Archive for April, 2009

Beer Review: Utenos Beer Premium Lager [Alus]

30 April, 2009

STRANGE East European beers keep arriving here in the East End. Days after I get through lots of Ukrainian beer, some from Lithuania turns up. So far, the only other Lithuanian beer I’ve tried was the adequate Švyturys Ekstra and its superior cousin, Švyturys Ekstra Draught. How then, will Švyturys rival compare? From a mini-supermarket on Cambridge Heath Road, for £1.49 pence, here is a bottle of Utenos Beer. Or Utenos Alus if you prefer the Lithuanian for “beer”.

Utenos Beer/Alus bottle

What is there to say about the bottle? Not much. It’s made of glass. It has some swirly embossed lines on the shoulder and around the bottom. They make it look like someone whipped it in the factory. And this is one of those occasions when a transparent bottle is a bad idea. It’s great if your beer is dark and interesting. Not if it’s a pale yellow lager.

Utenos Beer/Alus neck label

The neck label is a no-nonsense affair. It has nothing more than what you see. Good if all you want is beer. Not so good if you want to know what sort of beer you’re looking at.

What about the main front label? It’s a big, impressive, shield.

Utenos Beer/Alus front label

The “Utenos” logo has hope and barley, and, for some reason, an upside down horse shoe. It’s proudly “Brewed In Lithuania”. It calls itself a “Premium Lager”. There are what look like medals of various kinds, but, they’re too small to read. Nearly as hard to read at the top of the shield are the vital statistics. Utenos Beer is the ubiquitous, Euro-typical 500ml, 5% alcoholic volume.

Can the back label shed some light on what makes Utenos Beer/Alus special?

Utenos Beer/Alus back label

Yes it can. And, in a badly translated way that’s missing punctuation. To save their embarrassment, the gist is that they’re proud of the traditional, years old recipe that includes water from 615 feet down. They add that it’s a refreshing beer. “Obviuosly”.

The ingredients are much what you’d expect from a beer. But you won’t be able to read them because they’re in a big block of multilingual text that’s too small.

Under that, is a big list of importers for lots of different countries. Here in Britain, the importer is the appropriately named Lithuanian Beer Ltd from not the Docklands.

Under that, there’s something saying, I think, that it should be served between 2 and 20 degree Centigrade. And, right at the bottom, is a web site address of www.utenosalus.lt. If you can’t read Lithuanian, you might get along better with the English language version at http://www.utenosalus.lt/en. I wouldn’t bother clicking the link though. Utenos has fallen into the trap of making a slow, Flash-heavy website that’s more like a television advertisement than a useful website.

Something does shock, however. Right at the bottom of their website is this: © 2009 UAB “Švyturys-Utenos alus” I could be wrong, but does that mean this is from the same brewer that’s behind the two Švyturys I tried? It looks like I’ll have to try a few more bottles of Lithuanian beer to find any true variety. Oh dear.

So, what is Utenos Beer/Alus like? Will it be like nearly every other East European lager, or will it be good and interesting? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Utenos Beer/Alus poured into a glass

In the glass, it looks much as it did in the bottle. Only with a big, frothy head; which, to its credit, is how it looks in the photos on their website.

What does it smell of? If you’ve ever smelt a lager, any lager, from anywhere in the world, you’ll recognise the blend of malted barley. This one is particularly pungent. And not in a pleasant way. It’s causing memories of Polish “Mocne” and other strong lagers to pop into my head.

So it doesn’t look impressive. And I don’t like the strong smell. But none of those things matter if it tastes good. So, how does it taste? My two first gulps aren’t crisp and refreshing ones. Utenos Beer tastes as strong and as bad as it smells.

How can I describe it? Good lagers, like the Obolon Soborne I tried a few days ago were excellent because they were crisp, clean, refreshing and easy to drink because it tastes completely natural. Utenos Beer is not many of those things. With each gulp, you’re hit with a lump of bitter malted barley that lingers. Instead of a gentle, natural taste, what you get is an onslaught of flavouring and chemicals.

It can’t all be bad. What am I enjoying about Utenos Beer/Alus? Well, the basic raw ingredients are sound. That water and some of the other ingredients in a gentler beer could be outstanding. It has lots of taste. Arguably too much taste. At least it’s not lacking in that department. I also like how it’s proudly brewed in Lithuania. Not covered in Lithuanian imagery, only to find it was actually brewed in Bedfordshire like too many are. This is genuine, and I salute it for that.

What am I not like about Utenos Beer/Alus? That taste. No wander the smell reminded me of unpleasant strong lagers. It tastes like one. And it’s not a strong lager. All of the downsides without the benefits. If you’re going to make a middle-of the-road lager, make it clean, crisp, refreshing and easy to drink. This is not many of those things. But, there are others that manage it. So why choose Utenos over them?

How can I sum up Utenos Beer? Drinking it is as unpleasant as drinking the strong lagers, but without the benefit of the actually being strong. The smell and taste are strong and synthetic. If you want to pretend that you’re drinking a super-strong lager when you’re not, this is the beer for you. If you’d rather enjoy your drink, choose something better.

Rating: 2

Have you tried Utenos Beer/Alus? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations, requests and places to buy, here in the comments.

Snack Food Review: Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments

26 April, 2009

SMITHS Scampi Flavour Fries are one of the best snacks you can buy. But, they aren’t the only flavoured corn snacks in Smiths “Savoury Selection”. Take this small bag of Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments for example.

Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments front of bag

Instead of a picture of the sea, this time the front has a picture of cows in fields. The illustration of the snack itself again looks like two pillows. And they describe it as a “Cereal Snack With Delicious Cheesy Centres”. The back of the bag is just as predictable, if informative, as the front.

Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments back of bag

It is almost exactly the same as the bag of Scampi Flavour Fries. So I won’t waste your time going over the same old details about customer service departments and boring tables of nutrition information and ingredients for this 28g bag.

How will Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments compare to the outstanding Scampi Fries? What will they taste like? I’m feeling peckish, so let’s find out.

Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments open bag close up

Funny looking, aren’t they? The best way I can describe them is trapezoidal corn lumps. I feel the urge to use them as packaging materials the next time I sell something on eBay. These have the added benefit that unlike some other snacks, your fingers won’t get covered in grease and dust flavouring.

What are they like to eat? They are a crunchy snack. But the inside is a surprise. Inside the crunchy corn exterior, is a cool, soft and cheese flavoured interior.

Do they taste of cheese? Yes, but in the same artificial way that “strawberry” flavoured things taste of what manufacturers think strawberries taste like. That is to say, not realistically.

What do I like about Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments? I like the strange combination of crunch and cool, soft cheesy bit. You just don’t expect it. I like that they aren’t greasy or too salty. And the flavour is okay.

What don’t I like about Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments? That taste. There’s something not right about it. Cheese doesn’t taste like this. It tastes flavoured.

Unlike the Scampi Fries, they’re just not as fun, and they taste like flavoured corn. Sure, they are perfectly adequate, but why would you choose this over something tastier? In conclusion, Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments are fine, but not yummy enough to be a favourite.

Have you tried Smiths Cheese Flavoured Moments? What did you think of them?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations, requests and places to buy in the comments.

Beer Review: Obolon Velvet

24 April, 2009

OBOLON Soborne wasn’t the only mysterious Ukrainian beer I picked up from North-London’s Kołos Supermarket. Here is a £1.39 pence bottle of Obolon Velvet.

Obolon Velvet bottle

There’s no English writing anywhere on it. There’s no importer sticker on it. But, unlike Soborne, there are clues out there this time. Even if Ukrainian food and drink importer Gary Magan didn’t import this bottle, he has it on his Obolon page at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm called “Deep Velvet”. And I’m glad he does. The official Obolon website has a page about it, in English at http://www.obolon.com/en/production/beer/7/ where they call it “Velvet”. So this time, we have not just a name, but a proper description too! How different is this to the enigmatic Soborne experience?

Obolon Velvet neck label

The neck label is indecipherable again. It says something about Ukrainian beer and some medals. But the real thing to look at is the colour. It’s a green glass bottle, but look how it changes when it reaches the beer. On the outside at least, it looks like the colour of black ink.

Obolon Velvet front label

The front label is the same shape as the other Obolons such as Soborne and Premium. And, like Soborne, it has no English. But, we can figure out what the alcoholic volume is. Either by reading one of the websites I mentioned above, or deciphering the Cyrillic that tells us this has an impressive 5.3% alcoholic volume.

Like the other Obolon’s, the back label makes as much sense as an electric car in the countryside.

Obolon Velvet back label

Ukrainian translators, if you can read anything on the label, do please leave your translations at the end of this post. About the only things I can make out at the 0.5L bottle volume and the official Ukrainian language web address at www.obolon.ua.

Normally at this point with a bottle of Obolon, or pretty much any other strange East-European bottle, would be to crack it open and say “gosh, this is unexpected”. Not this time though. The official website describes it as “It is dark beer. It has a nice sweetish flavour of caramel malt.”

Gary Magan goes even further describing it as “Ukrainian high quality dark beer, is classically brewed to the original recipe from selected hops, malt, fermenting yeast and pure spring water. Special brewing technology brings this beer dense, smooth, deep velvet texture with rich malt and caramel flavour.” That sounds delicious. And different from the usual East-European lagery beers that make over here. In the comments on this blog, people are always going on about how good the East European dark beers, porters and stouts are. But I’ve never had the chance to try them. Until now; thanks to Obolon Velvet.

Hopes are high for Obolon Velvet. Will it be the best Ukrainian beer I’ve tried so far? Will it be the best East European beer I’ve tried so far? It’s not impossible. Let’s see what’s it’s like.

Obolon Velvet poured into a glass

In the glass, it looks as good as you hope it would be. Sure, it froths up a bit, but it settles down quickly, leaving a consistent layer of creamy head. A head that’s a sort of brownish colour. As for the beer itself, it looks as dark as a porter or dark ale.

How does it smell? In a word, excellent. It has that roasted smell that you’ll recognise form other darker beers. I’m not skilled enough to glean more facts from the smell. Other than to say it is excellent. In a lightly hoppy and un-formidable kind of way.

What does it taste of? It tastes much the same way that it smells. It has a lightly roasted malty taste. There’s not an awful lot of flavour. But you hardly notice, because Obolon Velvet is all about the aftertaste. It has a gently bittersweet taste of roasted maltiness and a little bit of caramel.

About half-way through this bottle of Obolon Velvet now, so what am I enjoying about it? Quite a lot of things as it happens. I like how interesting and complex the taste is. I like that there’s no long bitter finish or “bite” to worry about because it is so well balanced. I like how rich, smooth and full-bodied it manages to be, without falling into the trap of being treacle. I love how drinkable Velvet is. Just like the quality bottles British ales I love so much, you can taste how natural the ingredients are and how well it’s made.

What don’t I like about Obolon Velvet? I don’t like the fact that I might never again get to enjoy it. It is not easy to buy. The bottle I bought was maybe a little more expensive than, say, bird flu. But, if you’re honest with yourself, you’d enjoy Obolon Velvet more than bird flu. If you had to nitpick, the lack of much flavour could be an issue. As could the slight gassiness that caused me to burp more than usual.

How can I sum up Obolon Velvet? It turns out that all the people who recommended the hard-to-find dark beers from East-Europe were right. If Obolon Velvet is anything to go by, the Eastern European brewers have been making interesting ales for years, without us even noticing. This is an excellent drink. Whether you’re a fan of interesting ales or intrepid explorer of unusual bottles, this is worth your time and money. If you can find it.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Obolon Velvet? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything?

Do please leave your opinions, translations, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Snack Food Review: Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce

21 April, 2009

THE last time I tried tinned mackerel fillets, they were John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce. And they were not good. The fish were fine, but John West never put enough sauce in the tin. And that made them dry and tasteless. The last time I had Princes tinned fish however, was with Princes Herring Fillets in tangy mustard and dill sauce. Had that herring been alive, it would have been swimming, thanks to the copious amount of sauce in the tin. So, what will Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce be like?

Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce front of tin

What can I say about the front of the tin? Not much. It’s 125g, the same as the John West. And there used to be a price sticker for 99 pence, until I peeled it off for this photo.

One of the sides has the address for their consumer department in Liverpool. And a web address of www.princes.co.uk. Besides that, you have to look at the back for more to read.

Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce back of tin

Not that there’s much to read here, either. There’s a recipe for mackerel pasta salad. There’s something about how good Omega 3 is for you. There’s a reassuringly brief list of ingredients where mackerel is 70% of the contents. There’s the big list of nutrition information that no one ever reads, which says it has lots of protein and fat. And that this is a product of Denmark.

So, are Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce better than the Jon West effort? Is this the snack you should buy? Let’s find out.

Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce open tin

First impressions are good. The mackerel fillets are practically floating in sauce. And in a bowl, you get two big, solid pieces of fish and plenty of sauce.

They are as tasty as they look, as well. The tomato sauce isn’t spectacular. But it serves its purpose. The fish is excellent, easily breaking into fork sized chunks. Together, they work brilliantly.

What do I like about Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce? I like that it fixes what was wrong about the John West mackerel fillets. The fish quality is just as good, but Princes, again, remembered to put in enough sauce. This stops it from being the dry, tasteless experience the John West was. I also like how it doesn’t fall into the trap of being too salty, like Princes Herring Fillets were.

What don’t I like about Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce? At 99 pence, they were a little on the expensive side from the off-license I bought them from. The sauce isn’t exactly inspired, either. Besides that, there’s little to complain of.

How can I sum up Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce? For their sheer easy of snacking, they have to go to at least near the top of the tinned fish leader board. Better than the extraordinarily salty Princes Herring Fillets, not as dry as John West Mackerel Fillet, they are roughly on a par with the excellent John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce. This is a very, very good snack food.

Have you tried Princes Mackerel Fillets in a rich tomato sauce? What did you think of them? Do you work for Princes? Then do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the comments.

Beer Review: Obolon Soborne [OБoлoнь CоБорне]

20 April, 2009

REVOLTING Polish alcopop, Karmi, wasn’t the only bottle I picked up from Stoke Newington’s Kołos Supermarket recently. I couldn’t turn down the chance to try a couple more bottles of Ukrainian “Obolon” (OБoлoнь in Cyrillic) beer. The last one I tried was Obolon Premium imported by Gary Magan & Co.. I didn’t like it, but Gary Magan himself left a comment persuading me to try more. So here I am with a couple more bottles. The first of which is a bit of a puzzle.

Obolon Soborne bottle

It isn’t mentioned on Gary Magan’s page of imported Obolon beers at http://www.garymagan.co.uk/obolon/beer_obolon.htm. It’s not mentioned on Obolon’s official website of beer that they produce for export at http://www.obolon.com/en/production/beer/. It doesn’t even have an import sticker on it. Come to think about it, unlike Obolon Premium, there’s not a word of English on it. What’s the story behind this bottle and how did it get here? Leave a comment if you can shed some light on it.

Obolon Soborne neck label

With virtually no web search results to go on, even figuring out the name was a challenge. CоБорне, I think, transliterates to Soborne. If you know who or what a “Soborne” is, then you know where to leave your translations.

As for the rest of the neck label, there’s what look like medals. And the words say something about beer and Ukraine.

Obolon Soborne front label

Just like the neck-label, it’s interesting and un-translated. Unlike the Obolon Premium I tried a while back, there are no English words whatsoever. Luckily, that’s not an issue, because there are hardly any words at all. The most important detail on this intricate and quirky label is the alcoholic volume, which, I think, is 4.9%.

Will the back label clear up any of the mystery surrounding this enigmatic bottle?

Obolon Soborne back label

No. The back label doesn’t provide any answers. At least not English language ones. Ukrainian translators, this is where I need your help most of all.

About the only details I could figure out were the bottle size and the web address. This, as you’ve probably guessed, is your typical 0.5L bottle. And the Ukrainian website they’ve printed on the label is at www.obolon.ua. If however, the website at that address makes as much sense as the labels you’ve just seen, then go to their English language version at http://www.obolon.com/en/.

The upshot of having almost nothing I can understand on the outside of the bottle, is that I get to the fun bit quicker. What sort of beer is Soborn? Will I like it? If you like mysterious Ukrainian beer, should you try it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Obolon Soborne poured into a glass

It’s a light amber colour. It has a thick layer of foam for a head. And it smells of a pleasant blend of malted barley. Only a suspicion this, but Obolon Soborne might just be a lager.

A couple of gulps in, and I might be right. Obolon Soborne is almost certainly a lager. So what is it like?

As you’d expect from a lager, there is no flavour. But it does have taste. And not a bad one. It’s sister, Obolon Premium put me right off with too much bitterness. But Soborne is so much easier on the tongue. There’s a light, gentle bittersweet aftertaste. It rolls in gently, and leaves your mouth equally gracefully.

A few gulps into Obolon Soborne now, so what am I enjoying about it? More that I expected. This cold glass of lagery style beer is clean, crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to make a lager style beer, make it be all these things. Otherwise, only people who leave angry comments on blogs will like it. Because it is light, clean, crisp and refreshing, and because it has no offensively bitter “bite”, it is very easy to drink. It’s not too gassy. And, at £1.29 pence for this bottle, imported from the other side of Europe, it’s not too bad value either. This has the potential to be an outstanding curry beer.

What of the downsides to Obolon Soborne? If you prefer rustic bottles of ale, there are mostly downsides. If, however, you like lager, there are much fewer. Nit picking though, does reveal a couple of issues. It is light and drinkable to the extent of being watery. In the category of drinkable lagers, there’s not an awful lot to distinguish it from the competition. Why would you choose this over a bottle you can buy in normal shops for less? It’s not even very strong.

How can I sum up the bottle that I think is called Obolon Soborne? If you can’t understand Ukrainian, it is a mystery. If you like a light and drinkable lager, take the risk and crack open this bottle. It is one of the crispest and most refreshing lager style beers I’ve tried. If you’re the sort of person who likes hoppy, bitter “bitey” lagers, you won’t like it. If you like light, crisp, clean and refreshing but mostly tasteless lagers to go with spicy food, you’ll probably like this.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Obolon Soborne or OБoлoнь CоБорне or what ever it’s called? Can you help translate? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, translations, requests and recommendations in the comments.

Snack Food Review: Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries

17 April, 2009

PORK scratchings, pickles and tins of small fish aren’t the only snacks you can enjoy. You could have oysters, fois gras or nibble on some diced albino tiger cub. If like me however, you only have 49 pence to spare, then you might want to consider this: a small bag of Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries.

Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries front of bag

And first impressions are not bad. The bag is in a funny green colour, unlike anything else for sale in the shop. The middle has a picture of a traditional fishing port. And there’s a picture of some strange beige lumps. They’re either pillows or pictures of what these scampi fries will look like.

The banner across the bottom of the bag describes them as a “Cereal Snack With A Delicious Scampi & Lemon Taste”. Does that fact make them high-end crisps?

Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries back of bag

The back of the bag is full of information. None of which is interesting. There’s all the usual big-brand stuff about consumer services departments and storing away from bright lights. They have a website which is www.walkers.co.uk, because of course, Walkers owns the old Smiths brand.

There’s a small teaser on the bag for their Bacon Flavour Fries and Cheese Flavoured Moments “Savoury Selection”. A table of nutrition information which will scare you with large numbers next to the word ‘fat’. Then there’s a list of ingredients for this 27g snack. Like more ingredients list, it’s impenetrable.

This only leaves one thing to do. To open the bag and report to you what they are like. Should you buy them? Let’s find out.

Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries open bag closeup

Yes they do look as funny as they do in the illustration on the front. Only much dustier. You’ll be licking a thick layer of flavouring dust off your fingers by the end.

They smell of fish. Sort of. Whatever it smells of, it smells strong. And tasty.

Are they actually tasty? Yes they are. They are like nothing else. They taste of fish, but in the form of a crunchy little snack. Imagine a combination of fish and pork scratchings, and you’d be near. In case you’re wandering, they are completely hollow. Inside the cocoon of scampi and lemon flavoured cereal snack there is nothing to be found.

What do I like about Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries? I think they’re incredibly tasty. They manage this without being too salty either. They’re not like many other snacks on the market, so they get marks for being different.

What don’t I like about Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries? Very little. If you were to nitpick, you could say you dislike the somewhat unnatural taste. Or that you don’t like the way it leaves grease and tiny bits on your fingers. But they are minor complaints.

What’s the verdict on Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries? I think they are outstanding. I love their tangy, fishy taste in the form of a strange bag of crisps. They could go well with whatever beer or spirit mix you have to hand.

Have you tried Smiths Scampi Flavour Fries? What did you think of them?

Do please share your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Karmi Malínowa Pasja

16 April, 2009

WHILST up Stoke Newington way in North London, I was delighted to find an Eastern European shop that I hadn’t yet plundered for beer. The shop in question was Kołos Supermarket. And for £1.09 pence, one of the bottles beers I bought was this. At least I thought it was a beer at the time. Now, I’m not so sure. Whatever it is, it’s called Karmi and has the words Malínowa Pasja on it. Polish translators, I’m going to need your help again, big time. Translations at the end of this post please.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja bottle

It’s a curvy and mysterious looking bottle, isn’t it? Not quite as much as Brahma Premium Lager, but there’s something feminine about it. There’s a picture of, and colour of raspberry. Is this one of the girls beers that commenter’s warned me about in earlier Polish beer posts?

The neck-label doesn’t exactly answer any questions.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja neck wrapper and label

The bottle top is of the “Twist Off” variety. Is that a clue? I’m beginning to think this isn’t a real beer.

The front-label doesn’t help either.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja front label

If you know what Karmi or Malínowa Pasja mean, do please leave a comment. All I can glean from the front-label is that the contents might have something to do with raspberries. I may have made a huge mistake buying this bottle.

Thanks to my almost complete lack of understanding of the Polish language, the back-label, which would be helpful, isn’t. Translators, this is where I need you most.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja back label

Mind you, language has never been a barrier before with all the other Polish beers I’ve tried. So let’s press on and see what I can understand, or misunderstand.

The writing at the top says something about taste. But I’ve no idea what. The first word at the start of the ingredients list is, I think, ‘beer’. Which is a relief. Unfortunately, I think it’s telling me that it has an alcoholic volume of 0.5%. Oh dear.

It might be almost non-alcoholic, but it was made by Carlsberg Polska in Warszawa/Warsaw. And Carlsberg are a brewer. So it’s nearly a proper beer.

Elsewhere on the label, it says, I think, that it is a small 400ml bottle. And that they have a website at www.karmi.pl. A quick look reveals that it is a low-alcoholic drink for women. And that there are Karmi’s is lots of other flavours.

Okay, I admit it. I made a big mistake when I grabbed this out of the cooler in the Kołos Supermarket. It’s not a real beer at all, but a literally fruity low-alcohol drink for women. Despite this, you’ve got to be wondering… what does it taste like? Is it any good? And, if you are a woman, should you buy some? Lets find out.

Karmi Malinowa Pasja poured into a glass

The surprises start right away. That is not a coloured glass bottle. The bottle is transparent. It’s the beer that is that deep, reddish black colour. Once in the glass, the drink has a decent layer of head. If it were a real beer, I’d be impressed by it. What’s more, that head is noticeably red in colour.

What does it smell of? As you’ve guessed by now, it smells of raspberry. Not the natural sort. They don’t really smell of anything. This smells the same chemically way that it looks.

How does it taste? It tastes strange. On the back label, I saw a word that looked like the word ‘syrup’. Well, that’s what Karmi Malínowa Pasja is like. It tastes mildly of raspberry, in a synthetic and syrupy way. After that flavour, there is a tiny, slightly bitter alcoholic kick of an aftertaste. Not much. Just enough to remind you that it’s there.

What am I enjoying about Karmi Malínowa Pasja? I like how it’s unlike anything I’ve ever drank before. I like how easy it is to drink. Although it’s not got to try hard with only 0.5% alcoholic volume. I like how rich, smooth and un-gassy it is. And as a product, it looks good.

There are however, a few downsides to Karmi Malínowa Pasja. It might taste vaguely of raspberry. But it also tastes awful. It’s like drinking a concoction of chemicals that taste a little bit like a berry. Like hearing your favourite song ruined by someone doing karaoke. What it’s aiming for is admirable enough, but the ingredients are all wrong. It could get away with it if it were light and crisp. But in this heavy, thick, syrupy form it is atrocious. To cap it all off, with so little alcohol, it’s not even a real beer.

To sum up, Karmi Malínowa Pasja is a disgusting drink aimed, presumably, at women with no taste. If you see a woman drinking this stuff, avoid her. She has a terrible taste in drink. If, like me, you spot this in a shop refrigerator and hope that it will be an interesting Polish beer, you’d be right. But only just. And you’d wish you weren’t.

Rating: 2.1

Can you translate anything? What reputation does Karmi Malínowa Pasja have in Poland? Do women there actually drink this stuff? What do you think of it? Do please leave all your translations, pronunciations, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Snack Food Review: MS Authentic Black Country Traditional Pork Scratchings

15 April, 2009

BOTH bags of pork scratchings that I’ve tried so far have been from Mr. Porky. And both have been excellent. But they’re not the only pork in town. Here is a bag of MS Traditional Pork Scratchings from a convenience store on Brick Lane.

MS Authentic Black Country Pork Snacks Traditional Pork Scratchings front

The MS name at the top has a border with words describing it as “Authentic Black Country Pork Snacks”. To hammer home the point, most of the bag is coloured black. Under the window into the bag’s contents, are the reassuring words “Finest quality Hand cooked Seasoned Pork Rind”. I don’t know about you, but the words “Traditional” and “Hand cooked” are making me salivate.

MS Authentic Black Country Pork Snacks Traditional Pork Scratchings back of bag

The back of the bag has lots of information on it. It opens with the list of ingredients which, happily, starts with pork rinds. Less happily for your heart, the second ingredient is salt. There are lots of other ingredients, some natural, some not, but all too boring to list here.

Helpfully, they have allergy advice. And there’s a big table of nutritional information. But unless you want to shock yourself with the huge fat and sodium figures, it’s best not to read it.

On the other column is the few sentences you want to read. They tell us that they’ve been making these pork scratchings for over 25 years. And that they use an “Authentic Black Country recipe”. Also making an appearance is that familiar warning that it is “Only Recommended For People With Strong Healthy Teetch”. Sound advice indeed for this kind of snack.

Also on the back of the bag, they tease you with a hint of another, probably tasty snack “Try our Authentic Black Country Pork Crunch”. Darn, that’s another snack I’ve got to look out for. If you find it before I do, leave a comment letting me know what it’s like.

The label closes with their “Heart of the Black Country” postal address. An address of Midland Snacks Limited in Wolverhampton. Apparently the Internet hasn’t reached that corner of the Black Country yet as they have no website or email address.

What are MS Traditional Pork Scratchings like? How do they compare to the Mr. Porky I’ve tried so far? I’m looking forward to finding out.

MS Authentic Black Country Pork Snacks Traditional Pork Scratchings open bag

First impressions are that these a big pieces. Maybe even bigger than Mr. Porky Prime Cut. But, like Prime Cut, there’s a variety of big and small. Somehow, these don’t look as dusty. In fact, they don’t look as well done. They look a little less crispy.

To eat, the taste is a pleasant porky seasoning. Not too salty. There’s just a gentle taste of pork and of things like pepper which must be the seasoning.

The texture depends on what the piece you eat happens to look like. If it’s a small and crinkly bit, it will be like chewing on gravel. Pick up a bigger piece, and it’s like eating some fresh, chewy pork with a crunchy top. And that seems to be what MS Traditional Pork Scratchings are about.

What am I enjoying about MS Authentic Black Country Traditional Pork Scratchings? I like how different they are to the competition. These have a decent sized chuck of regular pork attached to a decent sized layer of crunchy rind. All of which tastes good and isn’t like pouring a sachet of salt into your mouth. I also like how easy they are on the teeth compared to some of the competition.

What don’t I like about MS Traditional Pork Scratchings? They’re hard to find down here. Who know if I’ll ever get to try their Pork Crunch. Some people might object to the non-crunchy bit of the rind. Not me though. I can’t even criticise them for not having many in a bag, because they’ve compensated by having a lager than-you’d-expect bag. If you genuinely like pork scratchings, there’s like to criticise about them.

How can I sum up MS Authentic Black Country Traditional Pork Scratching? They are an excellent snack. If the strong saltiness or gravel-like texture of other pork scratchings puts you off, then try these. As far as I can tell, they are the real ale of the pork scratchings world.

Manufacturers, if you can top these, then get in touch. If you’ve tried MS Traditional Pork Scratchings, do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager

14 April, 2009

A YEAR ago, I tried all the super strength lagers I could lay my hands on. This meant subjecting myself to Tennent’s Super Strong Lager, Kestrel Super Strength Lager, Carlsberg Special Brew and Skol Super Strong Lager. They were universally awful means of alcohol consumption. Not surprisingly then, they’re a favourite of homeless alcoholics, which is why they’ve acquired the nick-name “tramp juice”.

Besides being revolting to anyone who drinks less than eight each day, there was one other commonality. They were all 9% alcoholic volume. For whatever reason; fear of regulation, corporate social responsibility or a gentlemen’s agreement, there were none above 9% this side of the English channel. That’s what I thought, until I found this. From an off-license in Kennington, South London, here is a can of Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager.

Crest Super front of can

At first sight, everything looks promising. For a start, this has a classy purple exterior, unlike the stripy competition. It has pictures of hops and a “Master Brewers” ‘seal, all adding to the sense that this is a real beer.

It even has a proper roundel. With two bears at the top, the upper border says “Brewed With Best Quality Barley Malt”. And the lower border has words continuing with “And The Finest German Aroma Hops”. So this is German is it? If you’re going to have a strong beer, Germany is one of the places you want it to be from. This is shaping up very well indeed.

Crest Super join side of the can

Turning the can around, you won’t find much on this side. There’s a join. And the words “Serve Cool”. Advice I intend to pay heed to when it comes to tasting this mysterious, yet probably explosive beverage.

Crest Super barcode side of can

Ah good. This side has some writing. Lets read it. Maybe it says from where in Germany it came?

No. No it doesn’t say that. Right at the top, it says “Brewed And Canned By: The Crest Brewing Co. A Division of Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Ltd, Havelock Street, Bedford UK, MK40 4LU”. Regular readers will know that any beer that pretends to be imported when it isn’t immediately gets docked points. Would you rather try something from Bavaria or Bedfordshire?

It’s not necessarily bad news though. That is the same Wells & Young’s who brought us Bombardier Burning Gold, Luxury Double Chocolate Stout, Banana Bread Beer and the magnificent Bombardier Satanic Mills bottled ales. Yet they seem intent on hurting their name with licensed beers like Kirin Ichiban and this can of Crest Super.

Back to what the can says, and next up come the vital statistics. This is a big 500ml can. Oddly, for a UK produced can with a 10% alcoholic volume, I can’t find any UK units of alcohol rating. An intentional regulatory and moral dodge? Or an innocent omission? Your opinions at the end of this post please.

Another oddity is that the only English language in that big block of sideways text is telling you to look under the can for the best before end date. It has a full list of ingredients, but in German. Not English. Luckily, our language is similar enough to German for me to make sense of what it says. If you’re expecting the ingredients to be of typical beer ingredients plus some chemicals, you’d be spot-on.

Right then. I was hoping to drag out the descriptive part of this review as long as possible. But I’ve run out of things to read on the can. I’m going to have to drink this stuff and try to describe what it’s like. A task I’ve been putting off for weeks already.

What does Crest Super 10% Super Strength Premium Lager, the strongest beer I’ve ever tried taste like? Will be as drinkable as I’m hoping? Or as vomit inducing as I’m fearing? Curiosity is getting the better of me as it’s time to find out…

Crest Super poured into a glass

There’s some head. But not much. After a few moments, you’re left with a patch of foam. But what get’s me is the colour. That bright orange-amber colour would look more at home on a cider. It looks as natural as Jordan.

Does it smell as synthetic as it looks? The roundel promised the “Finest German Aroma Hops”. I’d say that it smells like the other super strength lagers. But maybe slightly more delicate. Whatever the case, you can’t hide from the distinctly un-beery smell of this and other super strength lagers. It reminds me of the smell of gobstoppers or other such sweets. Not a natural and tasty beer.

How does it taste? I’m going into this with a totally open mind, by the way. No prejudice whatsoever. So what does it taste like?

Two gulps in and I realise that gulps are the wrong way to go. If I’m to avoid seeing my dinner again, sips over the course of the night are the only way to go.

How can I describe it? Not easily. My entire digestive system is currently telling me not to consume any more. The rest of this review might be a bit shorter than normal.

A few minutes later, and I gingerly attempt a few sips. Unusually for a lager, it does have a hit of flavour. A flavour of hops and chemicals and think. It’s hard to pin down because of the massive aftertaste that swamps you. You get hit with a gigantic wave of bitterness, alcohol and chemicals. Unsurprisingly, it lingers for a good long time.

Nearly a quarter of the way through now, so what am I enjoying about Crest Super? I like that does something a little different to the other super strength lagers. I like that it’s 1% stronger. If I were an alcoholic or someone who enjoying drinking many cans of super strength each day, I would be delighted with Crest Super.

What am I not enjoying about Crest Super? Nearly everything. It is the most undrinkable beer I’ve had in more than a year of doing this blog. I doubt I’m going to finish this beer tonight, and it’s the first time that’s ever happened. It’s as if my body is shouting “no more! Please no more!” after every sip. This literally gut wrenching effect means I can’t even start to enjoy the flavour and taste.

How can I sum up Crest Super? It is the most extreme beer I have ever tried. It is the strongest. And the most undrinkable. Slightly different to the other super strength lagers, but not necessarily better. If you are an alcoholic, or if you enjoying drinking many cans of super strength lager each day, then you will love Crest Super. If however, you’re a normal person, then you probably won’t. It will either send you to drunken oblivion or to the toiler to throw up. But maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe you should treat it not as a beer, but as a spirit. It certainly tastes like one.

Rating: I’ll leave that up to you.

Have you tried Crest Super? Draught or out of a can? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy.

Update:

Armed with experience from my first can, and from the comments sections from the other super strength lagers, my second can of Crest Super was much better. I can confirm that it’s absolutely essential to drink it only while it’s very very cold. Even if this means leaving the dregs at the bottom, because the contents will have warmed up too much in your hand. And don’t do what I did and pour it out. Drink it from the can to make sure you don’t accidentally smell it.

With this in mind, you can nearly enjoy it. At Arctic temperatures, it really does have a long, hoppy finish. And yes, the can is more solid than others. But there’s still better ways to get wasted than this.

Snack Food Review: Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snack

13 April, 2009

I PICKED up this oddity from a shop on Brick Lane. According to the front, it is some kind of chilli and lemon flavoured roasted corn snack. Sounds intriguing and delicious.

Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snack front of bag

The back label is similarly enigmatic.

Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snack back of bag

The ingredients are… okay. I think. Maize, soya bean oil and seasoning sound right for the snack like this. The bag is a small 40 gram size. It lists the nutrition information. Which you will no doubt ignore. And it was packed by Berkshire Foods Ltd in Gosport, England.

The interesting bit, though, is that near the “Best Before” date we learn that Nutcracker is a trade mark of Nutcracker Ltd. A company from Nairobi, Kenya. What we have here, is an African snack food. A fact that immediately score it points of interesting-ness and curiosity value.

What are Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snacks like? Do I think you should buy them? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snack open bag closeup

They are as funny looking as they are on the front of the bag. The look half-way between corn from corn on a cob and popcorn. And with a funny orangey colouring and a dusting of flavour.

What are they like? Eating them is a strange experience. They’re not soft, but crunchy. Very tough and crunchy. Amazingly, they’re like pork scratchings.

How do they taste? The bag makes them sound as hot and spicy as a jar of chilli sauce. But they’re not. They’re as hot and spicy as hot chilli Doritos are. And that’s no bad thing. Hot chilli Doritos are very nice. You can even detect a tiny hint of lemon. But I get the impression that were it not for the heavy dusting of flavour, they would have no flavour at all.

What is there to like about Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snacks? I like how funny they are. I like how heavy and filling they are, making this tiny bag a real snack. And I like the strong but not inedibly strong flavour.

What don’t I like about Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snacks? They are hard work. They are heavy, crunchy and chewy. Not fun and light like some snacks. Some people won’t like how strong tasting they are. But they’ve got to do that because on their own, there is no taste at all. It would be like eating, well, raw corn. The other downside is how hard they are to buy around here.

To sum up, Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snacks are a quirky and filling little snack. I’ve never had anything like this before. And I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised too. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for interesting snacks, you can do worse than Nut Cracker Crunchy Roasted Corn Chilli & Lemon Flavour Corn Snacks.

Snack Food Review: Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce

12 April, 2009

SO FAR, my favourite tinned-fish snack is John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce. But recently, bigger tins have been catching my eye in the supermarket. Princes have some gigantic 200g tin of Herring Fillets. One in tomato sauce, the other “in a tangy mustard and dill sauce”. I’ve opted for Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce because tomato is everywhere. Mustard sauce is harder to get right.

Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy dill and mustard sauce front of tin

Not only is it by far the biggest tinned-fish I could find. It’s also the first I’ve reviewed here by that other big-name in tinned-fish; Princes. At more than £1.10 pence in my local Tesco, it’s the most expensive as well. Normal sized tins are around 60 to 90 pence.

On one side of the tin is the guarantee of quality where you will find the Liverpool address of Princes Ltd Customer Care people. They have a website printed on there too, at www.princes.co.uk. I wouldn’t bother clicking the link though. It is a boring corporate website. All they have about this product is some vague information about the Princes brand, which is one of very many they own. If you have a business studies assignment to write however, it would be a very good place to look.

Here is the other side of the tin.

Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy dill and mustard sauce back of tin

And there is nothing interesting to say about it. It starts with a recipe for herring wraps. The yellow stripe is about the benefits of Omega 3 fish oils, reminding you to eat two portions of oily fish a week. Under that is the nutrition information, which nobody reads.

Then we get to the ingredients. These are slightly interesting. It’s mostly good stuff like herring fillets and mustard. With only a tiny amount of not so good stuff like an E number. The very worst news however is that it is not a product of Liverpool, but of Germany. Why, with our fishing fleets, can we not have any tinned fish coming out of our very own country? Why? Please, someone explain this madness.

So, what are Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce actually like? Let’s find out.

Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy dill and mustard sauce open tin

Well, it doesn’t lack sauce. Three’s so much of the stuff, you can’t see any fish. What happens when you tip it into a bowl? They look like this.

Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy dill and mustard sauce tipped into a bowl

You can see big pieces of fish, and fish skin. The photo looks yucky, but it’s not as bad as it looks. I’m just happy that there’s enough sauce to go around this time. Unlike some tins of fish.

It smells tasty, too. For some reason, it reminds me of the way Big Macs at McDonalds smell. A similarity in the dill pickles and mustard sauce they use perhaps?

But what are they like to eat? A few mouthfuls in, and the results are good. The herring fillets fall apart into neat little chucks that make eating them a doddle. The pieces with skin pose little challenge to eat. There are no manky bits or bones to worry about. And there’s more sauce than I can handle. This does make a nice change.

The sauce is tangy and tasty. Not very mustardy, but you can forgive it that. It’s tastier than the smattering of sauce you find in most tinned fish. That said, it is a bit salty for my liking.

What am I enjoying about Prices Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce? Quite a lot of things. The fish is tasty and easy to eat. The sauce is mostly excellent. The tin is bigger than most, so it’s good if you’re hungry. This is shaping up to be an excellent light snack.

But what am I not enjoying about Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce? About two-thirds of the way through now, and the saltiness is getting to me. Make sure you have a drink to hand when you snack on this. I also cant’ help noticing that your basic herring doesn’t have much of a taste, Besides that, these tins are a little harder to find in the shops than your usual tins of sardines.

So where does this leave Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce? They are an excellent snack. There’s more fish and sauce than most other tins. Which is good because most other tins never have enough. I just can’t ignore how salty they are. If it wasn’t for that, they could be my new favourite. Recommended for hungry tinned fish fans.

Have you tried Princes Herring Fillets in a tangy mustard and dill sauce or the ones in tomato sauce? What did you think of them? Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Carib Lager

11 April, 2009

THE CARIBBEAN has given me some interesting beers. The unremarkable yet popular Red Stripe for instance. And what must be nearly the world’s most popular stout, the awesome Dragon Stout. So I’m curious to know. Is Carib Lager from Trinidad and Tobago going to be a Red Stripe or a Dragon Stout of a drink?

Carib Lager bottle

This bottle came from a shop up Dalston way. And I must say, it looks like Summer in bottled-beer form. Like some of those Latin-world beers. I feel an urge to dunk a slice of lemon in it.

The neck-label starts the way it goes on. By keeping things simple.

Carib Lager neck label

Apart from the name “Carib Lager”, it has the words “Premium” and “Caribbean”. Clearly, the brewer, whoever it is, wants to keep things simple. There is almost nothing to read, anywhere on the bottle.

Carib Lager front label

Look the front-label. Nothing but the essentials. Like both Dragon Stout and Red Stripe, the bottle is a diminutive 275ml. Useful if you’ve got a half-pint glass to hand.

The alcoholic volume is a respectable 5.2%. And it was brewed by the Carib Brewery in Champs Fleurs on the island of Trinidad. Maybe the back label has some more information about the beer or where it came from?

Carib Lager back label

No. No it doesn’t have any more information about the beer or where it came from. What it does have is a big list of importers. The importer for the UK is also the only one with a web addressed printed on the label. And they are called Global Brands, with a web site at www.globalbrands.co.uk.

All facts which are as boring as the ingredients. “water, malted barley, sugar, hops” are the order of the day. And it has a modest 1.4 UK units of alcohol.

If you like your bottled beer to have lots of interesting things for you to read, look elsewhere. This is one of the most straightforward, no-nonsense bottles of beer you can find. I kept expecting to discover that it was Australian. But no, it really is a “Product of Trinidad and Tobago”.

So, what does Carib Lager taste like? Will I like it? And do I think you should buy it? I’m looking forward to cracking it open and finding out…

Carib Lager poured into a glass

The looks aren’t a surprise. You could see everything form inside the bottle. It does fit your half-pint glass perfectly though. There’s not even a head to froth over the top.

How does it smell? It’s a lager, so the smell will never be surprising. Carib Lager does somehow manage to be a tiny bit different. There’s something citric and tangy about the way this blend of malted barley smells..

What does it taste like? Well, it’s a lager, so it’s not going to have any flavour. Duly, Carib Lager has no flavour. What of the taste? Most lagers have a bitter aftertaste “bite”. Does Carib Lager? Kind of. It has a bitter “bite”, but a gentle one. A couple of seconds later, it becomes a bit more intense. Then it just goes.

Nearly half-way through now, so what am I enjoying about Carib Lager? Unusually for a lager, this chilled bottle of Carib Lager is not bad. Although that might have something to do with how cold it is. I doubt it would be so good if it were warmer. I like how the taste isn’t as awful as some lagers. I like how clean and refreshing it is. I like how easy to drink it is. I like how it isn’t very gassy. And I think it would be lovely on a hot, sunny day.

What don’t I like about Carib Lager? I don’t like the fact that it’s a lager. If the Carib Brewery turned their hand to a proper beer, and if Carib Lager is anything to go by, I’m sure the results would be very good. As it is, there’s no interesting flavour. And the taste is as uninspired as the average soap-opera plot. If you have your heart set on Carib Lager, you’re in for disappointment. So far, I’ve only seen one shop selling it. There are probably more out there, but you can’t count on it.

How can I sum up Carib Lager? Not bad for a lager. This is what I expected all those Spanish, Italian and South American lagers to be like. Light, crisp and refreshing. Just don’t expect any sophisticated flavour or taste. It’s a rainy day here in London, but I’m guessing it would be great on a sunny day or with a spicy meal.

Rating: 2.8

Have you tried Carib Lager? Do you know what reputation it has, back in the Caribbean? If so, then leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Super Bock

7 April, 2009

THIS IS Super Bock. I bought it from a shop in Dalston. And it’s Portuguese. It’s the first Portuguese beer I’ve tried. And I can’t wait to find out if it’s worse than the beer produced by neighbouring Spain.

Super Bock bottle

First impressions are okay. It looks good. But what about that name? What is a “Bock”? And why is this one “Super”? The neck-label answers neither question.

Super Bock neck label

What it does have are pictures of what look like medals. Is Super Bock award-winning? Then there’s a couple of words you read all over the labels. They are even embossed into the glass. “Sabor Autêntico”. Portuguese speakers, do please leave your translations in the comments at the end of the post.

The front-label is a funny looking thing. A straightforward roundel wasn’t enough. So they attached a couple of blocks either side in which to cram the barcode and various small-print. Once again, translators, you are called into action.

Super Bock front label

Around the border of the roundel are some words I can almost understand. Something about winning 23 consecutive medals. Maybe this is award-winning?

Also on the border is a website address of www.superbock.pt. If you’re reading this blog in English however, you might want to go to http://www.superbock.pt/EN/home.html instead. Because that is where they have an English language website. A bit more poking around reveals that they are not just another Euro-fizz manufacturer, because they also have stout and what could be an ale.

Elsewhere on the front label, you can find the vital statistics. This bottle, as you probably guessed, is the ubiquitous 33cl. But the alcoholic content gives you a surprise. It comes in at 5.6% volume. Super Bock is shaping up to be a surprise.

There’s also a link to “Unicer” at www.unicer.pt. No, not a Portuguese UNICEF, but apparently the parent company behind Super Bock among other things. The English language version is at http://www.unicer.pt/gca/index.php?id=209&lng=en. The other web address on there didn’t work at all. If you can get through to www.serresponsavel.com, do please leave a comment saying what it’s all about.

Here is the back label.

Super Bock back label

It doesn’t say anything useful whatsoever. Actually, it does. But you would be hard pressed to find any in that big block of multilingual text.

The ingredients are “water, barley malt, unmalted cereals (maize), glucose syrup, hops”. Good on them for have a full ingredients list. Too many hide behind just ‘malted barley’. Finally, it was produced by Unicer S.A. in Leça Do Balio in Portugal.

What does Super Bock taste like? Is it as good as I’m hoping it will be? Or as bad as I’m cynically expecting? Should you buy it? Let’s find out…

Super Bock poured into a glass

Watch out for the head. It settles down after a minute, but it’s still much frothier than others. If it were sitting atop a darker hued beer, you wouldn’t mind. But on top of this pale yellow fizzy liquid, you must admit; it’s not what you’d call classy.

What does it smell of? It smells the way it looks. Lagery. Not bad. Just that ever-so-familiar blend of malted barley. Yes, there is a bit of variety between lagers. But this one isn’t an exception. It smells of nice, rich malted barley. But you’ve smelled the same thing dozens of times before. Not bad, just uninspired.

What does it taste of? The first couple of gulps are pleasant ones. For a lager. Which must be what this is. Even though the bottle doesn’t say the word “lager” anywhere on it, a lager must be what Super Bock is. There is no flavour. As you’d expect. Fortunately, the bitter “bite” that many lagers deliver isn’t really present either. What you get is a gentle bitter aftertaste that lingers for about half a minute.

What do I like about Super Bock? I like how inoffensive and easy to drink it is. Not as gentle and pleasant as yesterday’s Kirin Ichiban, but gentle for a lager nonetheless. And I like it for that. The drinkability must reflect the quality of the ingredients. Something that also gives it that clean, crisp and refreshing quality that lager style beers should aim for. It’s not gassy either, despite that erupting head. Best of all, it’s not licensed. This is the genuine article imported from Portugal. Not Luton, not Bedford, not Newcastle and not Edinburgh. And it didn’t cost any more to buy either. There’s a lesson in there for the brewing industry.

What don’t I like about Super Bock? As it appears to be a lager style of beer, quite a few things. The complete absence of flavour for one. The uninspired aftertaste for another. The utter lack of imagination that went into this beer is another. There’s so little taste or body, the experience is much like drinking water. In shops here in London, it’s also still a rare right, so hard to find for the time being.

How can I sum up this little bottle of Super Bock? It deserves a place on my list of good lagers. Not as interesting or as easy as some, but so many times better than others. It has the quality. When I visit Portugal, I’ll happily drink some more. And I think it would go well with a spicy takeaway. But, if you’ve got a shop shelf full of interesting bottles, you can do so much better.

Rating: 2.9

Have you tried Super Bock? Can you translate anything? Do you work for Unicer? Do please leave a comment with your translations, opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy.

Beer Review: Kirin Ichiban

6 April, 2009

Asahi Super Dry was my favourite Japanese beer. Until I discovered that it wasn’t Japanese at all, but was brewed here in Britain. So I was thrilled to find another Japanese-looking beer at a shop in Dalston. Here it is: Kirin Ichiban, “Japan’s Prime Brew”. It must be Japanese. Surely.

Kirin Ichiban bottle

It reminds me of Erdinger Weisbier. What do you think?

It’s almost impossible to read, but the neck-label has writing either side of the “Kirin Ichiban” logo.

Kirin Ichiban neck label leftKirin Ichiban neck label centreKirin Ichiban neck label right

Careful squinting at the left-hand-side of the neck-label has them describe it as a “unique premium beer”. That’s welcome for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they didn’t say “lager”. Secondly, anything that makes a beer unique is very warmly welcome. The last thing the market needs is another generic lager pretending to be Oriental.

What makes it unique? The other side of the neck-label says something about a process and only using “the most flavourful portion of the finest ingredients”. I don’t know about you, but that explained nothing.

The front-label does away with the traditional roundel, yet still manages to be conservative and conventional.

Kirin Ichiban front label

All the important details are there. That this is a regular 330ml bottle. And that it has an equally regular 5% alcoholic volume. As out of the ordinary as rain. But right at the bottom of the label is another mention of “The Authentic Ichiban Shibori Process”. What is a “Shibori Process”? Why is it unique. I’m hoping for some answers on the back label.

Kirin Ichiban back label

First impressions are not good. Shiny golden text is not readable when there’s a light bulb switched on in the room. Or any illumination at all for that matter.

After much squinting, I’ve deciphered this. They describe the character as “pure, crisp and intensely satisfying”. And that the Ichiban Shibori process has something to do with pressing the ingredients once and then throwing them away instead of using them over and over. Sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to trying this one.

Then comes the bad news. This hasn’t been imported from Japan. Instead, it was brewed under license from Kirin Holdings by Wells & Young’s Brewing Co in Bedford. They even have a European web site at www.kirineurope.com. Surprisingly, it’s not bad. There’s lots of history and background if you prefer to read about beer instead of imbibing it.

The last little detail to mention is the UK units of alcohol. It’s nearly impossible to read, but that doesn’t matter. It’s only 1.7 UK units of alcohol.

What does Kirin Ichiban taste like? Is the Ichiban Shibori process just marketing guff? Should you buy it? I can hardly wait to find out…

Kirin Ichiban poured into a glass

Watch out for that head. It froths up a treat. A couple of minutes later, it has settled down, but it’s still bigger than most I’ve seen recently. On the surface at least, it looks like a lager. Fizzy and pale in colour. I was rather hoping that the famed “Ichiban Shibori” process would do something about that. Apparently not.

How does it smell? It smells a bit lagery. Again, I was hoping the “Ichiban Shibori” process would change that too. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t smell bad. It smells of a rich blend of malted barley. Not like many lagers out there at all. But still a little lagery.

Does it taste like a lager too? Sort of. But not in a bad way. A couple of gulps in, and I’m liking Kiribn Ichiban. Or at least this Wells & Young’s version. The flavour and taste won’t really impress you. Unless you love lager. It has much the same taste of malted barley that most lager style beers have. It’s the way it does it that impresses me. It is so rich and smooth, it’s like drinking Leslie Philips. The bitter “bite” that lager drinkers seem to love, and that I hate, isn’t there. In it’s place, is a pleasantly mild bitter taste that you barely notice.

What am I enjoying about Kirin Ichiban? I love how easy it is to drink. It is so gentle and so smooth, no one will object if you offer then a bottle. I’ve had a few other good lagers like this, that are this smooth and easy to drink. I’ll happily add Kirin Ichiban to the good lager list for these reasons. The drinkability also speaks about the quality of ingredients. It doesn’t taste like you’re drinking preservatives and flavourings, like with some. It also has that crisp, clean and refreshing quality that this type of beer should have.

What don’t I like about Kirin Ichiban? For a start, I don’t like the whole idea of licensed beers. I’d be much happier if this were a little bit more expensive, but imported from Japan. Beer from Bedford is never going to be as exciting, even when it pretends to be Japanese. Besides that, the head could be a handful. It’s so easy to drink that you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re drinking water. And, disappointingly, it’s not as unique as the label promised. The special process has made a very good lagery style beer, but there are others like it.

To sum up, Kirin Ichiban is a very good lagery style beer. I’m not sure if it really is a pilsner style lager, but it shares a lot in common. As such, there’s no flavour and very little taste. But it is very easy to drink. And I think it would be brilliantly well with a spicy meal. I really would like to try the genuine Japanese version though.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Kirin Ichiban? What did you think of it? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Marston’s Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale

5 April, 2009

THE last Marston’s I had was the utterly fine yet unremarkable Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale. There was nothing memorable about the experience. But the quality makes me want to try another Marston’s. So, from my local Tesco comes this, Marston’s Old Empire Original Export India Pale Ale.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale bottle

My relationship with IPAs has been rocky. I vaguely remember calling some of them boring. But, with an open mind and a British brewing industry that regularly surprises, I’m giving it another try.

Marston’s have gone for the same shape bottle as Pedigree, but with the trendy transparent glass that’s popular with those young people nowadays. This works as long as the beer inside looks tasty. And I’m happy to say Old Empire passes that test. It looks right.

Don’t miss the things embossed around the bottle. Around the shoulder, is the Marston’s logo. And around the bottom we learn that they were established back in 1834. Which is a reassuringly long time ago.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale neck label

The neck label is the same as other Marston’s neck-labels. That means it doesn’t have anything useful. Only a boast about it being the “Official Beer of England”. Inside the roundel is a crest with the letters “ECB”. Which, I think, means that this is the official beer of cricketists.

Unlike Pedigree, Marston’s have completely abandoned the traditional roundel. Instead opting for a contemporary splash of everything. And I think it works.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale front label

It tells you everything you need to know. It tells you that it’s an India Pale Ale, or IPA as the Real Ale know-it-alls abbreviate it to. And it tells you that it has an alcoholic volume of 5.7%. Something that makes it stronger than a lot out there.

Where the front label is clear and concise, Marston’s have printed a medium sized novel on the back.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale back label

Where do you look first? In Tesco, you just don’t know where to look. Sure, you could studiously read the whole thing. But then you hold up the old ladies with their trolleys filled with Bovril.

Reading it for the first time, here at my desk, the top is where I’ll start. To their credit, they do give a good little description of Old Empire right at the top. They describe the smell as a “strong hop aroma”. They describe the flavour as hoppy and the taste as “rich malty” and “bitter”. Oh, and they describe this India Pale Ale which you can see through the glass as “pale in colour”.

This big middle chunk of text is devoted to their Burton India Pale Ale story. In a paragraph clearly cooked up by someone in marketing, we do find that Burton really did do a fine job of refreshing our chaps in the Sub-Continent during the 19th Century. Marston’s Old Empire, they say, is a re-birth of Burton brewed IPA.

Further down, and the small-print begins. They have a web address, which is a mouthful at www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. It’s not a bad website. But that’s not hard when the efforts of many brewers are as informative as tabloid journalism. I even found the Old Empire homepage on the Marston’s website at http://www.marstonsdontcompromise.com/beer/empire.asp. Well worth reading if you want to know about malt, grain, hops and other beer nerd facts.

Under that are the vital statistics. This bottle is the regular 500ml. Which, when combined with the 5.7% alcoholic volume ale within, brings it to 2.9 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you’ve managed two of them in one day, you’ve had too many.

The last little detail is their address. Old Empire was brewed by Marston’s Brewery in Burton Upon Trent. If you’re from Burton Upon Trent and you have something interesting to say about it, do please feel free not to leave a comment at the end of this post.

What does Marston’s Old Empire taste like? Should you buy it? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Marston's Ole Empire India Pale Ale poured into a glass

It looks like there’s a decent head. But there’s not. It settles into a patchy layer of foam. The colour was never going to be a surprise. But something on the bottle is. The back label has a map showing the ship route from Britain to Bombay, which is only visible when the bottle is empty.

How does it smell? The label described the smell as having a “strong hop aroma”. It certainly is strong smelling. This is a pungent beer. But I like it that way. Does it smell of hops? Yes. And a little bit of malt. I like it.

How does it taste? The label described it as having a hoppy taste with a “rich malty, bitter taste”. Does it have those things? Two civilised gulps in, and I’m delighted to report that yes it does. And it does them all very pleasantly indeed.

The flavour is rich, spicy and hoppy. Not heavily hoppy. It won’t overwhelm you with hops. Probably because I think it’s a bit dry and malty. Very quickly, a much stronger aftertaste rolls into the equation. This brings with it an intensely bitter aftertaste. Like the flavour, the finish is hoppy. But unlike almost every other hoppy beer, that hoppy finish doesn’t cling on to your tongue for the next three days. Instead, it gives you a quick burst of hoppy bitterness, gets the job done and exits.

What am I enjoying about Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Aie? I like the flavours and tastes with this one. They are not boring. I like the hoppy flavour and taste it manages without being too hoppy. Not like drinking a hedgerow like with some ales. I like the quality. Like all good bottled ales, you can tell that you’re drinking something pure and well made. And that’s something that helps make it clean and drinkable. I even like the effort made with the bottle and labels.

What don’t I like about Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale? That bitter finish is wearing. It’s not hoppy and interesting like some. Or gentle and smooth like others. They could have done something, anything, about it. Some of you will love it though. Within the confines of being an ‘IPA’, they’ve done well. But I can’t help feeling that there are more interesting bottled ales out there. Besides that, I found myself burping a lot. Which could mean that it’s gassy. Or that the bottle was shaken a bit. Which could be true.

To try to sum up, Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale is a very good IPA. But less than thrilling compared to some of the amazing bottles that you can find on shop shelves. This is a good, solid, particularly bitter, hoppy ale. Recommended if you like that sort of thing.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Marston’s Old Empire India Pale Ale? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comment.

Snack Food Review: John West Sild

3 April, 2009

SO I’ve found some good tinned fish. John West Boneless Sardines were tasty and free of yucky bits. John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce were okay, but too dry. But there’s bound to be better out there. Which is why I’m trying this: John West Sild In Tomato Sauce.

John West Sild In Tomato Sauce front of tin

I don’t know anything about sild. But the picture on the front looked nice. And it features a competition to win a “luxury get-away to the Isle of Mull”. I couldn’t resist picking up this 110g tin from the shop-shelf in Tesco.

The sides and back of the tin don’t tell much about Sild either. The back is just a big list of ingredients and Nutrition Information.

John West Sild In Tomato Sauce back of tin

It has 232 calories and 14.3g of fat. Which is uninteresting. What do Sild go with? How do you eat them? The tin doesn’t say. You can thank me for taking the risk on your behalf, in the comments at the end of the post.

So, what do John West Sild In Tomato Sauce look like? What are they like to eat? Should you try them? Let’s find out.

John West Sild In Tomato Sauce open tin

To its credit, they look delicious. More so than most tinned fish. And it gets better when you tip them into a bowl.

John West Sild In Tomato Sauce in a bowl

Look at that. Real little fish. They haven’t been processed into oblivion. Granted, sild aren’t the biggest fish, but you could tell that from their small tin. And they look yummy.

So, how do they taste? I’m three sild in, and first impressions are good. There’s no bony or disgusting manky bits. Instead, you can happily eat everything in there. Most conveniently, each sild is the right size for a mouthful. One sild, one fork, one mouthful.

Picking one apart however does reveal some yuckiness. Sild, it turns out, are vertebrates. And as such, they do have spines. And a tiny bit of mankiness. Sure, you can arduously remove every piece. But from the few I’ve eaten so far from this tin, you don’t need to. Unlike sardines, you can chomp away without worrying about bones or yuckiness.

If I had to criticise John West Sild In Tomato sauce, it would be the taste. Or lack thereof. Sild, I’ve learnt, don’t have much taste. John West have done their best to compensate by filling the tin with tomato sauce. But John West are never going to pick a flavourful sauce. The result is a snack that tastes a little of fish, and a little bit more of tomato sauce. But ultimately, not of very much.

What do I like about John West Sild In Tomato Sauce? I like that they are exactly the right size. I like how easy and clean they are to eat. If, like me, you think sardines are icky, these are easier, yet still sardiny in character. I also like how John West have filled the tin with enough sauce this time.

What don’t I like about Job West Sild In Tomato Sauce? There’s not much to hate. They’re not boneless, so that might bother you. But the bones are so unobtrusive, you’ll be hard pressed to even notice. Especially if you’re hungry. If you want something fishy or with real flavour, you might want to look elsewhere.

To sum up, John West Sild In Tomato Sauce are a good value, easy to eat fishy snack. Easier than sardines, not as dry as mackerel fillets, more adventurous than boneless sardines. Just lacking any real taste. These are worth your time. Give them a try and leave a comment at the end of this post.

Have you tried John West Sild In Tomato Sauce? What did you think? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests and recommendations here.

Eyewitness of Protests and Kerfuffle at the Bank of England, 01 April 2009 (Part 2)

1 April, 2009

If you can’t see it below this post, Part 1 is at https://hywelsbiglog.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/eyewitness-of-protests-and-kerfuffle-at-the-bank-of-england-1-april-2009/

To continue the story, after staying at the junction of Cornhill outside the police cordon, I went for a walk. In a very pleasant walk through Popes Head Alley, Lombard Street, St. Stephen’s and St. Swithens, I passed outside of a few different lines of police. All keeping me out, and keeping protesters in.

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A bit more walking, and the unbelievable happened. Bucklesbury leading onto Queen Victoria Street was completely devoid of police lines. Seizing the moment, I walked up the street to the Bank of England and joined a jolly old carnival of assorted hippies and journalists.

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The atmosphere is jolly. Everyone is having a great time. But let me ask you this. Why, in every protest, are there people playing bongos? Do protests not happen if there’s no one available to bang their bongo drums?

There number of photographers and broadcasters is amazing. Here, I bump into Newsnight’s Justin Rowlatt who is very professional and doesn’t loose his temper with protesters who disrupt his piece-to-camera.

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After a pleasant afternoon walking around and absorbing the atmosphere, I take a seat on the steps of a battened-down Royal Exchange.

I feel like walking back home now. Sure, I’m inside the cordon. But the cordon let me in, so it should let me out, right? Let’s see what happened when I walked up Threadneedle Street to try and get out…

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Yes, that is a swarm of mounted riot police. Yes, they are the broken windows on the RBS building. And yes, that is Ben Brown who somehow managed to do live reports from the front-line all day.

So, I couldn’t get through. But what happened next, took me by surprise.

Aggression built up and suddenly, everyone on my side of the cordon was running from the police line. Nobody knew why, so we all went back to the police line.

Then, things got much worse. For no apparent reason, more and more police filled the police lines. Then, they charged towards us.

For some reason, while running, a thought popped into my head. “This must be what the Spanish Pamplona bull run is like”. Think about it. Both involve running away very quickly from something enraged.

I kept the camera recording video. I tried to hide in one of the nooks and crannies of Threadneedle Street, hoping that the police line would just pass. But it didn’t. I found myself running, almost for my life, literally with a policeman in riot gear pushing me and shouting “Move, move move!”.

The police line came to a stop near the steps of the Royal Exchange. Needless to say, the protesters were irked. A stand off ensued.

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Amazingly, Ben Brown popped up again. He even managed to to a piece-to-camera and interview one of the protesters.

Sadly, here’s where the photos end. My camera-phone battery expired.

All around, photographers grappled for the best vantage point. Police officers were videoing the protest and radioing troublemaker details to base.

Then I decided it was time to make an exit. Easier said than done when every exit is cordoned off. Nevertheless, I wandered off.

Bucklesbury was cordoned off. Guess I’ll have to look for another way out. How about Queen Victoria Street? No. That’s cordoned off too.

Worse than than that, things were turning ugly. These weren’t the usual hippy protesters. Most of this crowd had their faces covered. These were real life anarchists intent on causing anarchy. Golly.

Angry noises coming from the police line told me that trouble would be rushing my way soon. A brisk walk towards back the Royal Exchange seemed appropriate.

Unless I could find a way out from the cordoned-off area, I would be there all night. Then, miraculously, the police line across Bucklesbury opened up. Not much. Just enough to let some of us escape. Courageously, I took the opportunity and retreated. Wise choice.

Minutes later, the line closed. Right in front of that line was the trouble. A line a riot police charged the skirmishing anarchists. Bottles were hurled at the police. Voices were raised. There was pushing and shoving. It wasn’t pleasant.  Best of all, I wasn’t in it. It was happening a few feet away, the other side of the Bucklesbury police line.

Then, it really was my time to get out of there. I went back up through the city. Passed the Climate Camp who were still busy partying. And back to my flat, just off Brick Lane.

What have I learned today? A few things. I’ve learnt that there are lots of irritated people who want to protest. I’ve learnt that I don’t agree with most of the protesters. For starters, free trade and free market capitalism is the best way to get people out of poverty and develop clean energy through market driven innovation. I’ve also learnt that anarchists and violent protesters can ruin a fun day out. And that most people who go to these things are jolly nice. The lesson I’ve learnt most of all is that police lines like to charge at you for no apparent reason.

Were you there? Are you Justin Rowlatt? Did you see me out and about? Do you have an opinion? Do please leave a comment here with your opinions, views, thoughts, ramblings and anything else you want to say.

Watch my video from the day at my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Gent82&view=videos

Eyewitness of Protests and Kerfuffle at the Bank of England, 1 April 2009

1 April, 2009

LIVING on the City fringe, I couldn’t resist. With a compulsion to see what was going on, I decided to head out. Before leaving, I had noticed a couple of things. The first was the sound of helicopters buzzing around, possibly linked to awful digital television reception. The other thing was an almost complete lack of buses. Being smart, I waited until the lunchtime news to get an idea of what was happening. That’s where I learnt about the brief violence, the breaking of windows and police cordoning of all the roads around the Bank of England. “Oh well, at least I’ll be able to go as far as the cordons” I thought. So, at 1:50pm, I set off. And this, is everything I saw. Up until my camera phone ran out of battery.

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On the way to Bishopsgate from Bethnal Green Road, this graffiti seemed ominous. Or, if you are an anarchist, hopeful.

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There were some police milling around RBS’ Bishopsgate building. But not as much protest as I was expecting. None at all in fact.

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By this point, I noticed that Bishopsgate was a little quiet. Too quiet. And, in the middle of the road was the first of dozens of outside broadcast trucks I would see.

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The reason for Bishopsgate’s quietness quickly became clear. The Climate Camp had camped out in the middle of the road. Too their credit, they were a lot of fun. No trouble or bad attitude. Lots of fun and interesting people doing their thing. Not that I agree with their message. But it was a jolly jape to camp out and have a mini-carnival in Bishopsgate. Here are some of the things I saw while passing. Warning: white people with dreadlocks ahead.

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There weren’t many police officers on duty. No wait. That’s not accurate. There were more police officers and riot police than I’ve ever seen before.

By the end of the Climate Camp, I found myself near the junction of Threadneedle street. How far can I get, past the boarded up shop windows, to the police cordon? Let’s find out…

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When I got there, here’s the hodgepodge of different protesters I found at the corner of Threadneedle and the Royal Exchange.

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People were hanging off every statue and piece of street furniture. You could see people on the balcony on the Bank of England. The atmosphere was good. But I got bored. So I headed across the Exchange Buildings area over to Cornhill. And met a variety of funny figures en route. One even gave me some pink “Clown Money”.

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Over on Cornhill, I was able to get right up to the police line. With the police keeping other people inside, and me outside the cordon, the atmosphere was different. With the police telling people to stop climbing onto the Royal Exchange and protesters outside the cordon shouting at the police, the atmosphere was starting to buzz.

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After staying here for a few minutes I got bored. Popes Head Alley was straight ahead so I walked off to see what I could find.

At this point, I want to keep showing you photos. Unfortunately, the stupid Firefox web browser can’t handle this many photos in a WordPress blog writing text box. So, check ABOVE this post for PART 2.  Or click on this: https://hywelsbiglog.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/eyewitness-of-protests-and-kerfuffle-at-the-bank-of-england-01-april-2009-part-2/


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