Archive for September, 2008

Beer Review: Leżajsk Beer

26 September, 2008

YESTERDAY’S unexpectedly drinkable Perła Chmielowa, I’m rather looking forward to my next Polish beer. Fortunately, I don’t have long to wait. That’s because here in front of me is a bottle of Leżajsk Beer. Actually it isn’t. The ‘Z’ looking character in the name is supposed to have a sort of dash through it. Sadly, I couldn’t find that character on my computer, so I’ve substituted it for a ‘Z’ with a dot on top of it. Polish speakers, have I made a huge gaff? Undeterred by this, here is the bottle.

Lezaysk Beer bottle

The bottle is dull and brown. The labels are bright and white. It looks cheap-ish.

Lezaysk Beer neck label

The neck label doesn’t say anything about the beer. It doesn’t say much at all really. What it does have is the crest logo, featuring a crown, barley, hops and the letter ‘L’. It also has what must be the established date, in the form of “Premium Polonia A.D. 1525”. That’s a long time ago. About as far back as any Polish beer I’ve tried so far.

Lezaysk Beer front label

The roundel that is the front label does a good job. The border has those reassuring words “Product of Poland”. No imitation here. And clearly visible, under the vague word “Beer” are those all important vital statistics. This is the regular 500 ml size. And the alcoholic volume is a reasonably strong 5.5%. Which, in Poland, makes this weak. All bottles should have that on the front. It makes it sop much easier to know what you’re getting yourself in for.

This is a proper, imported bottle of beer. Hence, it has an ugly big sticker on one side.

Lezaysk Beer importer label

This one was imported by the same people who imported yesterday’s bottle: BDD Limited.  Their telephone number and North-West London address are on there, in case you want to get in touch. There’s no sign of their website though. Which, I learnt yesterday, was www.bdd.net. This big label also has a small list of ingredients. Why? Whatever the (probably regulatory) reason, the ones they list are water, malted barley and hops.

Lezaysk Beer back label

Fortunately, the proper back label hasn’t been dispensed with. This one even has some English writing, so we’re in luck. This one tells the story of how King Zygmunt Stary gave the rights to brew beer in Leżaysk all the way back in 1525. And that it’s now one of the most renowned beers in Poland, made from natural ingredients. All of which is splendid. Heritage is good. Natural ingredients are even better.

It doesn’t stop there. That’s because this one has an award. In transpires that Leżajsk Beer won a Gold Medal at the World Beer Championships. Well done chaps. I hope that translates into a tasty beer.

Time now to crack open this bottle. What will it taste like? How will it compare to the current Polish favourites? Let’s find out.

Lezaysk Beer poured

There’s no head to worry about. Within moments, what little there was has dissipated  into a few patches of bubbles. Not very impressive. The colour makes up for the lack of head. It’s a good, deep shade of amber. No cheap, pale yellow here.

Maybe it’s my somewhat blocked nose, but I can’t smell much of an odour with Leżajsk Beer. Sniffing as hard as my huge, blocked nose will allow, and there are some weak odours hidden away in there. My untrained nostrils detected something like malted barley, and also something floral. Are my nostrils deceiving me? Or is there really something flowery about Leżajsk Beer? Now that would be a gigantic surprise. As always, leave your comments at the end of the post.

How does it taste? After a couple of gulps, in a word, it’s good. For a start, it has something I haven’t had for a while: flavour. It tastes a bit of crops and flowers. Which very smoothly turns into a full, light bitter aftertaste. That bitterness hardly lingers at all. Instead, it’s all very light, fresh and tasty. Leżajsk Beer, in my uninformed opinion, is the most ale-like of any Polish beer I’ve tried. I was afraid this would be another, boring lager. But it just isn’t.

If you buy Leżajsk Beer, what will you like about it? Or, more accurately, what do I enjoy about it? I like the flavour. I like the taste. I like how easy to drink it is. I like the quality and care with which it was made. You can tell when a beer was made with all the natural ingredients of a Pot Noodle. And this doesn’t taste anything like a pot of instant noodles. It tastes natural, which is more than you can say about any of the Polish “Mocne” beers. The last thing to say about Leżajsk Beer is that it isn’t gassy. There is a lot to like here.

What won’t you like about Leżajsk Beer? Or, what don’t I like about Leżajsk Beer? I get the feeling that it’s trying to be like an ale. That makes it a zillion times better than most Polish beers. But not as good as proper ales. It simply can’t match them for flavour and body. It’s also so light and drinkable, that it makes you think it’s on the watery side. Besides those minor complaints, the biggest problem is how hard it is to find. Unlike the big-name, yet disgusting Polish lagers, you just can’t find this easily. This one came on the recommendation of the woman at a Polish shop up in Wealdstone.

So what is Leżajsk Beer all about? This is the least lagery and most ale-like of any Polish beer that I’ve tried. It has flavour, tastes good and is very drinkable. None of which I expected to report about Leżajsk Beer. I didn’t think I would say this, but it tops even Perła Chmielowa. Ladies and gentlemen, this is my new favourite Polish beer. If you somehow find a bottle, it’s worth your time. If you’re weighing it up against a selection of fine ales, it won’t quite match the competition. Overall, very good.

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Leżajsk Beer? Can you offer up any translations, pronunciations or information? Then do please leave your comments, opinions, corrections, requests and recommendations here.

Beer Review: Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer

25 September, 2008

AFTER yesterday’s ghastly Kosovan Birra Peja Pilsner, it’s back to the relative safety of a Polish beer. This one appears to be called Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer. You don’t find it very easily. Unlike the big-name beers from Poland, I could only find this one in a Polish shop up in Wealdstone.

It doesn’t look at all bad. It’s the combination of green coloured labels and green bottle glass. It does it every time.

The neck label doesn’t tell us much though.

All it has is the logo and some hop imagery. The logo looks like a shield with an animal, possibly a goat, either tending to, or fighting some hops. I’m as baffled as you are.

The main front label is an oddly shaped roundel. But that doesn’t stop it from looking good and doing a nice job.

Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer front label

The top border says “Since 1846”. Which makes it one of the oldest Polish brewers out there. It has some smaller words hugging the inside of the border too. These ones say “Traditional Recipe”, “Best Quality” and “Excellent Taste”. All the usual marketing drivel, but it tells us that this bottle is aimed at people who read English.

Under the big “PERŁA” banner is another word. What does “Chmielowa” mean? It looks like it’s part of the beer name, which is why I’ve titled this review “Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer“. But I could easily be wrong. What you can’t mistake, however, is the little description around the bottom border. This one simply describes it as “Premium Pils Beer”.

As well as straightforward little descriptions, it also has something to say about where it’s come from. Which, as a clueless outsides, I love to read. This one says “Brewed and Bottled by Perła – Browary Lubelskie S.A.”. That’s a welcome sight because it doesn’t ring a bell. Nearly every other Polish beer I’ve tried has had printed somewhere on it a big-name like Żywiec or Tyskie.

Another welcome sight is the upfront vital statistics. No need to peer around onto the back label with this bottle. That’s because it’s 500 ml size and strong, 6% alcoholic volume are right there for you to see. All in all, it’s a good piece of design.

It’s a similar story on the back label as well. And we don’t even have to struggle with the Polish language. It’s all there in English. Which begs the question, why isn’t it more widely available in this country?

Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer back label

The top of the label has what look like medals. But they’re too small to read what they’re for.

Then the description starts. And this is a particularly interesting one about hops. That’s interesting because you normally only find this sort of thing on bottles of English ale. This one informs us that this Perła Chmielowa has acquired it’s “excellent taste and distinctive aroma” to the local Lublin hops. Never having seen that name on any other bottle, I’m intrigued to discover what this one is going to taste like. Not to mention amazed that I’m evening thinking that about a Polish beer.

Next down the label is the full technical description. They describe it as “Full Light Beer”. Whatever that means. Also that it’s “Pasteurised”. They then go even further by letting us know that it contains E-300. Blimey, that’s a lot of detail. Sadly, it means it’s not going to be a wholly natural experience. Not with that great big ‘E’ number.

The ingredients they mention include water, barley, malt and hops. No surprise there. They also recommend that you keep it in a cool and dark place.

There’s a full address on there, in case you want to write them a letter or visit them. They really do come from Lublin. The web address they provide is www.perla.pl. It’s nice enough, but yet another Flashy website that looks more like a television commercial than a website. One interesting thing I did see on the website, amoung the dodgy translations, was that Perła Chmielowa seems to mean “Hop Perl”. Is that right? Polish readers, as usual do please leave a comment at the end of this post with your translations, pronunciations and thoughts about what reputation this has in Poland.

Under all of that is the name of the importer. In this case, it’s BDD Limited from North-West London. For the curious, the website they have on the label is at www.bdd.net. An imported whom, according to their website, is the biggest supplier of Polish beers in the UK. It appears I’ve them to thank for the Polish beers I’ve been enjoying and hating over the last few months.

The big question is, will Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer be the best Polish beer I’ve tried so far? All it needs to be is above average to claim that title. Time to open the bottle and find out.

Watch out for the froth. Perła Chmielowa needs you to put the brakes on toward the end of the pour. There’s still a fair bit still in the bottle. After a couple of minutes, the huge head and settled into an undulating layer of froth, sitting on top of a dark amber. It’s surprisingly dark amber in colour. Most pilsner lagers a quite a lot paler.

They talk about the hops on the label, so lets see how it smells. For a pilsner, it smells good. Quite rich and malty. I can’t make out much hoppiness though. And in the time it took me to write this much further, the head has shrivelled into a thin layer.

How does it taste? First impressions are not bad, but not stunning either. There’s no flavour of course, it’s a pilsner lager. But it does have a full aftertaste. I’ve had a few gulps now, trying to figure it out, and it doesn’t seem to have that lagery “bite”. It has a bit of tanginess, but not the same sort of sharp “bite” as other pilsner lagers. The aftertaste with Perła Chmielowa walks into your mouth calmly. It tastes a little of malted barley, and yes, even I can make out the taste of those Lublin hops. It lingers for a while, and isn’t at all strong, rough or unpleasant.

What is there to like about Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer? I’m rather enjoying this one. Presumably it’s those Lublin hops that are doing the trick. The taste is so much more distinctive and interesting than the dross I’ve been enduring recently. It’s well made. It’s potent stuff at 6%. It’s easy to drink for all but the most bitter averse. I’ve also hardly burped at all, which means it’s not gassy. It’s rich tasting, and smooth drinking. This could be one of the best pilsner style beers I’ve tried.

Are there any downsides? Yes there are. It doesn’t really have much flavour, even though the taste of the hops does it’s best at compensating. One of the reasons that it’s so light and drinkable, is that it’s on the watery side. That means you don’t always feel like you’ve just taken a gulp, when you just have. The pilsner style won’t be to everyone’s taste either. I get the feeling that it wants to be an ale. If the boffins at Perła could come up with a bottle conditioned ale using their Lublin hops, the results could be outstanding. Sadly, we’ll never know as long as they limit themselves to the pilsner style.

To sum up, Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer is one of the best Polish beers I’ve tried. In fact it could be the best. It’s also one of the best lagers I’ve tried. If you can find it and you like lagers, this is one to try. It’s also worth a go for people like me who don’t normally go for pilsner style beers.  It deserves to take the place of the inferior big-name Polish beers that occupy shop and supermarket shelves across Britain.

Rating: 3.65

Have you tried Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils Beer? What did you think of it? Can you offer up and translations, pronunciations, explanations, opinions, requests or recommendations? Then do please leave a message here!

Thanks for reading and check back here soon for another bottle of Polish beer.

Beer Review: Birra Peja Pilsner

24 September, 2008

ANOTHER bottle of beer from another part of the world. When I spotted this in a local shop for just over £1, I had to try it. This is Birra Peja Pilsner.

There’s not much to say about the little brown bottle. The labels don’t make it much of a product to look at either. I think it looks a little like Holsten Pils. You can just tell that this is going to come from somewhere a little unusual. But where?

Birra Peja Pilsner neck label

The neck label certainly doesn’t tell us. It sticks to the basics of the logos plus an established date of 1971. Not exactly brimming with heritage, is it?

Birra Peja Pilsner front label

The big roundel that is the front label is where to look for the answers. It has a logo that looks like a shield. The picture on it is hard to make out though. Is that a bridge spanning two mountains?

The top border, I think, says something about being a quality beer. The bottom border of the roundel, then, is the place to divert your eyes. That’s because it says “Kosova’s Finest Beer”. That’s right, this beer is apparently from Kosova. That’s one more country to tick off the list, as this will be not only my first beer from Kosova, but from the Balkans.

To check that Kosova it is indeed located where I think it is, I begin Googling. Watching the news over the past few years tells me that the Balkan politics makes the Middle-East seem as simple as breathing. First port of call was a Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosova. A page that tells us that that “Kosova” is the Albanian name for “Kosovo”. The same place that in February 2008 declared itself independent, but which only some other countries recognise. What with the pushing and shoving from the Serbian people and their Russian friends, it’s a miracle this bottle escaped to London at all.

As is the way with many of these imported bottles, this one has a little white sticker. And here it is.

The unusual thing is, this one wasn’t imported by a British firm. It was imported by a German one. This bottle therefore comes courtesy of Kelmendi Import & Export, Ratingen-Homberg, Deutschland.

Fortunately, we still have a proper back label to entertain ourselves with. And what’s more, some of it is written in English.

Birra Peja Pilsner back label

Usually, brewers like to write something on the back label that describes the beer. Something that sums up the quality or the history. Or, at very least, some hokum dreamt up by people who practice something called marketing. In the case of Birra Peja Pilsner, we get none of those things. Instead, we have the terse, technical and unglamorous term “Pasteurized beer”.

The next detail tells us that this was brewed and bottled by “Birra Peja”. Who come from Pejë. Which is presumably a place within Kosovo, or Kosovë as they spell it.

Next up is the list of ingredients. This one mentions water, barley malt and hops.

Under that is this bottle’s vital statistics. As you’ve probably guessed, this is the regular 0.33L bottle. The alcoholic volume is a surprisingly low 4%. That’s surprising because the Polish like their considerably stronger. It appears as if people from the Balkans, or at very least Albanians like their beer to be less anti-social. The other little detail on there is that this has an “Extract 11.0%”. Whatever that means.

Lastly, tucked away at the very bottom of the label is the web address. The one this one has printed on it, is www.birrapeja.com. I’ve just had a quick look, and like nearly every other, it’s Flash dominated. That said, it’s the least flashy Flash driven site I’ve seen for a while. If you’re after the facts and answers quickly, it’s a surprisingly effective place to start.

Time to crack open this bottle and answer some questions. This time, those questions are what will it taste like? And… as this is the first beer I’ve tried from Kosovo or the Balkans, that’s about it really. I’m fascinated to find out.

If you like to pour your beer into a glass, watch out. This one comes with a big head. And, unlike lots of others, this one doesn’t die down in a hurry. A few moments later now, and it’s a big, undulating layer of froth. The beer itself is a very lager looking pale yellow colour. Things aren’t looking good.

Fortunately, it smells a bit better. Yes it has that familiar, lagery smell of malted barley. Somehow though, Birra Peja Pilsner succeeds in smelling warm, rich and malty. All of which is making the taste a mystery. What will it taste like?

A couple of gulps in, and I’m enjoying how Birra Peja Pilsner tastes. Being a pilsner style lager, it doesn’t have much flavour. What it does have is a light, malted barley aftertaste. The familiar, lagery “bite” is very light and subtle. The whole bitter aftertaste experience rolls in, passes by and leaves your mouth with a lingering, tangy bitterness. It’s also a different experience to many other bottles, which scores it points for distinctiveness and character.

What is there to like about Birra Peja Pilsner? A bit more than with many lagers. I like the light, malted barley taste. I think the “bite” isn’t as strong and off-putting as with some lagers. I also think the aftertaste is nowhere near as revolting as many other lagers are. All of which makes Birra Peja Pilsner rather drinkable.

Nearing the end of the bottle now, and there are some things about Birra Peja Pilsner that are putting me off. For one thing, that insane head could be a problem if you like to drink your beer from the glass. It’s quite a gassy beer. Although both of those things could be because of a bumpy ride from Peja, Kosovo to London. Because it’s a lager, it has no real flavour. The aftertaste, which seemed terrific at first is starting to annoy me. It’s lingering badly now and not in a pleasant way. That’s something stopping it from being clean and refreshing, which a good pilsner lager should aim for.

It’s a mixed result for Birra Peja Pilsner. It tasted great at first, but by the end of the bottle, it tasted foul. If I visit Kosovo, which some day, I hope to do, I’ll happily drink Birra Peja Pilsner. If you’re curious to try bottles of lager from unusual places, then Birra Peja Pilsner is one to try. Lager aficionados will probably get a kick from it too. Personally, I won’t be buying up any more bottles of the stuff.

Rating: 2.15

Have you tried Birra Peja Pilsner? Are you from Kosovo? What reputation does it have there and can you offer up any translations?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations here.

Beer Review: Sun Lik Beer

20 September, 2008

THIS is Sun Lik Beer. It’s from the far east, that’s for sure. But where exactly? Time to look for clues.

The whole package is building an oriental theme. But to find out which oriental country is going to need some detective work. Not being an expert on East-Asian calligraphy, the words on the neck label are a mystery to me. All I can say at this point, is that they don’t look Korean or Japanese. Does that make this a Chinese beer? The two dragons that appear everywhere on the labels don’t answer many questions either.

In contrast to the near empty neck label, the front label is busy. Very busy. There’s symbols, and writing and imagery all over the place. It’s one of the most hectic roundels you’ll find anywhere.

Sun Lik Beer front label

Around the top, they describe it vaguely as the “Premium Beer of The Orient”. At the bottom of lots of writing a can’t understand, the name that I can understand and a dragon is something else. It turns out that this wasn’t actually imported. Instead it was “Brewed and Bottled Under Licence in the UK”. I feel a big cheated by that.

It also adds another layer of mystery to this bottle. Hopefully the back label will hold some answers.

Sun Lik Beer back label

They open with a slogan: “Distilled with Life and Energy”. That’s good because I’m feeling close to death. This could be just what I need.

Then they have a couple of sentences about what the drink will be like. They describe it as “a premium quality, refreshing beer with an unmistakable Oriental taste.” Quality and refreshment are all good. But unmistakable oriental taste? All the other oriental beers I’ve had, have tasted adequate and indistinctive. So what are they on about?

In the next sentence, they cleverly incorporate a short list of their “finest” ingredients. These are malt, rice, hops and “natural spring water”. Nothing too unusual there apart from the rice. Which is a good addition. Trust me. All the other lagers I’ve tried, most of which from Asia, that include rice, taste better for it. For reasons I don’t understand, they always have a richer, better balanced taste than those that forgo the rice. See Cobra Extra Smooth for example.

This is an export bottle, so there’s a lot on there that will be meaningless to you. Carefully picking through the writing, and one part of the mystery is solved. This was brewed under license by Shepherd Neame Ltd of Faversham in Kent. The same brewer behind the very good Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Under all the usual multi-lingual details are the vital statistics. This is the standard 33 centilitre bottle. And the drink within is the standard 5%. Both of which cause it to have 1.6 UK units of alcohol. Absolutely nothing unusual there.

Under that though, is a surprise. It has the name San Miguel Brewing International Ltd. That must be the same company as behind the bland, Spanish San Miguel. The final detail is the web address. The one printed is www.sunlikbeer.com. Unbelievably, it takes until you get arrive at their homepage before you learn the origins of Sun Lik Beer. According to their website, my hunch was right. This is Chinese. Specifically, it’s brewed under license from the Hong Kong Brewery Ltd. Chaps, this really is the sort of thing you should be printing on your bottle labels.

Enough chit-chat. It’s time to crack open this bottle and answer some questions. Questions such as what does it taste like? And is it any better, or worse, than all the other Asian, and particularly Oriental beers on the market?

Watch out for the head if you decide to pour it. It froths up eagerly. Fortunately, it settles down almost as fast. A minute later, and it’s now a thin layer of froth. As for the colour, it’s got some amber. But not very much.

It smells as good as most other Oriental or rice based lagers. You get a nice, rounded smell of malted barley. It’s much the same as other Oriental lagers that include rice. And not at all bad for it.

But how does Sun Lik Beer taste? A couple of gulps in, and it tastes a lot like any other Oriental lager that includes rice. For the unfamiliar, it tastes like lager, but richer and better balanced. There’s no flavour. Because it’s a lager. But that void is smoothly filled by a rich, bitter “bite” of an aftertaste. That aftertaste arrives smoothly. It doesn’t hit you roughly. And it leaves you with mild, lingering aftertaste.

What is there to like about Sun Lik Beer? Quite a lot if you like lager. And some things, even if you don’t. If you like lager, you’ll like the smooth, light taste. The Sun Lik take on the familiar lager formula is a good one. And it must be down to the rice. It seems well balanced and richer because of it. Qualities that make it quite refreshing and drinkable. We know that Shepherd Neame can do quality, and Sun Lik Beer maintains that reputation.

What won’t you like about Sun Lik Beer? There’s no escaping the lagery roots of Sun Lik Beer. And that means it has no taste. Sure it has aftertaste, but it has no flavour. Next, I like the taste, but it’s not exactly distinctive. It tastes much the same as other lagers, particularly those from Asia and the Orient that happen to include rice. That’s nice enough, but I’m struggling to find a compelling reason to choose Sun Lik over the competition. If won’t be because it’s easily available. And it won’t be because of the packaging. A regular green bottle and often baffling labels are a turn-off. It’s also quite gassy, judging by all my burping.

To conclude, Sun Lik Beer is an easy to drink, well made imitation of an Oriental lager. It does its job perfectly well. There just aren’t enough reasons to recommend it over the competition. This is one to order from the menu to go with your Chinese meal.

Rating: 3.05

Have you tried Sun Lik Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Castello Premium

19 September, 2008

WHAT can you say about Italian beer? Peroni was a triumph of style over taste and Peroni Nastro Azzurro was boring. It’s difficult to raise expectations then, with this little green bottle of Castello Premium.

It has a neck label. But it says nothing about what the beer will be like. It looks nice enough, but you get the impression that they’re more concerned with brand building than anything else.

It’s much the same with the front label.

Castello Premium front label

To be fair, the colour scheme is good. The big shield and castle illustration give it a good South-European look. And the banner across the top saying “Birra Fruilana” is delightfully baffling. “Birra” must mean “beer”, but can someone translate the other word please? Sadly, the label says nothing about what this beer is actually like.

Being almost entirely in Italian, I couldn’t learn much more from the back label either. Italian translators, if you’ve got a bottle nearby, do please leave your translations in the comments at the end of the post.

Castello Premium back label

The only words I could make out from the Italian language description mentions quality ingredients. My guess would be that the rest of it was equally vague and marketing led.

Under that, in a dense, multi-lingual block of text, is the name of the brewer. Castello Premium is courtesy of Birra Castello S.P.A.. Not being familiar with Italian geography or addresses, I couldn’t make much sense of the address. So I did Googled the names it mentioned for some answers. Apparently, it comes from a street called Enrico Fermi (after the famous scientist), in the municipality of San Giorgio Di Nogaro in the province of Udine in the North-Eastern province of Fruili-Venezia Guilia. Is there any connection between that name as the “Fruilana” on the front of the bottle? And would the hot Italian girl called Guilia I met last year happen to come from the province of Fuili-Venezia Guilia? Answers at the bottom of the post please.

Next up is the list of ingredients. The ones this one mentions are water, barley malt, maize and hops. Few surprises there. Although maize doesn’t always get a mention. Do most beers and lagers have it but fail to mention it? Or is this one a tiny be special for having it as an ingredient? At times like this, I wish I knew more about beer. Shame I’m too lazy to look it up.

The next little detail is the web address. The one they have printed on the label is www.birracastello.it. You’ll probably want their English language website, which is at http://www.birracastello.com/. Parts of it feel rather unfinished and navigation is a pain. This goes into the list of not-so-great brewer websites. Which by now, is very long indeed.

Last two details on the back label are the most important. Which is why they’re also printed in the biggest typeface. The bottle is the ubiquitous 33 centilitre size. Whilst the alcoholic volume surprises no-one by being equally unimaginative at 5%. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be as average as the summer we just had.

What will it taste like? Will it be better than the two Peronis? Let’s find out.

Castello Premium is very easy to pour as it has almost no head. Then, after a moment, the tiny layer it does have almost completely vanishes. I’ve seen ciders with more head on them. The colour is respectable shade of amber. And there is a lot of fizz going on in there.

Does it have a smell? Yes, just about. It smells of a lagery blend of malted barley and the usual beer ingredients. It’s quite weak and smells much the same as the bland, big-name lagers.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and it tastes like any other competent lager. There is no flavour. That void is then filled by a light, bitter aftertaste. That lagery “bite” isn’t excessively rough. Nor does it roll it strongly or unpleasantly. It just gets on with its job of delivering a zingy “bite” in a light, mild way.

What is there to enjoy about Castello Premium? Again, it depends if you like lagers. If you do, you’ll appreciate the light and drinkable aftertaste. You’ll like the way that you don’t have to think about complex flavours. Even if you don’t particularly like lager, you might like how easy to drink that aftertaste is.

As you’ve probably guessed, Castello Premium won’t be for everyone. People who don’t like lager for instance. There’s no flavour. All you get is a run of the mill lagery bitter aftertaste. It might be a tolerable aftertaste, but you won’t be inspired to buy a case of the stuff. Even if you think it’s quite good, it’s not far removed from equally or cheaper priced and easier to buy rivals.

Castello Premium is a middle of the road lager. As average as you can get. It doesn’t offend. But it won’t inspire you. If I was visiting the region this came from, I’d be more than happy to drink Castello and its sister brews. Although it’s not exactly better than the two Peronis. If you don’t have a thing for Italian beers or European lagers, then look for something better.

Rating: 2.2

Have you tried Castello Premium? What did you think of it? Can you offer up any translations?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, thoughts, recommendations and requests here please.

Beer Review: Carling

18 September, 2008

OVER the last few months, I’ve tried a lot of big-name lagers. But there’s been one big one missing. Why did I leave Carling out for so long? For one thing, it’s probably going to be another boring big-name lager. Another thing is that it’s always in cans. Or is it? A lot of waiting later, and Tesco finally re-stocked with four-packs of Carling bottles. At £1.77, I had run out of excuses. So here you are, Carling

Carling 4-pack

There’s not much to say about the cardboard. If you’ve seen the advertisements, you’ll know already know the Carling name and stylised lion logo. And that means you won’t confuse it with much else on the shop shelves. The “Cold Indicator” thing gets a mention. Apparently the bottles are going to use one of the increasingly popular indicators that turn blue when they reach the right temperature. Does anyone really use these?

Taken out from the cardboard, and the bottles look like I do. That is to say, tall, slim and pretty good looking.

There’s no big front label because of the lion logo embossed all the way around. And that means that everything is on the neck label.

Carling front neck label

The front of which says pretty much all you need to know. If you like lager, it’s probably all that you want to know. Simply that it’s “Best Ice Cold” and has a mediocre 4.1% volume.

Turn the bottle clockwise, and the cold theme continues. For here is that “New Carling Cold Indicator”. There’s a little instruction next to the indicator, helpfully shaped like a bottle. And it tersely communicates “Chill Until Blue”. By the looks of it, my bottle is a long way off. Luckily, I put the bottle I’m going to test in the fridge, so it should be suitably cold by testing time.

Carling right of neck label

The other side of the wrap-around neck holds all the small print. In the absence of any other writing about the history or drink itself, there’s enough room to make everything perfectly readable. Normally when confined to a small neck label, manufacturers unsuccessfully cram in too much tiny text. Not Carling though.

The first fact to be offered up are the origins of Carling. It turns out to be the product of Coors Brewers Ltd and from Burton-on-Trent. For some reason, I thought the Coors name was American, so I did some digging. Their website is at http://www.coorsbrewers.com and their history page at http://www.coorsbrewers.com/aboutus/companyhistory proves me completely wrong. Coors and Carling are some of the most British names out there. In fact, with almost every other big-name lager being, or pretending to be foreign, it’s hard to find one that’s unashamedly British. I hope Carling doesn’t taste awful then.

Next, they offer up their consumer helpline telephone number. Then there’s their website at www.carling.com. You can go there if you want. The ingredients list only goes as far as “barley and wheat”. With only 4.1% volume, this small 300 ml bottle can only muster 1.2 UK units of alcohol. Even so, they act responsibly enough by printing the www.drinkaware.co.uk website and their take on the responsible drinking message with “Enjoy Carling… take it easy”. Thinking about slogans, wasn’t their supposed to be “Belong”? Or have I confused it with another brand?

With nothing left to talk about, it’s time to crack open a bottle. Not this one, but one that’s been in the fridge. What will it taste like? Is it worth your time and money? Expectations are modest as I go for the pour.

Unexpectedly, it did come with a little head. It died down into a thin, patchy layer, but it’s by no means a disaster. Partly because it has a deeper shade of amber than I was expecting. In looks at least, it has a modicum of quality.

How can I describe the smell? With words like ‘fresh’ and ‘biting’. You can almost smell the lagery “bite” before you drink it. Other than that, it’s an adequate take on the narrow blend of odours you can squeeze out of a lager recipe.

What does it taste like? It’s a lager, so you won’t find much flavour. A couple of gulps in, and I was oblivious to any flavour. But even I couldn’t fail to miss the big, lagery taste. The familiar lagery “bite” rolls in, in a big way. The aftertaste it leaves you with is mostly bitter, but there’s tanginess in there too. It caught me off-guard, but it’s not particularly rough or harsh. After a few gulps, the taste is lingering a little, but it’s a very light and airy experience.

What will you like about a chilled bottle of Carling? That all depends if you like lager in the first place. If you do, then you’ll like how light and easy to drink it is. You’ll appreciate how cleanly it delivers the lagery “bite” that you like so much. You will probably also like how cheap and easily available Carling is.

If, however, you don’t like lager, then you’ll struggle to find much to love. There are no interesting flavours. The taste it has is strong and not always pleasant. At least not if you weren’t a fan of lagers to begin with. It’s also a bit gassy.

To sum up, Carling is a lagers lager. It is one of the most lagery lagers you’ll find. If you like lager, you’ll probably enjoy Carling. It’s light and has a tangy bite that leaves no bad aftertaste. On the other hand, it’s a lager, it has no flavour and it’s pretty weak. I’m wandering what to do with the other three bottles from the pack that I’m stuck with. After giving Carling every chance by buying it in a bottle instead of a can, and almost freezing it, it’s just not brilliant.

If you like lager, you’ve probably already tried it. If you haven’t, it all hinges on whether you like lager. At supermarket prices, it’s worth a try.

Rating: 2.3

Have you tried Carling? Probably. What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager

17 September, 2008

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer was one of the first, and most interesting bottled beers I have ever tried. Being oak aged by a Scotch whisky producer made it different and delicious. Because of this, I leapt at the chance to snap up a four-pack of Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager from Tesco at the discounted price of £1.99.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager 4 pack

This though, is a completely different kettle of bananas to Innis & Gunn. That’s because this isn’t from a tiny, Scottish whisky producer at all. Far from it. This is from the massive Artois family. Or as they call it on the cardboard, “La Famille Artois”. The same Artois behind the infamous Stella Artois lager. This then, is one of they’re attempts to distance the Artois brand from Stella’s bad reputation. All of which begs the question… what do the Belgians know about whisky or oak aged anything?

Whatever the case, they certainly know how to make a good looking product. The cardboard bottle holder looks very classy indeed. Probably because most of it is just blank space. About the only thing you’ll find besides the logos are a small picture of a glass and bottle, and description of this beer as “A Refreshing 4.6% ABV Oak Aged Beer”. They also say something about the Artois horn being the symbol of the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium. It’s so minimalistic and good looking, I had no idea it was related to Stella Artois until I got it home.

Sadly, things don’t continue that way after you’ve prized a bottle out from the cardboard holder. Things start to look familiar. It looks like a Stella again.

The neck label must have received about two minutes of thought before being slapped on the bottle.

The front label doesn’t add much sophistication either. It looks like much the other Artois roundels. But I do like the oak tinged colour scheme. It hints at oaky-ness without being cheesy.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager front label

It’s all very straightforward. The familiar Artois horn logo and “Anno 1366” are present. As are the descriptions that it’s an “Oak Aged Lager” and “Premium Lager”, from “Leuven” The alcoholic volume is perfectly clear too. This one is a reasonably 4.6%. Strong enough to be worthwhile. Mild enough to distance it from Stella.

Just like the neck label, the back label is hardly a masterpiece. From such a big name, you expect a little more presentational polish. This is just a plain white label with some writing on it.

Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager back label

The bulk of what’s on there is the Eiken Artois story. A story that manages to connect their “six centuries of brewing” to their very recently “crafted Eiken Artois”. They then expand on their description of the beer as being “a deliciously refreshing yet full flavoured lager”. I really hope they’ve pulled that feat off. Not least because coming from a four-pack, I have three other bottles of the stuff now waiting to be drank.

They’re rather keen on you serving it cold. Hence the “Serve Cold” in capital letters. The next detail is their web address which is www.artois.co.uk. Yet again, it’s a totally Flash dominated experience. Why can’t brewers create proper web sites for us? Slow loading sound and animation may sound like a good idea in marketing brainstorming sessions, but it stops the rest of us finding information quickly and easily.

After the responsibility and www.drinkaware.co.uk messages, we’re get down to the small print. This 4.6% drink is in the standard 33 centilitre bottle. That makes it a modest 1.5 UK units of alcohol.

On the other side of the best before date is a very welcome little detail. And one I didn’t expect. That this was “Brewed in Belgium”. I must be getting cynical. Without the word “Imported” anywhere, I full expected this to be another Bedfordshire beer putting on an imitation accent. Instead it was only distributed by InBev UK of Luton. The last two details that could be remotely of interest are the UK “Consumer Helpline” and the list of ingredients. Which isn’t a list at all as it only mentions “Malted Barley”.

If you like a good read from your bottle while you drink, you won’t find one here. And, with nothing else to describe, we’ve reached the fun part of the review. It’s time to see what Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager is like. Will it match Innis & Gunn? Should you try it? Let’s find out.

Try to pour it, and you’re rewarded by a big head. Which promptly disappears into a thin and disappointing patchwork of bubbles. The colour isn’t bad though. It’s a darker shade of amber than the usual lagery colour. Which is exactly what I was hoping for. I think it looks a bit like ginger beer.

It smells better than most lagers do, too. Not as oaky as I had hoped for. More like a richer version of the smell you usually get from a lager. In other words, it smells of a blend of malted barley and hops and things, only richer and more interesting than with most other lagers.

It’s much the same story with the taste. It does have a mild, oaky flavour. Which briskly blends into a tangy, oak tasting but ultimately ordinary lagery aftertaste. As usual with lager, you’ll struggle to find much flavour. It’s the tangy, mildly oaky and lagery aftertaste that you notice most. And, to its credit, isn’t bad. Nothing about it is strong, and it doesn’t linger anything like as badly as some lagers.

What is there to enjoy about Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? If you’re main complaint about lagers is that they’re all the same and have a boring taste, this could be the answer. It’s got a bit of flavour. It’s got some taste. And that taste happens to be a little unusual. The whole thing is very easy to drink and refreshing, too. As well as the rich taste, for a lager, it’s also quite smooth. And as I haven’t burped yet, not too gassy either.

What won’t you like about Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? It’s got some nice taste, and its drinkable, but that comes at a price. There’s not nearly enough flavour and taste because it’s so light and watery. A few gulps of this, and you’ll forget what you’ve been drinking. I’m nearly at the end of the bottle, and I’m having trouble remembering if I’ve been writing a post about beer, or drinking diet ginger beer. But then, it is a lager, so all of that could be by design.

So what is Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager all about? It’s no Innis & Gunn, that’s for sure. It simply can’t match it for flavour and strength of taste. They don’t say how long they left this stuff to mature in oak, but I’m guessing it was more like minutes than days. What it is, is an above average lager. If you like lager, you might have found a new favourite in Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? It certainly fixes some of my big complaints about lager. If you don’t like lager, but have no choice but a shop shelf full of them, this is a good compromise choice.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Eiken Artois Oak Aged Lager? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the little boxes below and I’ll think about them.

Beer Review: Lech Pils

12 September, 2008

NEXT up from this batch of Polish beers is Lech Pils. What I presume is the cheaper version of smooth and pleasant Lech Premium. I’m hoping that this one will be at least as good. Or at least wash away the dreadful taste from yesterday’s Tatra Mocne.

Like with Lech Premium, these guys are very good at packaging. The green on gold looks superb. As usual though, I can’t understand anything written on it. If you can, do please leave a comment at the end of this post with translations and pronunciations.

With no gigantic promotion getting in the way, you’re free to admire the artwork on the two big roundels that dominate. There’s what looks like barley and hops. Nothing unusual there. But can someone explain what the two rams in the shield are all about?

Lech Pils roundel

In one small strip, there’s a barcode and some other details. Between the barcode and anti-drink-drive message are what look like this beer’s vital statistics. Let’s look closer.

Lech Pils barcode side of can

Yes, I think they are. The alcoholic volume appears to be a strong-ish 5.5%. That’s 0.3% more than that of Lech Premium. It must be said, Polish people like their beer strong. And, usually, foul tasting.

What else can I make out from the writing. Well, it contains 11.7% of something called “wag”. It’s by the unimaginatively named “Kompania Powowarska”, which probably translates into “Beer Company”. The name Poznan is in there too, so that’s probably where it’s from.

Over on the side of the can with no barcode are some more details. Let’s try and understand what this side is all about…

Lech Pils other side of can

This is just a guess, but I think this is the ‘story’ side of the can. Where they describe the history of Lech Pils. I wander what it says? My bet is on “We noticed that strong, tasteless lager is popular, so here’s another one”.

Elsewhere are some other bits and bobs that are harder for me to misinterpret. One of them is an information line telephone number. Another is that this is the ubiquitous 500 millilitre size of can. And the last is that this is going for 2.89zt. Is that a lot of Polish Zloty? Or is it pretty good value?

That’s the unnecessary description out of the way. Now it’s time to try and enjoy another Polish lager. How will it taste? Will it be as good as Lech Premium or as bad as the rest? I can’t put off the inevitable forever, so here goes…

It froths up nicely. But not uncontrollably. It fitted my pint-glass nicely with only one moment where I thought “it’s going to overflow”. A couple of minutes later, and it’s now settled do to a thick, creamy layer of head.

The colour isn’t quite as impressive. It’s not pale yellow like some. But it’s certainly not a rich, deep shade of amber. It’s somewhere in-between.

It smells quite alright. You can easily detect the malted barley. Normally you end up snorting the head up through your nostrils in an attempt to smell anything. Not this time. And it’s not too strong smelling either.

All well and good, but how does it taste? A few gulp in, and first impressions were good. Until a few moments later when the “bite” left me with an unpleasant aftertaste.

The flavour the same weak blend of malted barley that you get with all lagers that come in a light-coloured liquid. That is swiftly replaced by that lagery “bite” that tastes like malted barley and possibly some other blend of typical beer ingredients. Without a list of ingredients that I can understand, figuring out the taste is like walking around the house at night with the lights switched off. The aftertaste it leaves you with is much the same as that from other lagers. It’s strong and hangs around at the back of your mouth for a while. But not as long, or as strongly as the strong “mocne” lagers.

Is there anything to like about Lech Pils? Yes there is. The taste isn’t terrible. You can taste the ingredients, whatever they happen to be, much more so than most others. That makes it rich tasting. The bitter after taste isn’t excessively rough. And whatever your opinion on the rest of it, it’s well made enough to still be fairly easy to drink.

What is there to loath about Lech Pils? If you don’t love your lager, plenty. You won’t necessarily like it even if you do love pilsner lagers either. Sure it has a taste, but I’m not enjoying. The aftertaste it leaves you with is bad. Not terrible, just not particularly enjoyable. Why would you drink something that isn’t delicious when there’s so much choice on the shop shelves? Another complaint is how gassy it is. I could inflate a medium sized balloon with the gasses I was burping.

In summation, Lech Pils is a strong tasting, potent yet ultimately less-than-drinkable. It’s not as good as Lech Premium. If you have the choice, opt for its green-coloured sister brew. If you like strong tasting, well made lagers, you’ll like Lech Pils. This is one for the curious and the lager aficionado.

Rating: 1.8

Have you tried Lech Pils? What did you think of it? Can you offer any translations or pronunciations?

Leave your comments, opinions, requests and recommendations here please.

Beer Review: Żywiec Tatra Mocne

11 September, 2008

NEXT up from this batch of Polish beers is a can of Tatra Mocne from none other than Grupa Żywiec. The same chaps as those behind the Żywiec Polish Prized Original Beer that you can find in every off-license and supermarket in London. That beer was a perfectly adequate lager. But this is a strong “Mocne”. That pits it against the barely fit for human consumption Okocim Mocne, Dębowe Mocne and Warka Strong. To beat them, all this needs to be is better than ghastly. Here then, is a Żywiec Tatra Mocne.

Just like yesterday’s Okocim Harnas, the whole thing is covered in some sort of promotion. And again, I have little idea what’s written on it. It looks like a competition to win tickets, digital cameras and, oddly, chairs. As usual, all translations, pronunciations and opinions from Polish people are very welcome.

In the big roundel, things look a little familiar. That fellow with the hat and pipe looks a tiny bit similar to the lumberjack chap from Okocim Harnas. Am I imagining it?

Żywiec Tatra Mocne logo

There are a couple medals too. One of them has the year 1856. I don’t know what the awards are. But I’m pleased that it has them. The bottom of the can is all obscured by pictures of mountains and the promotional details. But around the top border, I’m going to take a wild guess at what it says. Does it say something about it being “strong with character”? Translators, you know what to do.

This can actually has different things printed on four ‘sides’. Unlike most others that repeat the same thing over and over again. On the ‘back’, this one has what looks like the full terms and conditions for the promotion.

Żywiec Tatra Mocne back of can

Next is the barcode ‘side’ of the can.

Żywiec Tatra Mocne barcode side of can

As well as the barcode, it has a sensibly large anti-drink-drive message. It also has all the details about the brewer. Which, it tells us, is Grupa Żywiec from Żywiec. There’s a telephone number and email address for those who need such details. They have a website address too which is www.tatra.pl. There didn’t seem to be an English language section when I checked it. What I could work out is that there’s also a regular Tatra and you can get them in bottled form too.

On the other ‘side’ of the can are the vital statistics. At least that’s what I think they are. It’s hard to be sure when you can’t understand the language.

Żywiec Tatra Mocne other side of can

First among the details is that this is the ever-popular 500ml size. Next is the only other detail I can understand; the alcoholic volume. Which appears to be 7%. Without a doubt, this is a “mocne”.

Normally, my expectations from a Polish “mocne” beer are low. Very low. But this one talks about awards and character. Will it be better than the rest? How will it taste? Should you try one? It’s time to find out.

There’s no problem with an insane head this time. Everything is under control with a layer small of froth which quickly dissipates. What you’re left with is a dark amber drink with a patch of bubbles floating on the surface.

How does it smell? Horribly artificial. This is one of the most synthetic and unpleasant smelling I’ve ever smelt. I think they were aiming to make it smell of a blend of malted barley and other beer ingredients. What they created instead was a smell of industrial cleaning fluid.

How does it taste? Almost as bad as the smell. Three gulps in, and my tongue is being assaulted by the strongest and least palatable flavours and tastes since the gone-off milk I accidentally had a few weeks ago. What hits you is a building taste of chemicals. This taste culminate in a bitter, lingering aftertaste. It lingers, seemingly forever. The whole experience is like drinking something as natural as Red Bull.

Is there anything to like about Żywiec Tatra Mocne? Well, it has bags of taste, I can give it that. It’s not too gassy. And it’s an effective means of rapidly becoming sloshed. It’s so strong that you soon forget how bad it tastes.

What are you liable to hate about Żywiec Tatra Mocne? Much of it. It has about the worst taste I’ve ever witnessed. It tastes rancid and artificial. I’ve had Tesco Value ready meals that taste more natural.

To sum up, Żywiec Tatra Mocne is strong yet synthetic and horrifyingly bad. Try it if you must, but you can easily choose something better. If you need a strong lager, then Skol Super or Carlsberg Special Brew taste marginally better, are cheaper and easier to find, and are two-percent stronger. If you want taste and drinkability, then almost every other can or bottle on the shop shelf will be better. There is no reason for you to suffer this monstrosity.

Rating: 0.7

Have you tried Żywiec Tatra Mocne? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, requests and recommendations here. And check my next post for another Polish beer.

Beer Review: Okocim Harnas

10 September, 2008

I’VE had mixed results with Polish beer. Some have been between alright and drinkable. Whilst the “Mocne” strong Polish lagers have been between terrible and revolting. The shops around here are full of them, and Polish beers are some of the most popular on the blog. So, I’ve ended up with a couple more cans of mysterious Polish beer. Mysterious, because I can’t understand anything on them. Yet here is the first of this batch of Polish beers: Harnas from Browar Okocim.

At least I recognise the name Okocim. That was the name behind the adequate Okocim and the less-than-adequate Okocim Mocne. Let’s see what they’ve cooked up in the forms of Harnas.

As always, do please leave your translations at the end of the post. Help with how to pronounce the names is always interesting too. Especially how the people who left comments after my review of Żywiec all suggested different pronunciations. Never having let a lack of talent stop me, here goes with my inevitably flawed interpretation of what’s printed on the can.

The big graphic logo features someone I think looks like a Native American Indian. But why would there be one on a can of Polish beer? Answers as to who the gentleman wielding the axe and wearing the big hat is, in the comments at the end of the post please.

I can’t fault the look of the thing. It all looks very trendy and up to date. I’m also guessing that this can is featuring a promotion or competition. Perhaps won by some writing under the wring pull. As usual, I have no idea. It does look exciting though.

On one ‘side’ of the can is some interesting looking writing. But what does it say? It could be the vital statistics.

Okocim Harnas info side of can

The 500 ml is unmistakable. This does look like the regular big size of can, after all. There’s also that sensible anti-drink-drive symbol I remember seeing on other Polish beers.

Above all of those is a block of Polish language writing. This is going to be tricky. Fortunately, the first thing written isn’t. It looks like the alcoholic volume, which is a rather high 5.7%. That must be about as high as it can go without becoming a “Mocne”.

Much of the rest of that block of text I can’t understand. Except for the last couple of parts. The “producent” appears to be the somewhat famous Carlsberg Polska. That’s one of those names that keeps turning up. At least it makes a change from InBev. Under that is what must be the place it comes from. Which appears to be Warszawa. Somewhere we know better as Warsaw.

That wasn’t the only ‘side’ of writing. There’s another. And this one looks much more boring.

Okocim Harnas barcode side of can

This side seems to have the terms and conditions of the promotion. Whatever that promotion happens to be. It does give a web address though. And that address is www.piwoharnas.pl. Going there doesn’t answer many questions. I couldn’t find an English language section, and it plays annoying background sound-effects. I’m none the wiser about the chap printed on the front either. He’s everywhere on the website, and television advertisements apparently. Is he supposed to be a traditional Polish lumberjack?

Elsewhere on this ‘side’ of the can are a few other tiny details. One of which is the information line if you want to give them a call. That’s all I can say about the outside of the can. Time to open the can and answer some questions. Questions like have I won any prizes? What sort of beer is it? What does it taste like? I’ve literally no idea. Let’s draw some uninformed opinions.

If you pour it, watch out for that head. It fizzes up a treat, but the downside is, it takes half-a-dozen pours to make it fit into a pint glass. It does settle down to a reasonable layer of froth after a few minutes though. The impressiveness of the head isn’t quite matched by the liquid. It’s plain old amber, although not as anaemic as some.

It smells…. okay. You get a decent whiff of a lagery blend of things. I can make out some malted barley and perhaps some other things. But without an ingredients list (that I can understand), I’m at a loss to make much more sense of it. Either way, it’s not too strong, bad, or weak smelling. It smells generic and beer-y.

But how does it taste? A couple of gulps in, and it’s not bad. But not great either. I’m getting lagery tastes, but not terrible ones. The flavour is a fairly pleasant blend of malted barley. Then the “bite” rolls in. A few more gulps in, and that aftertaste is fast becoming nauseating. It’s not a particularly strong bitterness. Rather it’s the way it just lingers and lingers at the back of your mouth. About two-thirds of the way through, and any hint of flavour is a distant memory. Everything is now dominated by that lingering, bitter aftertaste. A “bite” that won’t let go.

If you buy this beer, what will you like about it? Well, if you like strong lager, you might like the “bite”. You might like how strong it is. You might like the hints of flavour. And you might like the lingering bitter aftertaste. To it’s credit, it isn’t at all gassy.

On the other hand, there are things you probably won’t like about it. The flavour and taste for example. Similar results can be achieved by placing a sweaty sock in your mouth. Also, if you happen to be a fan of strong, foul tasting lagers, you’ll be disappointed by how hard it is to find in the shops of United Kingdom.

To sum up, Okocim Harnas is a strong, foul tasting lager. Its redeeming feature is its strength, which eventually numbs you to the taste. It’s downsides are the way it tastes. Which is kind of important for a drink. Buy it if you want to wake up with a ghastly taste in your mouth.

Rating: 1.35

Have you tried Okocim Harnas? What did you think of it? What reputation does it have in Poland? And can you translate anything on the can or bottle?

Do please leave your corrections, translations, opinions, thoughts, recommendations and requests here. And check my next post for another can of Polish beer.

Beer Review: Keo Premium Beer

8 September, 2008

HAVE you ever tried a Cypriot beer? I haven’t. That’s why this little bottle from Cyprus caught my eye in one of the thousands of international mini-marts in Bethnal Green.

It’s not the most attractive looking bottles on the market. But it looks cheerful enough. Let’s start in the usual place with the neck label.

Usually, when a brewer has won an award, they hide it away. There might be some small medals printed somewhere. Or perhaps a reference to it being ‘award winning’. But I’ve never seen a bottle that puts so much emphasis on one award it won over twenty years ago. Yet that’s exactly what Keo Premium Beer does with its “Golden Award Brew ’87 UK”. It really does take pride of place. Up here on the neck label, we learn that it won the “Gold Medal for Excellence Brewing International Awards”. We also learn that this is “Cold Filtered”. I hope that’s a good thing.

The front label may not be classy. It doesn’t bring centuries of heritage from monastic beginnings. But I do like how cheerful and Cypriot it all is.

Keo Premium Beer front label

For a start, there’s enough Cyrillic text to convince you of its origins. There’s a meaningless crest made out of hops. And the “Golden Award” proves that they are trying ever so hard.

Elsewhere, they describe it as “Cyprus Exclusive Quality Beer”. And in the middle of the roundel, they proudly announce that Keo was “Brewed on the Island of Cyprus”. And that’s good news. It means that it’s imported, and, hopefully, not brewed in Luton or Edinburgh like so many others.

Happily, the back label is half Cyrillic and half English. It doesn’t do much else though. It’s not what you would call over laden with detail.

Keo Premium Beer back label

Most prominent are those vital statistics. The bottle is the standard 33 cl. And the alcoholic volume is a moderate 4.5%.

In the English half of the description, they go with “KEO is an exceptional lager beer, traditionally brewed and matured, bottled fresh and unpasteurized, to retain its natural flavour, aroma and freshness”. Helpful or vague and meaningless? Leave your opinion in the comments at the end of the post. Personally, I’m none the wiser about what to expect. It does sound good though.

For those who really must know, it contains water, malt, maize and hops. There’s no need to worry about those tiresome units of alcohol either. That’s because there are none. At least not any printed on the label. Lastly from the label is that oh-so welcome confirmation of where Keo came from. Not only is it a “product of Cyprus”, but it gives the Cyprus addressed it was brewed in as somewhere called Limassol.

What do I expect from Keo Premium Beer? Not that much. Coming from the European part of the Mediterranean, it’s up against Latin competition from Damm Estrella, Peroni and Peroni Nastro Azzurro. None of which are much good. Sure, they were competent enough. But if you had the choice, you’d choose the wine from those countries instead. Expectations are low then, as I crack open the bottle to discover how it tastes.

The head needs a few small pours before you’ve filled the glass enough to drink. It dies down to a decent layer of froth, but watch out for it when you pour. It doesn’t smell to bad for a lager. Sure, it has the same malted barley blended smell as every other lager. But it get’s the strength and richness right.

How does it taste? Not bad. Lots of the lagers I’ve tried recently have no flavour, then hit you with a rough bitterness. Keo Premium Beer does it differently. It delivers the bitter “bite” almost right from the start all the way through to the lingering aftertaste. It’s leaving a fuzzy tanginess in my mouth. That taste also seems a little more flavourful than most. Maybe it’s the maize? That’s an ingredient I don’t see listed much elsewhere. The taste isn’t particularly strong, but you certainly can’t accuse it of being weak and tasteless. I’m going to describe it as rich but not too strong or harsh.

There are a few things I’m enjoying about Keo Premium Beer. The way it delivers the taste is different to any lager I can remember trying. The Keo take on the familiar lager blend is surprisingly tasty and drinkable. There does seem to be a bit of arable flavour mixed in with the familiar lager “bite”. I’m about two thirds of the way through the bottle now, and it all seems very drinkable and competently put together. For a lager.

What of the downsides? Well, it is gassy. I can tell that from all of the burping. Then there’s the flavour. Yes, I am enjoying it. But it is lingering and strong enough to stop it from being crisp and refreshing. Much more than a couple of bottles, and your mouth will start to feel very unpleasant indeed.

To sum up, Keo Premium Beer is a surprisingly full-flavoured and drinkable lager. I hope Keo make ales. I think they’d be good at it. As it is, this lager does a good, competent job of being drinkable. That said, it is still a lager, so if you want real flavour from a bottle of beer, there is much else to choose from. If you’re on holiday or doing a stint with the Armed Forces in Cyprus, Keo will provide more than acceptable refreshment.

Rating: 2.8

Have you tried Keo Premium Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.

Beer Review: Brahma Premium Lager

6 September, 2008

THE next big-name bottled lager falls into the Latin-world category. That’s because this stunningly good looking bottle is Brahma, all the way from Brazil.

Being what it is, it’s immediately in competition with the likes of Sol and Corona Extra. It looks a bit like them too. Does anyone know if there’s a reason why beer from South-America all seem to have clear glass and a bright, cheerful look?

Brahma goes a step further. If Cola-Cola bottles look like women, this bottle of Brahma is so curvy, it looks like a woman dancing. This is one curvy, and stylish looking bottle.

Enough salivating over the looks. It’s substance that matters. And this one has all the details in a wrap-around neck label.

Brahama neck label 1Brahama neck label 2Brahama neck label 3

It’s hard to know where to look first. Everything is in a good looking jumble. In the absence of any order, I’ll call out the details as I see them.

“Desde 1888” probably means “Est” or “Since” 1888. So the Brahma name has some history to it. They describe it as “Premium Lager” which puts it firmly in the mainstream. And Brahma seems to come from Rio De Janeiro. Since it has that printed on the label. I must say, this is one of the hardest to read labels out there. The microscopic text printed in various combinations of shiny on matt and vice-versa makes it almost impossible.

Persevering, I can tell you that this is the ever popular 33 centilitre bottle. And that the lager within is a nearly strong 4.8%. It also contains malted barley. But then I discover some disappointing news. Brahma Premium Lager wasn’t imported from Brazil at all. Instead, it was “brewed in the UK to the authentic Brasilian recipe” by brewing giant InBev in Luton. Yes, Luton is Britain’s answer to Rio De Janeiro. It’s where I would have picked, too.

If there is any more information written on the label, I can’t see it. The way this one was printed and designed, there could well be more to read. I just don’t have a magnifying glass to hand. So without further ado, it’s time to crack open this bottle. What will it taste like? And how will it compare to its competitors? Keep your expectations low.

There is absolutely no head. Something that makes pouring it very easy. Not that you’ll want to. At 330 millilitres, it will be a little too much for just a half-pint glass like mine. In the glass, it’s a nice shade of amber. It certainly looks better than the anaemic yellow you find with lots of other lagers.

How does it smell? Does it even have a smell? Yes it does. Just about. You can barely make out the same blend of malted barley and hops that you get with virtually every other lager. It’s ok for a lager I suppose. Just don’t compare it to an ale.

How does it taste? A couple of gulps in, and this is a lot like its South-American competitors. There’s barely any malted barley flavour before that familiar lagery “bite” kicks in. That aftertaste “bite” is about the only thing you’ll notice.

Is there anything to like about Brahma Premium Lager? There is. But only if you like lager. Lager fans will enjoy how light and easy to drink it is. They will also relish that lagery “bite”. It’s also possible that they will like how few different flavours and tastes there are in Brahma. It is smooth though. I’ll give it that.

As you’ve probably guessed, there’s a lot I’m not enjoying here. A lot of which is down to it being a lager. A fact which renders my criticisms unfair. But which I intend to vent nonetheless. To start with, there’s no flavour to speak of. Then there’s the bitter “bite” that is simply too rough.

To sum up, Brahma Premium Lager is a lager. If you like big-name lagers, this is a perfectly good example. By all means, try it. If, however, you like flavour and some level of depth, look elsewhere. If you accidentally pick up a bottle of this instead of Sol or Corona Extra, well, then you probably won’t notice any difference.

Rating: 2.25

Have you tried Brahma Premium Lager? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, translations, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations here.

Beer Review: Amstel Bier Lager

5 September, 2008

HOW do you follow up two, fine bottled ales? With some big name lager of course! Here is a small bottle of Amstel Bier Lager. Let’s get this over with.

Amstel is a name I remember being aware of for years. Then not seeing for years. And just recently seeing advertised on posters again before finding this bottle being sold in a local shop. If it really has been resurrected here in Britain, then that is good to see. If anyone can shed some light on what happened to Amstel, do please leave a comment at the end of the post.

In fairness, it doesn’t look at all bad. It certainly makes a change from all the green-glass bottles from its competitors.

The neck label doe what you expect of a neck label. It has a coat of arms featuring two horses, hops and barley. And the year 1870. Not bad. Not great either.

Amstel Bier Lager front label

The big roundel stuck to the front of the bottle does roughly the same thing. Inside the roundel, they helpfully describe it as “Quality Product”. That’s good to know. Around the border, the place of origin becomes the centre of attention. Amstel Bier hails from the “Amstel Brouwerij B.V. Amsterdam Holland”. Time now to check the back to see if this is the real thing, or in fact made over here.

Amstel Bier Lager back label

They certainly keep things simple on this side of the bottle. This should take all of two-minutes to read. Which makes a change from the four hours it took to read everything yesterday.

From the very top, my big question was answered. That’s because this was “brewed and bottled by Amstel Brouwerij B.V. for Heineken (UK) Ltd.” It then goes on to give Heiniken’s south-west London address. So… This was brewed in the Netherlands. Excellent.

Ingredients are the next thing they get to. This one lists water, malted barley and hops. No surprises there. Under some of the usual small print, the web address they give is www.ChilledfromAmsterdam.com. At first I hated their website for being slow and Flash heavy, but stick with it. It’s quirky in a Dutch way and has some personality. Not something you find with most big, continental lagers.

Under the barcode are the vital statistics. This tiny bottle is 330 millilitres. And it has huge 4.1% alcoholic volume. Hang on, ‘huge’ was the wrong word. ‘Moderate’ is the one I’m looking for.

There. That’s it. There’s nothing more to say about the outside. Time now to open this bottle and see what it’s like. How will it compare to the lacklustre competition I tried out a while back?

Watch out pourers, this is a head happy bottle. It dies down soon enough, but you’ll still have a thick layer of froth to contend with.

Like nearly every lager, this one is pale yellow. And fizzy. No surprises there.

What about the smell? It has that small of a blend of malted barley and hops that all lagers have. The Amstel take on it is pretty good. It smells light and fresh somehow.

How does it taste? A couple of gulps in, and first impressions are ok. Just keep your expectations low. It has an almost invisible malted barley flavour. And it leaves you with a lingering bitter aftertaste. That bitter aftertaste rolls in, and leaves a semi-harsh, slightly tangy bite in your mouth.

What is there to like here? As someone who likes ales, not a lot. But if I imagine for a moment, that I loved lager, there are a few things to like. For one, it is very light and drinkable. It’s quite refreshing too. The flavours won’t offend anyone. And that lagery “bite” that lager drinkers seem to adore is there and doing its job perfectly well. The whole drink does what a lager should do, very well indeed.

If you’re guessing that there are things I don’t like, you’d be right. The reason it’s so light and drinkable, is because it’s got the consistency of water. Flavour is almost totally absent. And that bitter “bite” doesn’t sit well with me at all. It’s unsophisticated and unnecessarily rough. It’s also a tiny bit gassy. But then it is a lager. So all this criticisms don’t really apply.

If you compare it to all the other lagers out there, especially the other Dutch or northern-European ones, the picture changes. Amstel Bier suddenly looks light, drinkable and good.

So there you have it. If you like continental lagers, you should try Amstel Bier Lager. It’s a fully competent lager. Compare it to a real ale, and it looks laughable. Compare it to other lagers, and it looks respectable. The rating then, becomes meaningless. But, here it is anyway.

Rating: 2.25

Have you tried Amstel Bier Lager? What did you think of it? What reputation does it have in the Netherlands?

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

Coming next, another bottled lager I don’t expect to enjoy!

Beer Review: Fuller’s 1845

4 September, 2008

FULLER’S do seem to make very good bottled ales. Fuller’s London Pride Premium Ale was very good and their ESB Champion Ale was outstanding. I was excited then, to find a bottle of Fuller’s 1845 in a west-London shop.

This one looks special. I’m hoping that it is. Time to look closer and figure out what makes it so special.

The bottle itself doesn’t give anything away. That’s because it’s the same black bottle they use for every other beer. That means it has embossed upon it, phrases like “Family Brewery”. And “Estd 1845”. Maybe that’s a clue as to the origins of the name? Lets read on.

The neck label is always a good place to start. As well as the griffin bearing Fuller’s of Chiswick logo is a clue. And the words “Matured for 100 days” is it. That sounds impressive and significant to me. But I want more facts. What will the big front roundel reveal?

Fuller’s 1845 front label

Quite a lot by the look of it. The gold border says “Celebrating 150 Years of Brewing Excellence”. And around the bottom part of the border, we’re informed that this is an “Award Winning Strong Ale”. Both of those facts are things that I like. Especially as there aren’t nearly enough strong bottled ales out there.

Inside the roundel, the year “1845” takes centre stage, as does the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery of Chiswick logo. But, also catching your eye is that “100 days”. Printed right on the front is “Bottle Conditioned Ale Matured to Perfection for 100 Days”. That’s more time than any other I’ve seen. It even puts the magnificent Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer’s 77 days in the shade. In a world where everything is manufactured in colossal quantities, and as rapidly as can be gotten away with, 100 days of brewing is stupendous. That, together with the live-ness from the bottle conditioning and the 6.3% alcoholic volume are going to make this a formidable ale. I hope your mouth is watering at the thought of this, too.

The back label is tall, and full of very small writing.

Fuller’s 1845 back label

But it quickly starts offering more reasons for you to like this bottled ale. In one of the corners, a little symbol tells us that “CAMRA says this is Real Ale”. Which is reassuring. In the big block of writing, they tell us that “1845” was first made in 1995, and has since won lots of awards, including “two gold medals at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival”. You just know that those guys know their beer, so those are two awards that mean something. Not like the so-called medals festooning some continental bottles.

They then go on to talk about the “fruit cake aroma”. That it is “complex, yet smooth” with “mellow flavours”, all of which are attributed to the mind blowing length of time they leave it to mature for, and the Amber Malt and Goldings hops. They also suggest that it goes well with rich food like game. Sadly, my spaghetti bolognaise ready meal will have to do. Interestingly, they say that you should really keep the bottle stored upright in a cool dark place, and pour it carefully. My one out of three isn’t bad. At least I kept it cool.

Quickly rushing through the small print now because I want to try this drink. It was brewed by Fuller Smith & Turner at the Griffin Brewery. As usual, the full London address is there if you want to get in touch. They’re keen to let you know about their other beers and ale club at their website, which is www.fullers.co.uk. It contains malted barley, and this 500 millilitre bottle, at a strong 6.3% comes in at 3.2 UK units of alcohol. Which is more than most. You won’t need much before you start feeling the effects.

Did I miss anything? I hope not because I want to open it. What will it be like? How will it compare to other strong ales? Do I think you should buy it? It’s time to find out.

With all the advice on the label to treat it as carefully as Nitroglycerine, I was surprised to find it had almost no head at all. Moments after the photo, all that was left was a patch of bubbles, and some around the rim. All that careful pouring for nothing.

It certainly looks substantial enough. It’s a very dark brown. But a shade lighter than stout or dark ale.

It smells potent too. Put your nose anywhere near the top of the glass, and you’ll see what I mean. It has an intense smell of… something. The label says “fruit cake”. To me, it smells, intensely of malted barley and lots of other things. Two things are certain; it smells intense and complex.

But how does it taste? A couple of gulps into this deep, thick ale, and it tastes just like how it smells. That is to say, intense and complex. To try and start from the beginning, what are the flavours? That’s very hard to say without sounding like a wine taster. It’s sort of biscuity, malty, hoppy and other things besides. It’s complex, and interwoven so tightly, I’m having trouble identifying any of it.

If I can’t describe the flavour, what about the aftertaste? It’s much the same. Those flavours blend smoothly into a hoppy, bitter aftertaste that lingers for a while.

If I can’t describe the flavour or the taste, can I at least describe the character of the drink? Now that I can do. Fuller’s 1845 sums up what full-bodied, richly flavoured and all-round delicious ales should be about. I’m about half-way through now, and that flavour and taste is still no clearer to me. That’s the sort of complexity you want from an ale. It’s not only as rich as fruit cake, but smooth too. The flavours are strong, but never too strong. You can even describe them as “mellow” like the label does. And they change seamlessly into the hoppy, bitter, aftertaste. None of them ever seem too strong. And you certainly can’t accuse it of being weak. Lastly, I’ve hardly burped at all, so you can’t even level the complaint of gassiness.

Are there downsides? I like a beer to take risks in the pursuit of greatness. That’s exactly what 1845 does. But doing so inevitably incurs problems. That hoppy bitterness does come in gently, but it ‘balloons’ before easing off and lingering. Lots of you will like the way it does that, but it was a bit strong for poor old me. And that strong bitterness is going to be too much for a lot of other people too. Then there’s the flavour and taste itself. It feels like it’s been sanded and polished so much, there’s little sign of the barley and hop flavours you get elsewhere. Lastly, you’ve got the problems of finding, and affording such an exclusive bottle. I got it purely by chance.

To sum up, Fuller’s 1845 is excellent. If you like strong, interesting ales, you will probably enjoy this. It offers virtually everything. Theo whole experience reminds me a lot of the other strong ales out there. Have a look for Broughton Old Jock, Maximus Strong Premium Ale and Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale for something vaguely similar if you can’t find 1845 sold anywhere near you. Not for the faint hearted, and not the strongest either, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Fuller’s 1845? What did you think of it?

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

Beer Review: Duchy Originals Organic Ale

3 September, 2008

TODAY, I’m testing something from pro-organic, anti-GM “fanatic” and future British Monarch, Prince Charles. One of his very own Duchy Originals range, here is an expensive £2.36 pence bottle of Duchy Originals Organic Ale.

On the outside, it all looks much as you’d expect. That is to say, traditional, exclusive and expensive. And, of course, organic. From a distance, you might expect to see something like this being sold by a local farmer at a county fair. But the crest on that neck label together with that “Duchy Originals” name promptly correct your mistake.

The big front label is equally sparse, yet classy and all the better for it.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale front label

It’s almost all plain white background. But that’s easily forgiven. The whole Duchy Originals concept isn’t what you’d call loud or marketing led. Literally, within three seconds, I went from having hardly heard of Duchy Originals to immediately understanding that this is all about quality organic product. That’s how effective the front label is.

Why have lots of big graphics? Totally unnecessary when you can place a lavish illustration of some hops in the centre. And where most would have a fake crest or coat of arms as a logo, this has the real thing. It has the genuine, royal Duchy of Cornwall coat of arms. In a sea of fake heritage, this is worth something.

Under this big picture of hops is some information that will be the selling point for some people. That’s because some of the barley in this ale will have come from the Prince’s own Home Farm at Highgrove. Under that is another selling point for people who wouldn’t normally think of buying bottled ale. Charitable consumers will be delighted to learn that profits from Duchy Originals Organic Ale are donated to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Good stuff indeed.

The same can’t be said for the originality of the vital statistics. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the ale within is a yawn-worthy 5%.

The back label is crammed full of information. There’s almost no blank space here. And the some of the writing is tiny. So we’re not here all night, I’ll run through all the important points quickly.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale back label

They describe it as having been brewed “the traditional way”. The malt is made from Plumage Archer barley, whatever that is. And that all comes from selected organic farms, including Home Farm at Highgrove. The describe it as having a ruby colour, being rich and having a balanced bitter flavour.

Then they go off on a description of the background of Duchy Originals. For the curious, it came about in 1990 when HRH The Prince of Wales decided that organic farming was the way to go. This is happens to be one of the results. They even have a slogan to go with it: “Uncompromisingly Good Food”. Goodness knows I could do with some of that. That diet of ready meals and crisps isn’t doing me much good.

The organic credentials are not at all in doubt. There’s a great big “Organic Certification” box from the Soil Association. And there’s a line in tiny italic text saying that the organic standards aim to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. It plays on it’s organic-ness almost as much as River Cottage Stinger or Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale. But fortunately, not as loudly.

It contains barley malt. As does every other beer on the market. It’s suitable for vegetarians. And, for the terminally cautious, it contains 2.5 UK units of alcohol. They even have a very good website at www.duchyoriginals.com. Everyone is fully accounted for. Aren’t they?

There is something on the back label that is bothering me. You see, Duchy Originals came up with the recipe, but they didn’t brew it. That job came down to Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery. The one and only Wychwood I’ve reviewed was the respectably drinkable Hobgoblin Ruby Beer. With them describing it as ruby in colour, I’m wandering if this won’t be almost exactly the same as Hobgoblin. It would be no bad thing if it is. But I want Duchy Originals Organic Ale to be something special. Will it be? Let’s find out.

The explosion of foam took me by surprise. I’m not sure if it was because the bottle was shaken, or if it’s supposed to froth out over the top of the bottle. Either way, it took some swift action to get what was left into the glass before my counter got covered with any more spilled beer. After all that, the head you see in the photo only lasted half a minute. As I write, it’s disappeared into a few odd groups of bubbles.

It certainly looks ruby in colour. It looks like it will be very dark and rich. The smell backs up that theory. It smells, strongly, of hops and malted barley. But the way they both blend together makes it smell like a field of mixed arable crops. Organic of course.

A couple of gulps in, and I’d forgotten just how strong and full of flavour good ale is. The flavour is malty and hoppy. And that flavour eases smoothly into a hoppy aftertaste. It is exceptionally rich. The flavour is strong. As is the bitterness which is tangy and lingering. When whole recipe seems different to a lot of other ales. It reminds me of Hobgoblin Ruby Beer so I’m going to guess that it could be what they call a Ruby style ale.

There’s a lot for the ale fan to enjoy about Duchy Originals Organic Ale. For a start, it has that distinctive ruby flavour. That blend of malted barley and hops is delicious. And the transition to the lingering hoppy bitterness is smooth. All this makes it rich, full bodied and drinkable. It ticks all the boxes then for an exemplary ale?

Not quite. At least not by my taste buds. Probably because I’m not a Ruby style fanatic, that blend of flavours seems… what’s the word? Narrow. As if it’s missing some of the unexpected oddness that makes other types of ale so interesting. Then there’s the lingering bitterness. I know a lot of you love a strong bitterness. This one is well balanced, that’s for sure. But for me, that bitterness is just a little harsh for my liking. But that is a minor niggle. As is the slight gassiness.

Overall, Duchy Originals Organic Ale is a super-high-quality ruby style ale. The flavour and taste, in fact everything to do with the recipe is strong and excellent. There are some things that weren’t to my liking, but if you like British ales and interesting beers, this is one to try. If for no other reason, then for the novelty value of this being an organic Duchy Original product with some of the ingredients possibly from Prince Charles, HRH The Prince of Wales’ very own farm. If you like your flavours to be very easy to drink though, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4.175

Have you tried Duchy Originals Organic Ale? Or any other drinks from the Duchy? What did you think of them?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations below. Thank you.

Beer Review: Švyturys Ekstra Draught

2 September, 2008

THE last bottle to come from Kalinka sees the return of a familiar Eastern-European name. Do you remember my look at the high-quality yet ultimately bland Lithuanian beer, Švyturys Ekstra? No? Then click on the link and have a read. Because this, is it’s pricier and inadequately labelled cousin: Švyturys Ekstra Draught.

For £2.00, you might expect an even classier look than regular Ekstra. And that’s what it has. But at the expense of the labels. You won’t find any detailed historical descriptions. Nor information about awards won. Or even web address of www.svyturys.lt. None of which would fit on the tiny, foil, neck wrap around label.

But none of that matters. Because the embossed Švyturys logo, shield and other bits and pieces are some of the best you’ll find.

Švyturys Ekstra Draught front of bottle

It doesn’t show up very well in a photo. But believe me, it looks impressive. Not to mention the tactile quality this work adds to a bottle. It may not be to the insane extremes of bottles of Cobra beer, but the it sports all manner of moulded glass objects. The big, impressive, shield is there. As is the eagle. The year “1784”. And images of hops and barley. It doesn’t say very much. But then it doesn’t need to.

The front of the neck foil doesn’t add much either.

It gives away enough for you to make the connection between this bottle and that of regular Švyturys Ekstra. It’s clear enough that this is called “Draught”. Although the girl behind the till couldn’t see the difference between the two. The small, gold roundel isn’t big enough to make any sense of what look like medals though. You’ll need to look elsewhere to figure out what they are. It does help you learn that “Alus” means “Beer” however. And that’s useful to know.

Over on the back of the neck foil, and everything is a jumble. Partly because there’s hardly a trace of English. Partly because it’s foil and too crinkly to read in places.

There is enough though to learn that this 0.5L bottle has the respectable alcoholic volume of 5.2%. And that its ingredients include water, malted barley, rice and hops. Besides that, there’s practically nothing else on there to read.

Švyturys Ekstra Draught then, is a bottle that’s virtually insisting that you drink it instead of reading it. So let’s do just that. Will it succeed where regular Švyturys Ekstra failed? Will it have flavour and taste? What will it be like? And will it be that rarest of things; an Eastern-European beer I can wholeheartedly recommend? I hope so. Let’s pour.

Watch out for that head. It’s perfectly manageable, but you’ll need to go carefully to fit it all in your pint glass. After a couple of minutes, the foamy head dies down to thin blotchy layer. Not great, but at least it has something.

I do like the way Švyturys Ekstra Draught smells. A pleasant whiff of malted barley greets your nose. Not very strong. But not weak enough to make you question all the money you handed over for this bottle.

How does it taste? After three big gulps, I would say, quite nice. The flavour is of that malted barley. And that flavour changes, seamlessly I might add, to a lingering, bitter aftertaste. That must be the rice at work. Every beer I’ve tried that includes rice has this well-rounded flavour and balance. Then again, the word I thought was “rice” was half hidden by a crinkle in the foil.

Around a third of the way though, and what am I liking about Švyturys Ekstra Draught? And what will you like about it? Well, it is a good looking product. If people see you purchasing, and drinking it, chances are they will think you have taste. And refinement. And deep pockets. I like the way Švyturys Ekstra Draught tastes. It has a little flavour and enough taste. Something regular Švyturys Ekstra went without. Most importantly, it’s very drinkable. My bottle has been in the fridge for a few hours, so it’s cold and crisp. And not having an offensive flavour or taste, it is very easy to drink. Not too weak either.

Half-way through now, and there are a few niggles to report. I’m burping more than usual, so it must be gassy. Then there’s the flavour. It may be palatable, but there are problems. It has some flavour, but not enough, and not interesting enough for my tastes. Then the bitter aftertaste wears thin quickly. This stops it from being refreshing. And it will be too strong and too bitter for some. Lastly, we can’t ignore how expensive and hard to find Švyturys Ekstra Draught is in Britain.

To sum up, Švyturys Ekstra Draught is better than it’s cheaper, easier to find cousin Švyturys Ekstra. It’s got a stronger taste and is very drinkable. But it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Nearly at the end of the glass now, and that bitter aftertaste has become as tasty as a bar of soap. Recommended for fans of interesting European beers with a taste, and who have money to spare.

Rating: 3.1

Have you tried Švyturys Ekstra Draught? What did you think of it?

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

Beer Review: Obolon Premium

1 September, 2008

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

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

The swooping neck label looks good too.

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

The roundel is a little quirky too.

Obolon Premium front label

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

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

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

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

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

Obolon Premium back label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2.1

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

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


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