Archive for December, 2009

Beer Review: Švyturys Švyturio

15 December, 2009

GOOD news! I’ve ‘discovered’ a new East European shop in London’s East-End. Called Russkiye or Russkija or something similar (I’ll have to check), they are on Bethnal Green’s Cambridge Heath Road. Expect some fun oddities to appear on these pages over the next few months.

As a start, I picked up a £1.45 pence bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. Why did I choose this, when the same Lithuanian brewers’ Ekstra and Ekstra Draught were so unmemorable? Curiosity. And I like the people from the Baltic states. So it would be useful if I could find something from there that I like, besides Estonia’s excellent Viru.

So here it is. A bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. It’s a brown bottle.

Is there anything worth mentioning on the neck-label?

No. It has the familiar (to anyone who has had a Švyturys before) crest, and the rather impressive date of 1784. The big, sort-of-roundel front-label is the real place to case your eyes.

The middle has the big “Švyturys” name and crest logo. Under it, the words “Alus” and “Beer” provide us with a useful translation for that all important word, should one ever be thirsty in Lithuania. There’s a picture of the barley and hops. And, under the Švyturio name, are words which must surely translate into the vital statistics. This must mean that this is your regular 0.5L bottle, and the beer is your Continental standard of 5.0% alcoholic volume.

There’s a red border. Which is important because in Lithuania, they know this beer simply as “Red”. The last little detail you notice is the very welcome “Lietuva”. Welcome because it must be the Lithuanian for ‘Lithuania’. And that’s good, because it means that it wasn’t produced here before being dressed up to look imported, like some big name brands.

So the front-label didn’t say much about what it will taste like. Will the back-label have much to say?

No. There’s almost nothing worth reading on this side of the bottle. We discover that it’s been “pasteurized”. There’s what looks like some sort of description in Lithuanian. In English, there’s the very briefest of ingredients lists. There’s what looks like the name and address of the brewer. A Švyturys-Utenos alus, from a city called Utena.

There’s an incomprehensible formulae to contend with. “Storage Conditions: +2 ÷ +20 °C” is the first time I’ve seen an equation on a beer bottle. Finally, there’s a web address of www.svyturys.lt. To save you time, the English language homepage for Švyturio is at http://www.svyturys.lt/en/main/info/production/svyturio. According to which, Švyturio will have a taste somewhere in between that of the rich Ekstra and of light and watery Gintarinis; which I haven’t yet tried.

What am I hoping for with Švyturys Švyturio. Not much. I’m keeping those expectations low, in the hope of being impressed. It is, I presume, Pilsner style lager beer, so the hopes are for some taste of hoppiness and a light, refreshing and drinkable beer that isn’t watery. Will it manage that? There’s only one way to find out.

In my pint glass, my fridge cooled Švyturys Švyturio looks much like any other lager. Carbonated and pale yellow, with a thin white head.

What does Švyturys Švyturio smell of? Not a lot. You’d be hard-pressed to notice the slight whiff of hops.

What does Švyturys Švyturio taste like? The first couple of gulps are easy enough. The website described it as having a “rich taste and bitter freshness of hops”. That seems as good a description as any. I think I can reduce it even more. It’s a lager, and one of the most lagery lagers I’ve tried.

With no flavour, it’s all in the taste. This one has a mild take on the familiar malted barley theme. Where it really delivers is in that familiar lagery “bite”, so beloved of lager heads. And it’s a bitterness that lasts, long after the gulp.

What am I like about Švyturys Švyturio? I admire its straightforward lagery-ness. Instead of taking the full-taste or light route of its cousins, it is instead hitting the lager mainstream right in the face. It is light and crisp. It tastes like they used good quality ingredients. All of which make it fairly drinkable.

What aren’t I enjoying about Švyturys Švyturio? The same thing I admire it for. That most lagery of lagery-ness. Just personal taste mind. Bear that in mind before you fire off an angry comment. I’ve never liked that lagery “bite” that this, and others have. Compared to the great lagers, it doesn’t have the hoppy character. And that “bite” makes it less drinkable, and less refreshing than other lagers.

I’m not a fan of Švyturys Švyturio. But I’m sure a lot of you lager heads will love it. As a lager, it’s good. But I’ll have to keep looking for that favourite Lithuanian beer.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Švyturys Švyturio? What did you think of it? Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here, in the comments.

Beer Review: Young’s Kew Gold

11 December, 2009

THE Bethnal Green Food Center has been useful lately. Over the last few weeks, they’ve sold more bottle conditioned British ales than I knew existed. Here is my most recent purchase. A £1.99 pence bottle of Young’s Kew Gold.

This is the same Young’s that brought us Special London Ale and Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. And part of the same Wells & Young’s behind Banana Bread Beer and Bombardier Satanic Mills. As such, hopes are high and the bottle looks very familiar.

Why do I like bottle conditioned ales? Who wants yeast floating around in their drink? Simple. It turbo-charges the flavour, and it’s divisive. And that makes for interesting comments at the end of this post.

Back to this particular bottle, and the neck-label is where a lot of the detail lives.

It informs us that it was “inspired by hops grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.” And that some of the money from each sale of this bottle, goes to support Kew. I like that fact, because it muddies the waters for people who like to take a moral stand on beer.

Lastly, they describe it as “Light, golden & full-flavoured with a refreshing bite.” And that it is “Perfect with grilled marinated chicken or pasta”. That all sounds very run-of-the-mill for an ale. Where’s the quirkiness and imagination?

The small-print lives on the back of the neck-label.

And it’s almost identical to the small-print on every other Wells & Young’s bottle of beer. Is has their full, Bedford postal address. It has their web address of www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. But this one has one more. Because of the Kew connection, it also has the address of www.kew.org. If you want to know about the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, it is a very good website, indeed. I’ll have to re-visit it when I stop being young.

With the neck-label done, it’s onwards and downwards to the front-label.

Although, frankly, there’s not much reason to look down here. It’s pleasant and green looking. There’s a simple picture of a bunch of hops. And the live, bottle conditioning is the main marketing point. “Bottle Conditioned Ale” takes pride of place above the Young’s 1831 rams head logo.

Along the bottom of the label is the main selling point: “Matured live in the bottle for a fresher taste”. Along with the vital statistics either side. That this is a typical 500ml bottle (why not a proper pint?) with a modest 4.8% alcoholic volume.

Next is the back-label. Again, much the same as the back-labels for most other Wells & Young’s beer, so I won’t waste your time by going through every tiny detail.

Helpfully, the back-label opens with a bit more detail. Their choice of words for the benefits of bottle conditioning are that it’s for a “fresher taste”. They talk about how you can pour it slowly if you don’t want it cloudy. How you should store it upright. And that it’s best served between 10 and 12 degree Celsius. By chance, that’s exactly how chilly my flat is.

Sadly, it’s nowhere near strong enough to help me get over the cold of my flat. At a moderate 4.8% alcoholic volume, and in a standard 500ml bottle, Kew Gold comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol.

The only other details worth mentioning are the ingredients. Well, maybe not. But here they are anyway: “natural mineral water, malted barley, hops, yeast”. Nothing suspicious. Just good, normal, ale ingredients.

So, what does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? Will I like it? And will I think you should buy it? Will the yeasty goodness be worth it? Let’s find out.

It poured easily enough. Certainly much easier than the European wheat beers. It wasn’t cloudy at all until I gave the bottle the old Bavarian-swirl near the bottle. That ‘livened’ up the glass. All without overflowing it.

True to the label description, the hue is golden. The head quickly collapsed to a network of white patches. It’s cloudy, but not overly opaque and looks well carbonated.

What does Young’s Kew Gold? Smell of? Not that much, and not very strongly. You need to give it a good sniff to detect that it’s all hops. A couple more sniffs, and you realise that it smells good, in a pleasant, hoppy way. Fruity, spicy and a bit malty are the words I’ll go with on the smell.

What does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? The first gulp started easily enough. As soon as the aftertaste kicks in, your mouth is swamped by the hoppiest taste I’ve had out of a bottle. And that brought with it that familiar hoppy bitterness. It still caught me off-guard.

A few more sips and I’m starting to make some sense of the flavours and tastes in Young’s Kew Gold. On the flavour side of the equation, there’s not much to say. It’s got a light, savoury, slightly leading bitterness. No flavours really stand out. At least none that my tongue was aware of.

The aftertaste is what Young’s Kew Gold is all about. It has a very full, hoppy, agricultural taste. At first, I was overwhelmed by it and the bitterness, but a third of the way through now, I’m not so sure. It’s turned into a light, smooth and strangely refreshing beverage. Almost a complete 180 degree from where it was on that first gulp.

Nearing half-way through, and what am I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? A admit it. I wasn’t expecting any surprises when I cracked it open. So I’m genuinely happy to have had a couple. I like how immensely hoppy it tastes at first. I like how that will put off the less intrepid beer drinkers, meaning you’re in an exclusive club if you’ve got this far. It also scores it points for distinctiveness. I very much like how easy it is to get used to it, and how well it becomes drinkable and smooth. I like how it’s taken the light and refreshing summery ale and put a very hoppy twist in it. And I like how it gives money to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, even though I’d rather experience mild electrocution than learn about foliage.

What aren’t I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? That massive, initial hoppiness isn’t going to win it any lager or alco-pop friends. Personally, I’d like more interesting flavours, not just pure hoppiness. With such a hoppy beer, it would be good if the labels told us what hops and malts they used in the brew. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s expensive and hard to find. And, here, now, in a cold flat, in winter, it’s just not right. Summer, or at least spring, is where Young’s Kew Gold belongs.

To sum up, Young’s Kew Gold is one of the hoppiest tasting ales I’ve ever tried. Do I like it? Yes, but despite myself. I didn’t want to, but it’s grown on me. Was the bottle conditioning worth it? For the distinctive, hoppy quality, yes. Should you buy it? In the right season, if you like strong, hoppy ale, if you can find it and afford it, then yes. Definitely.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Kew Gold? What did you think of it? Leave your comments, corrections, opinions and places to buy, here in the comments

Beer Review: Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen

3 December, 2009

IT’S been too long since I last enjoyed a Continental wheat beer. The last time I had ‘Naturtrüb’ naturally cloudy German-variety ‘Hefeweizen’ wheat beer, was straightforwardly wheaty Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier. What, then, will my next German, cloudy, wheat-beer be like? From the Bethnal Green Food Center in London’s East-End, here is a bottle of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen.

First impressions? Efficient looking but characterless bottle and appearance. It’s definitely German

It has a neck label. Not that it says very much. It has a sort-of coat of arms, the words “Premium Weissbier” and a barcode. Never mind. I’m sure there’s be a proper description of the beer somewhere on it. On the front-label, perhaps?

No. There’s not much of a description on here, either. Just some basic details. Starting with the name and address of the brewer. For the curious, Scöfferhofer Weizenbier GMBH is from Frankfurt am Main.

Under that is a logo, if you can call it that, of Peter Schoffer von Gernsheim. An early printer who worked with Johannes Gutenberg, the Scöfferhofer brewery was apparently founded in his old home. Hands up, who wants their home turned into a brewery, when they’re gone?

Under the Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen name, is some writing that I can’t read or understand. If you can, or you can translate anything else on the bottle, do please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Down at the very bottom, are welcome words indeed. “Naturtrüb”, I think means ‘naturally cloudy’. Thanks to the person who told me that in a comment to one of my earlier posts. “Premium-Weissbier” has to be ‘Premium Wheat Beer’. And “Brewed And Bottled in Germany” is just good news however you read it.

So there wasn’t much of a description on the front-label. Surely, there’ll be a proper description of some kind on the back?

No. There really isn’t any kind of description. Or story. Or anything. Just a massive, multilingual block of ingredients lists and safety warnings, for nanny-state markets across the world.

Even looking carefully, there are only a handful of facts I can extract from the morass of text. The ingredients are water, barley malt, wheat malt, hops and yeast. All the right ingredients. Though I’d prefer if they mentioned which malts and hops they used. Even when the names mean nothing, I love it when the labels give that much extra detail.

Elsewhere, we discover the vital statistics. The bottle is your usual 500ml. Or 16.9 fl. oz.  And with an alcoholic volume of 5%, it’s as average as the entire output of Hollywood over the past decade.

And that’s it. At least I thought it was, until I spotted in tiny writing, a web-address. That web address is www.schoefferhofer.de. It’s an annoying Flash-heavy website, with no English language section. Nevertheless, a few clicks and you start discovering more bottles that will make you wish you were in Frankfurt am Main.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time for the fun bit. What does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? How different will it be to Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? Will I like it and should you buy it? Considering my track record of loving cloudy wheat beers, it could be a foregone conclusion.

Yes, I still don’t have a proper wheat beer glass. But even in my British pint-glass, it looks good. It was easy to pour, too. No glugging, it went smoothly until the last bit, where it frothed up into the sight you can see in the photograph.

The colour is of straw. Cloudy, but clear enough to see the fizz. The head is a thick, lasting, white colour. I can hardly wait to start.

First though, what does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen smell like? If you bought it hoping for that unmistakable, rich, malty smell, you’re in luck. If you’ve sniffed other European wheat beers, you know what it is. It’s not strong. Just gorgeously rich and sweet.

What does Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? The first gulp is not bad, but I’m greeted with more bitterness than expected. A few more sips, and I’m beginning to make sense of it. The bitterness was because I was trying to drink the head. Get down to the beer, and it’s much more like what you’d expect from a German wheat beer.

Being a straight-up wheat beer, there isn’t much in the way of flavour. Just an undercurrent of malty-wheatiness. A sweet and savoury sort of flavour, which drifts, easily, into the aftertaste. A taste which has a surprisingly lasting bitterness, and astringent character.

How different is it to the Franziskaner German wheat beer I tried a few months ago? Unexpectedly different. I was half expecting a re-run. Instead, Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen takes the same straightforward wheat beer path, but goes on a bitterer, less smooth and less wheaty route.

What am I enjoying about Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen? Astonishingly, less than I had been expecting. Maybe I’ve got a less-than-perfect bottle. But a few things are nagging me. On the credit side, however, there are pluses. Even if it is bitterer than other European wheat beers, compared to others, it’s well balanced. It’s easy to drink, which means the ingredients are good, and it’s well made. It’s different, too, which scores it marks for distinctiveness. Not too gassy either.

On the debit side, there are some issues. I’m starting to think my bottle has gone off. It doesn’t taste as good as I think it should. That bitterness is just too rough and odd tasting for it to be intentional. It’s also somewhat lacking in the flavour and taste department. Not sure if that’s intended or not. But more interestingness and complexity wouldn’t go amiss. Even the main taste of wheat is hard to pin down.

How can I sum up Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen? I’m left wondering if my bottle is a bad example, or if they’re all like this. Regular readers know how much I love wheat beer. So the roughness and off-notes were a surprise. If it’s supposed to be like this, then you’ll like it if you prefer your wheat beer to have an edge. If, like me, you love the smooth, rich, deliciousness of other wheat beers you’ve enjoyed, then try something else. Unless the one I bought was off, in which case, Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen is probably very good.

This puts me in a tricky situation with the rating. Do I rate lower and risk the wrath of people who love good examples. I’ll take the wait-and-see escape route, and leave a rating for another time, when I’ve tried more bottles of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen.

What did you bottle of Scöfferhofer Hefeweizen taste like? Did you like it? Did I get an bad bottle or does it normally taste like this? Leave your comments, translations, opinions and places to buy, here in the comments.


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