is so soft and well balanced. It’s not particularly gassy. And it scores marks for being distinctive.

There are downsides however. The aftertaste and character might be good, but it doesn’t seem to have any flavour. Almost none at all as far as I can tell. No doubt the lager fanatics out there will disagree. It’s still hard to find. And compared to everything else on the shop shelves of Britain, there are plenty of other bottles that are cheaper and have more flavour.

To sum up, Baltika 3 is an excellent lager. If you love lagers, you should try it. If you’re curious about Russian and Eastern-European beers, you’ll enjoy it.

If you only have lagers to choose from, this is one of the better ones. If you like full-bodied flavours and don’t like lagers however, you probably won’t like this beer so much. Overall, Baltika 3 does an excellent job of being a lager beer.

Rating: 3.65

Have you tried Baltika 3 or any other Baltika or Russian beers?

If so, do please leave your corrections, opinions, translations, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.

Beer Review: Badger England’s Gold

28 August, 2008

BADGER’S reputation for outstanding bottles of ale remained intact yesterday with  Badger First Gold. Hopes are high then, for this bottle of Badger England’s Gold.

The neck label of these Badger bottles is a good source of clues for what to expect. But this one baffles me.

Badger England’s Gold neck label

What is “Quintessentially English” ale? I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

The main front label, like the neck label takes English country imagery a step further.

Badger England’s Gold front label

The fields, rolling hills, trees, village and church are all very effective at creating an idyllic image of rural England. It certainly makes me want to get out of the city for a break. But what does it say about the ale? I’m still in the dark about that.

Certainly, the “England’s Gold” name is very appealing. And the 4.6% volume for the 500 millilitre bottle means it should be potent enough. But what is Badger’s take on a “Quintessentially English” ale all about? Time to consult the invaluable “Taste Profile” chart on the back label.

Badger England’s Gold back label

Once again, bravo to Hall & Woodhouse/Badger for the back label. They never disappoint with good descriptions, clear labelling. And, of course, that ever-so-handy “Taste Profile”. Let’s see how it rates “Bitter”, “Sweet”, “Hoppy”, “Malty” and “Fruity” on its one to five scales…

Badger England’s Gold taste profile

In case you can’t see from my photo (which you probably can’t, not even I can), we do learn what England’s Gold is about. That’s because it’s about “Fruity”-ness. At four out of five, “Fruity”-ness leads by a big margin. “Sweet” isn’t far behind on three, with “Bitter”, “Hoppy” and “Malty” down on two’s and one’s out of five respectively. It looks, then, that “Quintessentially English” ales are about fruitiness and sweetness. Yummy.

As always with Badger labels, they don’t stop there. We also get a proper description. This one goes with descriptions like “fresh”, “light”, “grassy”, “crisp”, “floral” and “subtle bitterness”. That sounds deliciously complex to me. We also learn that this bottle ale is “award-winning”, but what awards they were, we’re not told. They also advise that this goes well with chicken or pasta, but especially well with “fresh Dorset fly-fished trout”. Sadly, with no fresh trout, Dorset or otherwise, to hand, it’ll have to be tested on its own this time. Unless, that is, the instant lasagne I had an hour ago is the pasta they had in mind.

Down to the small-print now, and this bottle has 2.3 UK units of alcohol. For the paranoid, it contains malted barley and sulphites. Their Blandford St. Mary, Dorset postal address is on there. As is the web address of www.badgerales.com. And address that immediately re-directs you to http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/. Never mind, a couple of clicks takes us to the England’s Gold homepage at http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/beers/badgerales/englandsgold.asp. A page where we learn that the award it won, was the 2005 Tesco Brewing Awards. Good stuff chaps.

Now I’m really looking forward to trying Badger England’s Gold. I might be from Wales, but I want to like this one. The big question is will it be as shockingly floral and fruity as Badger Golden Glory? What will it taste like? And do I think you should buy a bottle? Let’s find out…

Once in the glass, it’s a deep, dark shade of gold. Roughly what I expected of yesterday’s First Gold actually. But this time, there’s no real head to worry about. Sure, it has one, but it’s just a thin layer of bubbles. And one that becomes patchy after a minute or two.

How does it smell? The label describes it as having a “zippy floral aroma”. I’d say it’s like sniffing some flowers that happen to be sharing a field with some citrus fruit. All very interesting, pleasant and unexpected. And not overwhelming either.

How does it taste? In a word; interesting. This is another complicated one, so I’m going to need a few more gulps to make sense of what’s going on with the flavour.

A few gulps later, and I would say that hoppy bitterness was much more noticeable than I expected. That said, it is still fruity and flowery, so those are what you’ll notice on the palate. Also in there are hints of tangy citrus-ness and various plants. Which, I think is where their descriptions of “white grape and melon” and “grassy”-ness come from. Whatever you thought you were expecting from the flavours and tastes, you’ll be surprised.

There’s much that I like about England’s Gold. The flavours and taste surprised me, even though I thought I knew what to expect. And that’s a good thing. The flavours and tastes were interesting and good. Even though they describe it as having a “subtle bitterness”, it has a tangy and hoppy bite to it. This, together with all the fruit and flowers in the taste take a little getting used to, but the Badger quality makes sure you will do. The strength is right. And tasting as it does, it offers something you don’t find easily elsewhere. And that gains it points for character and distinctiveness.

With anything that takes so many chances, there are going to be downsides. England’s Gold is no sadly exception. For the first time, out of all the Badger bottled ales, what they have on the label didn’t match what I was tasting. In all probability, that was down to my lack of lack of taste ability. But if you also happen to be a talentless beer reviewer, you too could be surprised by the bitter bite you didn’t expect. The flavour and taste is very good. But it did take some getting used to. And that’s going to put the less intrepid drinkers off. It’s also darn hard to find, with only one little shop near me stocking it by chance.

So, where does that leave Badger England’s Gold overall? I’m not entirely sure how to sum it up, let alone how to rate it. Nearly at the bottom of my glass now, and I’ve quite enjoyed it. It is similar to Badger Golden Glory, but toned down in the fruit and flowers department. And upped considerably in the hoppy bitterness.

England’s Gold then, is high-quality, interesting and complex. If you like interesting ales, definitely try it. On the other hand, you might easily hate it. Going by past comments though, this could be an ale for the ladies. Am I right? Quintessentially English? Conceivably.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Badger England’s Gold? What did you think of this unusual ale?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the little boxes below.

Beer Review: Badger First Gold

27 August, 2008

IT’S been a while since my last British ale. My taste buds would argue that it’s been too long. To rectify this appalling state of affairs, I managed to find a couple of Badger ales hidden away in another small off-license on Bethnal Green Road. This delights me, because so far, I’ve had six different Badger/Hall & Woodhouse bottles from the Dorset brewer. And what’s more, all six have been excellent quality with masses of character. So it’s fair to say that I’m looking forward to this bottle of Badger First Gold.

The bottle and labels stick to the old Badger formula. The bottle is a dumpy brown thing. Look out for the yes “1777” and words describing them as an “Independent Family Brewer” embossed around the shoulder. That’s the sort of heritage we like to see.

The neck label tells you almost everything you need to know about what First Gold will be all about. “Single English Hop Ale” says it all. As do the small pictures of hops. Making a wild guess, this is going to have a strong hoppy taste and bitterness.

Badger First Gold neck label

The front label adds little. But then it doesn’t need to.

Badger First Gold front label

Everything on it is simple and well designed. The “First Gold” is shiny gold. Nice touch there. And the badger of the “1777 Badger” logo takes centre stage in the big illustration in the middle. Under that is the slogan “A noble character”. That could be a hint at the hoppy-ness to come.

The vital statistics are on there too. This is the regular 500 millilitre bottle. And alcoholic volume is 4%. Crikey, that’s low for an ale. Albeit not as low as their 2.5% low-alcohol Harvesters Ale.

Over on the back label, and outstanding news… the Badger “Taste Profile” chart is present!

Badger First Gold back label

For the uninitiated, let me explain this outburst of enthusiasm. Most bottles of beer have vague, marketing led descriptions of what the beer is like. Most of which bear little resemblance to what the beer is actually like. This “Tate Profile” however, rates how “Bitter”, “Sweet”, “Hoppy”, “Malty” and “Fruity” the contents is, on a scale of one to five. And in my experience of Badger’s six other bottles of ale, they’re pretty much spot-on. So what you read on the profile is what you get on the palate. A godsend if you’re browsing the shelves or websites trying to decide which one you’ll enjoy most.

So what does the “Taste Profile” say about “First Gold”?

Badger First Gold taste profile

Little if you try to read my awful photo. That would be my Neolithic  era camera phone letting me down again. But I can report that “Bitter” and “Hoppy” both rate highest with four out of five. “Malty” and “Fruity” are on three with “Sweet” on two out of five. A consistent picture of hoppy bitterness is emerging.

Reading the rest of the label, and the picture grows ever more vivid. It transpires that they use a single variety of hop for its “purity and character”. And the name of that hop is “First Gold”. They go on to describe First Gold as having a “well balanced bitterness, with hints of orange and spice”. That it is a “clean, fresh” and “distinctive” example of a country ale with English character. And that if you have a roast or a pie to drink it with, then that would be splendid.

Down to the small print, the Hall & Woodhouse address in Blandford St. Mary, Dorset is on there. As is the web address at www.badgerales.com. Which immediately redirects you to http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/. A single click on which leads you through to the First Gold homepage at http://www.badgerfirstgold.co.uk/. A page that informs us that this very bottled beer won Double Gold at The Brewing Industry International Awards, Munich 2005. Good work chaps. Although I’ll leave my congratulations until I’ve finally tested it myself.

Elsewhere on the small print, we learn that this bottle has 2.0 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you’re a bloke, you can happily enjoy two bottles of First Gold. Lastly, it contains malted barley.

With all that done, I can finally open the bottle and try to answer for you some questions. Questions such as do I think it deserves two gold medals? What does it taste like? And do I think you should buy it? Let’s find out.

There was just enough head to fill my pint glass to the brim. Now, a couple of minutes later, it’s died down a bit. But, happily, there’s still a good, thick layer of creamy froth sitting atop the drink.

The colour is darker than I expected. It looks dark brown to me. For some reason I was expecting a golden amber colour like much of Badger’s other bottled ales.

It smells hoppy. No surprise there. But it also smells considerably maltier than I expected it to be. The whole combined smell is also much weaker than I expected. All the talk of hops on the labels made me brace for an overwhelmingly hoppy smell.

But how does it taste? Surprisingly, it tastes different to the super-hoppy experience I was readying myself for. The first flavours hitting my palate is…. Complex. There’s a lot of different flavours in there. So many, I’m going to need a few more gulps to make sense of it. That by itself is a good thing for an ale, in my opinion.

Half-way through now, and I’ll take a stab and describing what Badger First Gold tastes like. From the first taste, through to the aftertaste, it’s the hoppy-ness that stands out. An experience that feels like you’re drinking brambles. Very drinkable brambles that is. Enveloped by the hoppy flavour, are what I think must be the orange and spice they mentioned on the label. I would say that there’s something tangy and fruity in there that tastes a little bit of biscuits. The whole thing is rounded off by a softly lingering bitterness. None of these flavours and tastes is too strong, nor too weak as to make them hard to notice. All well balanced I’d say.

What do I like about Badger First Gold? A lot. Everything about it surprised me, which I like to have happen. The flavours and tastes are as complex and as layered as an onion. And that’s something I like. The flavours and tastes are excellent, not too strong, nor off-putting and consequently, utterly drinkable. It tastes different to other hop orientated ales, so it scores marks for distinctiveness. It’s also not at all gassy. And the quality is as fine as any bottled beer you’ll find.

What about the downsides? Well, that complex, malty, tangy bitterness won’t be to everyone’s taste. You’ve really got to enjoy strong-ish flavours and bitterness to get along with this ale. So lager drinkers might be overwhelmed by it all. Which is no bad thing. It’s also hard to find. In several months of doing these reviews, I’ve only found one small off-license selling these bottles. Lastly, it is a little on the weak side. I’d welcome a few more percentage points of alcoholic volume.

To sum up, I can see why Badger First Gold has won awards. It’s complex and tasty. Would I recommend it? If you like interesting English ales, then this is one to try. An excellent hoppy, bitter ale.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Badger First Gold? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments box below. And check my next post for another Badger!

Beer Review: Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel

21 August, 2008

YESTERDAY’S Erdinger Weißbier from the German brewery Erdinger Weissbräu was excellent. So I’m even more looking forward to it’s darker, even more premium looking cousin; Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel.

First impressions are that it looks so much better than. With the labels matching the colour of the bottle this time, it looks classy. And a little foreboding.

Again, I’m almost totally lost with the language. So, if you can translate anything, do please leave a message in the comments at the end of this post. For the time being, you’ll have to put up with my clumsy attempts and translating the words that happen to look a little like their English counterparts.

Erdinger Weisbier Dunkel front of neck label

The neck label, this time, says “Dunkel”. I’m going to guess that “Dunkel” translates to “Dark”. Is that right?

Erdinger Weisbier Dunkel shoulder label

The little label on the shoulder is identical to that on regular Weißbier. Saying something about fine ingredients. I think.

And just like the labels above it, the big front label sticks to the Weißbier formula. Apart from being coloured almost entirely black. Obviously.

Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel front label

Nevertheless, it looks good. In fact, it’s even easier to see the Erdinger Weissbräu logo thanks to this colour scheme. And you can’t escape how much they’ve put wheat and hops in the centre stage. They are everywhere. Not just propping up the roundel either side of it. But prominently, right in the centre of it too. No other beer or rural brewery imagery here. Just wheat and hops. From “Bayern”.

They do leave off some of the details that were on the front label of regular Weißbier however. One of the dates is missing. As is the signature. And the all important bottle size and alcoholic volume. Looks like we’ll be turning to the back label for those titbits.

The back label helpfully answers some of the mysteries surrounding this dark coloured “Dunkel” wheat beer. That said, it’s still a hard to read block of multi-lingual text. But that’s what you get from enjoying imported beers.

Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel back label

And what do you know, my attempted translation seems to be right! The open the back label by describing it as “Wheat Beer ‘Dark'”. Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel is a dark wheat beer. Whatever that turns out to be. This will be the first that I’ve tried.

Looking through the block of text, I look for more answers. First to turn up is the alcoholic volume. This weighs in at 5.6% volume, very slightly more than its cousin. Like its cousin, the bottle is the ever-popular half-a-litre. And it was made by “Erdinger Weissbräu Werner Brombach GmbH” in Erding, Germany.

Where it does differ is in the ingredients. The water, the wheat malt, the barley malt, the hops and the yeast are the same. But it must be the addition of roasted malt that makes this “Dunkel”. And if memory serves, which it usually doesn’t, that’s an ingredient you normally see in stouts and dark ales. Which would explain a lot.

Lastly, the web address they give is the same as before. www.erdinger.de will take you to their German website. But if you’re reading this in English, you’ll probably prefer their English language version at www.erdinger.com.

That’s it. All that remains is to open this bottle; to very very very carefully pour the contents into an enormous glass and try to answer some questions. Namely, is this tastier than regular Erdinger Weißbier? And will be indifference to stouty drinks ruin it? You know the drill by now.

The head was much more controllable. Amazingly, it all went in, in one go. No pausing between pours this time. The head falls away quite quickly too. At this stage, it’s now a layer of from about half-an-inch thick, with a surprising amount of glass empty at the top. The colour of the drink itself is no real surprise. That is to say, it’s completely black.

The smell is no big surprise either. It smells mainly of roasted malt with a hint of the wheat and barley. If you’ve had a dark ale or stout before, it will immediately remind you of that. That’s what it doing to me right now. I think it smells delicious. But it could put off the lager drinkers out there.

A couple of gulps in, and first impressions are that this is seriously rich and strong. That could be because I’ve hardly had any stouts or dark ales to compare it with. Or it could really be because it’s rich and strong. The best thing to do is leave your own thoughts on the matter if you’ve tried this drink, in the comments at the end of the post.

So we’ve established that I think it tastes rich and strong. But what does it actually taste of? To my untrained palate, I would say that the first taste is malty. Not all that pronounced though. And I must be getting used to it already because it no longer feels as strong. It could also be the wheatiness evening out the taste. The taste of wheat is harder to find this time, but I’d say it’s there. Hiding behind, and evening out that initial maltiness. After that, you get a nice, mildly tingly hoppy bitter aftertaste.

About half-way through now, and I seem to have gotten used to the richness amazingly fast. Maybe that’s the benefit of having done so many of these posts. Or maybe Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel has a taste that is simply easy to get used to after the initial shock. Either way, half-way through, I’m finding it balanced, smooth and easy to drink.

What am I enjoying about Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel? In short, lots. The tastes and flavours have grown on me. It tastes malty and wheaty and a little bit hoppy. And, once you get used to it, they’re not overwhelming or too strong. I could be wrong, but it feels like each ingredient is balancing out the flavour. So I’m going to say that it tastes well balanced without one flavour dominating. Because that’s not something I’ve seen before, I’ll also give it brownie points for having character and distinctiveness. Ultimately, it’s rich, smooth and quite drinkable.

What don’t I like about it? It’s just possible that all the things I just wrote about it, are because I’ve become used to strong flavours. In which case, it won’t be all that accessible and easy to drink for lager fans. Or girls. Indeed, even if my mind isn’t playing tricks on me, there’s little chance that the strong-ish tastes will be everyone’s cup of tea. It made me burp a little, so it is mildly gassy. And at £1.75 pence from just one shop on Bethnal Green Road, it’s expensive and hard to find. Stout and dark ale fans might be better off then, choosing a home grown ale or stout. I hear that there’s a popular Irish brand out there for example.

Where does all this leave Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel overall? Well I enjoyed it. But that could be because I’ve become used to strong flavours. It had a taste and flavours that were strong, but easy to get used to and ultimately very, very drinkable.

In the bigger picture, I would have to say go for regular Erdinger Weißbier. It’s even easier to drink and a little more interesting, even if it does lack the dimension of taste that Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel has. Unless of course, you love stout. In which case you’ll thoroughly enjoy sampling this. But probably go back to Guinness or Dragon Stout or your favourite dark ale when you realise how expensive this it.

Rating: 4.1

Have you tried Erdinger Weißbier Dunkel? Can you translate anything written on the bottle? What reputation does it have in Germany?

Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, thoughts and recommendations in the small boxes below please.

Beer Review: Erdinger Weißbier

20 August, 2008

Erdinger Weißbier is an interesting looking German bottle I’ve wanted to try for a long time. But, my last attempted review was foiled by Tesco ending their stocking of the bottle days before I could buy one. Now, a little food shop on Bethnal Green Road has filled the gap and stepped in. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.

Erdinger Weisbier bottle

First impressions are that this will be the quickest look at the labels ever. That’s because it’s almost all written in German. That means the closest I can come to talking about what it says, will be admittedly iffy translations from the few words that resemble English ones. Still, that never stopped me before. So here we go. Oh, and if you can offer up any translations, do please leave a comment at the end of this post. Thank you.

Erdinger Weisbier neck label

The neck label is in a striking “V” shape. I could be wrong, and usually am, but it looks as though the name of the brewery is “Erdinger Weissbräu”. And that it is from “Bayern”. Is that right?

Erdinger Weisbier shoulder label

There’s a separate little label on the shoulder of the conventional, brown coloured bottle too. It could be talking about fine ingredients. But I can’t be sure. Can anyone offer up a translation?

Erdinger Weisbier front label

The front label looks good. In a formal, restaurant menu kind of way. There’s a signature from… someone. At the top, there’s a year given of 1516. And at the bottom, we’re told, I think, that Erdinger Weissbräu has been a private brewery since 1886.

Erdinger Weisbier back label

From the crowded block of multi-lingual text on the back label, I can, amazingly, find a few English words. They describe it as “Wheatbeer”. Which is excellent news as there aren’t nearly enough on the market. It’s also, apparently, a live beer, as the two words “bottle fermentation” make it onto the label.

This 50 centilitre bottle has a somewhat above average 5.3% alcoholic volume. Which is another thing I like about it. The full name of the German brewer behind Erdinger Weißbier is, apparently, the memorable “Erdinger Weissbräu Werner Brombach GmbH”.

It also has a satisfyingly complete list of ingredients. Which makes a change from the two-ingredient summary stuck onto most bottles. This one mentions water, wheat malt, barley malt, hops and yeast. At this point, my mouth is watering with the thought of Hoegaarden‘s magnificent taste. Just how similar this turns out to be, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Lastly, there’s a web address on the back label. www.erdinger.de takes you to their noisy German language website. A quick look around however, leads us to www.erdinger.com, their noisy English language website.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to opening this bottle and sampling the, hopefully delicious contents within. Expectations are high then, as I attempt to pour what is surely to have a gargantuan head.

Erdinger Weisbier poured

A colossal head is exactly what I got. Even my biggest glass couldn’t contain it. As I write, there’s still about a quarter of the bottle left to be poured, and the thick layer of foam is only slowly turning into liquid beer. It does look fantastic though. And cloudy. Which is outstanding. If quite normal for a live wheat beer.

The smell is equally unusual. Compared to regular beers and lagers. The smell of wheat is probably fairly normal for a wheat beer. You can also smell some malted barley. I can hardly wait to see how it tastes.

A couple of gulps in, and my taste buds receive more or less what they were expecting. It tastes mostly of malted wheat and barley with a mildly hoppy aftertaste. None of which are very strong. You won’t be overwhelmed with strong flavours here. Nor will you be struggling to find them. I’d call it moderately strongly flavoured.

There is much that I’m enjoying about Erdinger Weißbier. The flavours and taste are very good indeed. The lagers that fill our shops make it feel like you’re drinking flavoured, carbonated water. But not this. Erdinger Weißbier has the sort of meaty full-body that is strong but not too strong. In the same sort of way that makes British ales or quality European beers so tasty.

What’s more, that taste and those flavours make it more drinkable than you might think. If you only drink lager, you’re probably thinking “that sounds like too much flavour”. But is isn’t. I’m about two-thirds of the way through now, and each gulp has been as easy as blinking.

What else do I like about Erdinger Weißbier? Well, it scores points for having character and being somewhat unique. How can something be somewhat unique? I know, there are probably other wheat beers out there that are probably similar to this. But I haven’t found them on the shelves of UK shops and supermarkets. And I’ve been looking for them.

What don’t I like about Erdinger Weißbier? At £1.75 pence from the shop where I bought it, it’s on the expensive side. I found myself burping more than usual, so it’s on the gassy side too.

Then there’s the flipside to the taste. I liked the blend of wheat, barley and hops, but it’s not what you’d call crisp and refreshing. It doesn’t feel particularly sophisticated either. There isn’t the same complexity of flavours as you might find in an ale for example. It also won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Where does this leave Erdinger Weißbier overall? With this opinion: a very good German wheat beer. I’ve really enjoyed this bottle. It’s a tiny bit like Hoegaarden, but without the myriad of different flavours. This though, to my untrained palate, is sold, quality, German wheat beer.

Definitely recommended for wheat beer fans. Recommended for fans of interesting European beers and ales. And recommended for lager drinkers who would benefit from a beer with flavour.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Erdinger Weißbier? What did you think of it? And can you help translate anything on the bottle?

If so, leave your corrections, translations, opinions and recommendations in the comments boxes here.

And check my next post for a review of another bottle in the Erdinger range.

Beer Review: Zubr Premium

18 August, 2008

NOT to be confused with the Polish Żubr, this Zubr Premium is Czech. And it appears just when I thought I had tried all the Czech beers. I wander how it will compare to the under-whelming Ostravar, Praga and Budvar or the above-average Staropramen? There’s only one way to find out…

Zubr Premium bottle

First impressions? The shiny silver labels look great. But stuck onto a muddy brown bottle? After yesterday’s marvellously colour-coordinated Harbin Lager, this looks a little on the cheap side.

The small roundel logo on the neck foil is good.

Zubr Premium neck foil

It informs us that this brewery dates back to 1872. Not very far back, but enough to give it some heritage. Then there’s the logo inside the roundel. It looks like a bull in front of a castle. Am I seeing things? What is it supposed to be?

As for the three words around the border of the roundel, two of them are close enough to English to understand. And those words must be “Traditional Czech”. But what of the third word? If you know what “Kvalita” means, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

The front label is sharp, shiny and good looking.

Zubr Premium front label

Simply a big version of the roundel, everything is nearly in its place. The words around the border say “Czech Beer” and “Premium Quality”. Whilst in the bottom corners are the vital statistics. This bottle is 0.5L (or 500 millilitres if you prefer). And it weighs in at a somewhat unusual 5.1% volume. I like that. 0.1% more than the continental average. Brilliant.

Lastly, around the bottom of the roundel are what look like medals. Or are they crests? Either way, the shininess of the label and the tiny size of whatever it is they are make it difficult to know.

Over on the back label, and everything is straightforward, easy to read and English. This must be an export version.

Zubr Premium back label

They open by describing it as a “Classic Czech Beer” that has a “Golden Honey Colour Traditionally Brewed Using the Finest Ingredients”. A statement that you could copy and paste onto nearly any beer bottle and get away with it.

Next up is the address. This beer comes courtesy of the Zubr Company, Přerov in the Czech Republic. The web address it gives, www.zubr.cz, even ends in the CZ country code. Again, I’m so pleased to see another genuine imported beer in an off-licence refrigerator cabinet. Incidentally, the English language section is at http://www.zubr.cz/en.

There’s not much else to report. There’s no ingredients list. No UK units of alcohol symbol. But they do say that this has 2.6 units of alcohol per 500 millilitres. Does anyone know what system of units this is from? How do these units compare to UK units of alcohol? Leave your knowledge in the comments at the end of the post, please.

Now it’s time to open this bottle and see how it compares to the other Czech beers. Will it be better than Staropramen? My money is on ‘no’.

Zubr Premium poured into a glass

In the glass, it really is “golden honey” coloured. Which makes a change from pale yellow lagers. There’s not much head though. Moment after that photo was taken, it became an odd patchwork of bubbles on the surface. Not so good, as I like a decent layer of froth.

The smell is… not particularly strong. But what it does have is not bad. It smells vaguely of malted barley, but not in the same way as lagers do.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m fairly impressed. Nowhere to be seen is the half-absent blend of lagery flavours. Instead, Zubr Premium tastes, quite vividly, of malted barley and hops. All of which give a pleasant, strong-ish, and reasondly lingering bitter after taste.

There is much that I like about Zubr Premium. And that surprises me. Because I didn’t expect there to be anything. I like that it has flavour. I like that the flavour tastes good. I like that the strength of the flavours means that it is drinkable. I like that it’s different enough from the others to be distinctive and having some of the elusive characteristic that is… well… character.

There must be something I don’t much like about it. Half-way through, and there are one or two problems. I’m burping more than usual, so it must be gassy. Even though it has flavour, it’s not truly full-bodied. All of which means that it will soon feel like you’re drinking foamy water. The flavour, even though I’m finding it somewhat tasty, would wear thin after a few bottles or pints. Not as badly as the lagers, but there’s not enough depth too keep you as interested as, say, an ale would.

What Zubr Premium is, then, is a tasty beer. No lagery awfulness, but no serious complexity either. Just a good, decent, well flavoured beer. I didn’t expect it to fair well against its Czech competitors. But this is up there with Staropramen. Maybe even slightly ahead. I’ve got to recommend this for anyone curious about Czech or European beers.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Zubr Premium? Can you translate anything on the label?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions and recommendations in the little boxes below please. And remember; bookmark this blog! You can’t risk missing anything.

Beer Review: Harbin Lager

17 August, 2008

I sampled many beers during my gap-year travels. China’s ever popular Tsingtao, and also, China’s second most famous beer, Harbin. Both of which you can now get over here. And the second of which, I have here, ready to try for the first time since my travels in 2006. Here is a small bottle of imported Harbin Lager.

Harbin Lager bottle

And it looks a bit different. The last time I had a bottle, I was not long out of Harbin, and the front of it looked like this…

Real Harbin front label

Aside from all the extra Chinese writing, quite a different look I’m sure you’ll agree. But you’ve got to like the look of this one. The green glass and mostly green labels give it an excellently green look.

It’s not ruined by a tasteless piece of neck foil either. That’s because this one is green and matches everything else.

Harbin Lager neck foil

And, under the plain and simple “Harbin” banner logo are the three words that the beer adventurer longs to see; “Imported From China”. And that is welcome because of the large quantity of beer that play on their Asian heritage, but were brewed in the neighbouring postcode.

The front label is… well it’s very good. Better looking than the real thing from Harbin itself a couple of years ago.

Harbin Lager front label

I like it. It’s stylish and hasn’t jettisoned any Chinese-ness in the process. The little logo is an odd looking thing though. It looks like a horse pulling a cart laden with barrels, in front of what could be the brewery. Perhaps the most complicated logo I’ve seen so far.

The slogan for Harbin is “China’s Treasured Lager”. Suitably vague, but you can’t knock it for that. Around the bottom border of the roundel are what look like medals. But they’re just too small to read. If anyone out there knows anything about them or can translate any of the Chinese writing, make sure to leave a comment at the end of this post.

Back inside the roundel, and there’s a hint for the less well travelled about where this came from. That’s because this was “Inspired by the Tradition and Culture of China’s Most Northern Province of Heilongjiang”. Harbin, if you didn’t know, is the biggest city of that province. And probably for a good part of northern China too. Being so near Russia, it’s popular with Russians. But not, as far as I could tell, those with tanks. Yet.

The back label is a Post-It note sized sticker. Which means that there’s little else on there apart from the small-print. This beer from the Harbin Brewing Co., Ltd., China was imported and distributed by the always busy Anheuser-Busch based down in Surrey, England.

Harbin Lager back label

What else? Well, it contains barley malt. This bottle is the ubiquitous 330 millilitres. And the alcoholic volume is an unexceptional 4.8%. Not high. Not standard continental strength. And not weak either.

That’s about it. All that remains is to open up this little green bottle and try to answer some questions. Questions like will it taste familiar? Will it be better than the other Asian beers I’ve tried? And is it any good?

Harbin Lager poured into a glass

This is a head-happy lager. It took literally a few pauses between pours before the glass became mostly liquid. It does settle into a very good, thick, consistent layer of froth though. Not bad at all. What about the colour? Well, it’s lager. That means pale yellow and lots of fizz are the order of the day.

The smell, not normally a feature of lagers, surprisingly, is with Harbin. It smells much more of barley than most others do. And that gives it a little more character than most of the competition. Not much, but enough to count.

A few gulps in, and it’s all going down very well indeed. For a lager. The taste is of much the same blend of malted barley and hops as most lagers are. But Harbin leans a little more in the barley direction with the taste. All of which is followed by a remarkably lightly bitter aftertaste.

There’s plenty to like about Harbin Lager. I like the taste. Which is a tiny bit more interesting than I expected. I like the aftertaste. Which wasn’t as stringing and lingering as I feared. It’s not gassy. I like that it is refreshing, crisp and very easy to drink. And remembering my anti-lager prejudice, Harbin Lager has done rather well.

What about the things I don’t like about it? Well, it is a lager. And that means it will never be an interesting and delicious as other bottles on the shop shelf. Specifically the ones that are ales. That also means the taste will wear thin after a while, and quickly stop feeling so refreshing. It’s also not that easy to find. At least not here in the Britain. So far, I’ve found one shop, the Bethnal Green Food Centre on Bethnal Green Road selling it for £1.10 pence.

To sum up, I like Harbin Lager. It’s a tiny bit distinctive. It’s drinkable and a good all-rounder. I can’t report that it was distinctive enough to remember to taste. Nor that it’s much better than the shop-shelf worth of other Asian beers. But it is good enough to say that it’s worth your time and money.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Harbin Lager? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions and recommendations in the boxes below.

Cider Review: Westons Premium Organic Cider

15 August, 2008

SINCE reading the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) web page about Real Cider, I’ve been looking out for real cider. Sadly, the shops are full of big-name, mass-produced ice-ciders. And that’s irritating. In Tesco, the closest thing I could find was this bottle of Westons Premium Organic Cider. If anyone knows just ‘Real’ this cider is, do please leave a comment at the end of the post. For now, I’m just looking forward to trying a cider that wasn’t produced on a vast scale by a company with an advertising budget of millions.

Westons Premium Organic Cider bottle

First impressions are tremendous. The plain looking labels give it a farmyard look. And the organic credentials will delight even Prince Charles. Just take a look at the neck label as a starting point.

Westons Premium Organic Cider neck label

Westons Premium Organic Cider won the “Organic Food Awards” in 2003 and 2004. That theme of being organic and natural continues on the big front label too.

Westons Premium Organic Cider front label

The front label is also about the only place on there where you’ll see any graphics. In the background is a cider apple that looks like it was plucked from a clip-art tree. If this were a big-name brand, I would knock it for that. But with such a thoroughly local cider, I just can’t bring myself.

Instead, I’ll point out that Westons were established in 1880. Giving it considerably more heritage than I first thought. Under the small word “naturally” is perhaps the most prominent use of the word “Organic” you’ve seen on a cider. So much so, it doesn’t really have a name. Just “Organic”. Something I’m sure Westons would be delighted for you to associate with their cider ever after.

All the vital statistics are at the bottom of the front label. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the cider within has a volume of 6.5%. A percentage point or two above the big-name ciders. And very welcome.

There’s some surprises down there too. This cider also won the “Organic Food Awards” is 1998. That brings it up to three “Organic” awards. Not bad. Unsurprisingly then, there’s a big “Soil Association” “Organic Standard” symbol on there. Just to reinforce the organic message.

The back label is what you’ll be hoping for by this point. Informative and straightforward.

Westons Premium Organic Cider back label

Apparently, the organically grown cider apples in this, stick to the strict “Organic Certification UK5” from the “Soil Association”. That’s all well and good, but what will it taste like? The label has an answer there too. This one goes with key words and phrases including “easy to drink” with a “ripe apple aroma” with a “refreshing” and “well balanced taste”. No hyperbole here. That all sounds honest enough to be true. I hope it is.

Also on the label, they recommend that it is “best served chilled”. Which I’m doing having stored it away in the fridge. Then there’s the part where they take the natural and organic theme a step beyond. That’s because Weston Premium Organic Cider is “suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs.” Vegetarians and vegans you might expect to see covered, but coeliacs? According to the charity Coeliac UK, it’s a nasty disease that means some people can’t eat gluten. Isn’t it customary to simply write “Gluten free” on packaging and labels?

For the chronically worried, the number of UK units of alcohol is 3.2. Still worried? I recommend a bottle of cider or ale to calm your nerves. That’s not the only symbol on there however. There’s also one informing us that they are a member of “The National Association of Cider Makers”. Never heard of it. But then I am an exceptionally uninformed reviewer. If there is such an association, then I’m glad that they’re part of it.

Lastly, right down at the bottom of the back label is the all important address. Important because where a beer or cider comes from is always interesting to know. Take the Asian, European and American beers that talk about authenticity, but were made just down the road for example. Fortunately, there’s no such trickery here. That’s because Westons Premium Organic Cider comes from H. Weston & Sons Ltd. in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, England. They even have a good website that avoids the Flash-frippery of the big names. The address is www.westons-cider.co.uk.

Time to crack open this bottle of organic cider. I’m looking forward to this. And not entirely sure what to expect. Which is the level of mystery I want from an ale or cider.

Westons Premium Organic Cider poured into a glass

In the glass, it has a very deep apple-ish amber colour. Deeper amber than most of the big-name ciders. It’s not as fizzy as them either. I’d call it ‘lightly-sparkling’. Neither still nor fizzy.

They describe it as smelling of ripe apples. It does smell apple-y. I’d say it smells most like Gaymer ‘K’ but more natural. I like it.

A few gulps in, and it’s drier than expected. And it tastes of apples. Obviously. But much more so than the big name ice-ciders. What you notice most of all is how dry it is.

There’s plenty for the cider fan to like here. It has much more taste than the trendy ice-ciders or white-ciders. It’s at least as dry as Savanna Dry, and still manages to be easy to drink. And it’s strong and not at all gassy. This is quality stuff.

What about the downsides? Well, if I had to nitpick, I’d pick the dryness which is drier than to my taste. All the cider aficionados out there will now pipe up and tell me that’s exactly how it should be. And that my opinions are stupid piles of grime. Undeterred, I’ve got to say, it is dry.

So, what is Westons Premium Organic Cider all about? In a sentence, it’s a well made, tasty, drinkable, strong, dry cider that happens to be organic. I liked it. It does what you want a small, regional cider to do. Well worth a try if you like cider but are tired of the tasteless dross that is the mainstream.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Westons Premium Organic Cider? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions and recommendations below and I look forward to reading them.

Beer Review: Staropramen Premium Beer

6 August, 2008

WEEKS ago, Tesco started selling four-packs of the Czech import, Staropramen. And that made me curious to know if it was better or worse than other Czech beers, Ostravar, Praga or Budvar. Not that it would need to be far above average to beat its competitors. I held out for a few weeks hoping that I would find it being sold as single bottles. But before that could happen, curiosity got the better of me, and £3.69 pence later, here I am with four bottles of what could be yet another average Czech beer.

Staropramen Premium four-pack

On the outside, everything looks very good. The four-pack cardboard packaging looks interesting and expensive. As does the bottle.

Staropramen Premium bottle

The green glass matches the green and red of the labels very well indeed. This is shaping up to be more sophisticated that it’s hurriedly imported competitors.

Staropramen Premium Beer neck label

The neck label has a smaller version of the tasteful “Staropramen” logo. Plus a very important word. “Imported” is always a welcome sight on a beer. Unless you’re in Belgium.

Staropramen Premium Beer front label

The main front label continues with much the same theme. There’s a detailed background picture that, going by the big red name “Prague”, is indeed the capital city of said country. The “Staropramen” logo is there, looking like the name of an American baseball team. There are the helpfully vague words “Premium Beer” underneath that. Also in the middle of the label is the Staropramen crest, made up of barley and hops no less. It also proudly displays the year 1869. Surprisingly, a year that makes it one of the youngest Czech beers that I’ve tried. Apparently age has no bearing on flavour with these bottles.

This is a front label with a busy border. Nowhere more so than around the bottom edge. The big red stamp declares Staropramen as the pride of Prague since 1869. And that this 330 millilitre bottle has the ubiquitous 5% alcoholic volume.

The back label is rather less busy. Almost empty is comparison.

Staropramen Premium Beer back label

This emptiness comes from only having three languages on there. Which makes a change from some export beer bottles that try to squeeze in so many languages that it makes the Lisbon Treaty seem readable in comparison.

All this space means that we get something unusual: a full ingredients list. Take a look on any other beer bottle, and chances are that all they will say is “malted barley and hops”. Not here. Staropramen was made with “water, barley malt, barley, maltose syrup, hops, hop extract”. No big surprises. Just good to have all the details for once.

There are some other interesting details in there too. It was imported and distributed by “The Pioneer Brewing Co.” of Luton, with their full address and telephone number. There is the full address of the brewer too. And yes, Staropramen does come from Pivovary Staropramen a.s. from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Lastly, there is a web address. The http://www.staropramen.com/ website, like those of other brewers, is Flash heavy. It’s also a good way to tempt yourself with more beers that they don’t sell where you live. Unfortunately, if rather predictably, on the website they describe this bottle as “Premium Lager”. Better get a head start on the opening of this bottle by feeling bored now.

Staropramen Premium Lager poured into a glass

Once poured, Staropramen Premium Lager comes with a surprisingly thick head. If you can pour it that is. The head overwhelmed my little half-pint glass. It stays around too. Even minutes after pouring, it’s still a thick layer of froth. No patchy bubbles here.

It looks better than I expected it too, as well. It could easily have been a cheap pale yellow colour. But instead, it’s a slightly darker amber hue. A small difference, I’ll grant you, but welcome nonetheless.

It has a richer smell than lots of the big-name lagers too. I’d say it smells mostly of barley. And for a lager, that’s an unusual blend. How would you describe the smell?

At this point, I normally try the drink and report that the look and smell were all just a disguise for an atrocious and bland taste. Not so here. Remarkably, I quite like it.

It still tastes lagery, but this take on the flavour is one of the better ones. A light tasting barley and hops are what you notice first. Gently followed by a light, lingering bitterness. The whole thing is tastes rounded and well balanced. All without the aid of rice to the blend.

I didn’t expect to have much praise to heap on Staropramen Premium Beer/Lager. Boy, have I been proved wrong with my preconceptions about this one. It looks, smells and tastes of quality lager. When the website described it as having a bite, I expected another Bavaria Holland Beer. That had a lagery bite. I hated it. But lots of you left comments saying that you loved it. With Staropramen, there is no real bite as far as I can taste. Instead, it’s an easy to drink, relatively tasty and well balanced lager.

Being a lager, it inevitably has down sides. It may be one of the most accessible lagers on the market, but if you positively hate that lagery blend of flavours, you won’t be a fan of this. Other downsides? Well, its one of the gassier lagers I’ve tried. The head can get in the way if all you want is a quick drink. And if you truly want interesting beer flavours, why not try a real beer or ale instead of a lager?

To sum up, Staropramen Premium Beer/Lager is so much better than I was expecting. I’m not a fan of the lagery “bite”, so I was delighted to find it almost absent from this bottle. With it’s well balanced taste, it’s not only my favourite Czech bottle, but one of my favourite bottles lagers, full-stop. That said, it is still a lager. If you like lager, by all means enjoy this one. As for me, I’ll be enjoying something with real flavour, probably with the word “ale” written somewhere on the bottle.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Staropramen Premium Beer/Lager? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, ideas and recommendations in the little comment boxes below.

Beer Review: San Miguel

2 August, 2008

WITH few bottled beers on the shelves that I haven’t tried, the options are running thin. Something would have to give. And that something is quality. So, even though I swore I would never bother with it when I rounded off my look at Peroni Nastro Azzurro, here is San Miguel.

San Miguel bottle

Thanks to all the advertising from this international mega-brand, the bottle looks as familiar as Fanta. And first impressions are good. It’s all very tasteful looking.

The neck label sums up much of what you need to know.

San Miguel neck label

The famous “San Miguel” name and logo uses a tasteful red, green and gold colour scheme. They also describe this beer as “International Premium Lager”. Rather vague and unimaginative don’t you think? I suggest “Bland Generic Lager”.

The main front label doesn’t add much more.

San Miguel front label

In fact, it’s virtually a bigger version of the neck label. The main exception to that is the alcoholic volume which is 5%. Which isn’t exceptional at all. There’s also a small red crest in the bottom-right corner. Featuring as it does three castle turrets and an anchor, I’d say that this bottle is subtly hinting at Spain’s past naval might. A fact made laughable when we look at the back label to discover where this “International Premium Lager” was made.

San Miguel back label

Sure, the paragraph on the back label may name Spanish cities such as Seville and Barcelona. And that it’s “uniquely refreshing taste” has made it Spain’s most loved export. But the fact remains that this was “Brewed in the UK” by Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. And that makes this lager as Spanish as Rab C. Nesbitt.

Elsewhere on the back label, and the Spanish equivalent to “Cheers”; “Salud!” is a good addition. Down in the small print, this 330 millilitre bottle of 5% lager weighs in at 1.7 UK units of alcohol.  It, predictably, contains barley and wheat. And the web address hints at the true Spanish origins of this famous lager, because it is at www.sanmiguel.es. And, sure enough, it takes you to a Spanish language website. Why they have that address and not the English language, UK specific www.sanmiguel.co.uk, I don’t know.

With nothing else worth reading, it’s time to open this “International Premium Lager”. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But no one said the hobby of reviewing bottled beers would be easy.

San Miguel poured into a glass

In the glass, everything looks very ordinary. It’s a similar pale yellow colour to most other lagers. It has a head. Albeit a patchy one. And it has a weak, bland smell of malted barley.

But, will this be one of those drinks that looks terrible, and then surprises us all? Lets take a couple of gulps to find out. No. No it isn’t. It has exactly the rough, cheap lagery taste I was afraid it would have.

It tastes of the same blend of malted barley and hops that you’ll find in almost any other lager in the world. The difference is the after taste. There’s no smoothing of the lingering bitter after taste here. No rice softening the blow. Instead, you’ll find a rough, lingering bitter after taste.

Digging deep, there is a brief list of points on the plus side. I left this bottle in the freezer for a good few minutes, and I suspect that it has made it that much more drinkable that it would otherwise have been. The label describes it as having a “uniquely refreshing taste”. And served cool enough to dull the flavour, it is fairly refreshing. And that, in turn, makes it begin to be drinkable.

The list of points on the negative side is, as you’d have guessed, substantially bigger. Foremost among them is that taste. Some people who like their strongly flavoured lagers will like it. I don’t. In fact, I hate it. That lingering bitter after taste is about the worst I’ve ever tasted. Worse even than some of the Polish lagers.

And it doesn’t stop there. Putting aside that atrocious after taste for a moment, everything else about the flavour is bland. In fact, there is almost no real flavour. Just a colossally bad after taste. The same goes for the smell and the look.

To sum up, San Miguel is unexceptional in every way apart from the after taste which is exceptionally bad. If you like your lager to be strong tasting, you might like it. Otherwise, choose something different. Even a Polish lager. Because it will be more drinkable than this.

You might be thinking at this point that my prejudices clouded my judgement with this one. That I went in expecting it to be bad, so it was bad. But that’s not the case. You see, this was brewed by Scottish & Newcastle. And I thought other S&N licenses Kronenbourg 1664 and Foster’s Ice were good for what they were. Despite my open mind, I couldn’t find anything to love, or even like about San Miguel.

Rating: 0.3

Have you tried San Miguel? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts and recommendations here please.


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