Archive for April, 2010

Beer Review: Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer

26 April, 2010

A NEW beer turned up in the Brick Lane off-license a few months ago. Taking the spotlight from, but not replacing the colourful, mock-Bengali curry beer, Bangla Premium Beer, is another beer designed to compliment your curry. Costing a national deficit creating £2.95 pence, here is a bottle Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer bottle

Nowhere near as bright as Bangla, there’s no mistaking the India and curry connection. It might say “Premium” on the label, but it looks economy. Even so, we know better than to judge a beer by its bottle.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer neck label

The neck-label hints at why it really is “Premium”. “Slow brewed in India” is why I hope it’s going to be worth your time.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer front label

It’s called “Taj Mahal” and has a photo of said Indian landmark to prove it. To hammer home the point of this beer, the label background seems to be taken from the wallpaper from a curry-house.

Cosmetics aside, it does say everything you need it to say. It has the word “lager”, so you’ll know where to align your expectations. It’s a big 650ML bottle and the alcoholic volume is 4.5%. Normally I’d be moaning about it not being very high, but this is a curry beer. Trust me, the last thing you want to cool your mouth down with is Robinson’s Old Tom Strong Ale.

Then there’s the few more hints about why I’m hoping that Taj Mahal is going to turn out well. “Slow brewed in India from the finest malt & hops”. First, it’s brewed in India. Not a deceptive pretend-foreign beer like so many others. Second, fine ingredients are always good. There are still a lot of questions though. Let’s see what the back label has to say…

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer back label

Quite a lot, apparently. All of which I’d class as small-print. I know you love details so, (takes a deep breath), here goes…

Ingredients are “barley malt, adjuncts, hops for bitterness”. Some hoppiness is good for a lager. But what the heck are “adjuncts”? Leave a comment if you know.

It’s “best served chilled” and you need to “consume within day of opening”. Whether that means it’ll still be good to top-up your hangover with your Pot Noodle breakfast the next morning is unclear.

It is, I’m utterly delighted to report, “Produce of India for export”. It was even “Brewed under license from United Breweries Limited, Bangalore, India by Blossom Industries Ltd., Village Jani Vankad Nani Daman 396 210”.

Also on there are the details of the imported and exporter. The Hertfordshire based importer is SOP International Ltd, with a website at www.sopinternational.com and a homepage at http://www.sopinternational.com/d-chi467-taj-mahal-taj-mahal-premium-lager-beer/. The Indian exporter is UB Global with a website at www.ub-global.com and an interesting beer page at http://www.ub-global.com/beer.html.

And that’s all the small-print. So, what does Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer taste like? How does it compare to the other curry beers? Not just the against specialists like Bangla, Cobra and Kingfisher, but the ones that get it spot-on by accident, like Grolsch and Holsten Pils. It’s time to find out.

Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer poured into a glass

This fridge cold bottle poured so easily, not even I made it glug. Much. For those of you, like me, who don’t do Euro measuring, 650 millilitres (the size of this bottle) is more than a Pint glass can hold. As I discovered.

What does Taj Mahal look like? In the glass, it’s predictably Pilsner lager yellow. Very carbonated, yet it only manages a thin, patchy layer of foam. It really is very fizzy. So much so, the fizzing is audible.

What does Taj Mahal smell like? If you’ve ever sniffed a Pilsner lager before, you’ll have a good idea. It has that familiar whiff of malted barley. At this stage, I was hoping to smell at least a some hoppiness. But alas, I can detect none.

What does Taj Mahal taste like? The first two gulps are easy ones. Being a lager, especially one for your curry, you might not expect it to have flavour. And… it doesn’t.

A good curry beer needs to be refreshing, clean and crisp, ideally with a mild, bitterness. And a few gulps in, that seems to be what Taj Mahal is. While it’s cold, it feels refreshing, clean and crisp. But does it have the bitter, hoppy finish? It is slow brewed and even mentions “hops for bitterness” on the label. Apparently, they didn’t add all that many hops. You just can’t taste them. You do get one of the gentlest, mildest bitter finishes of any lager, ever. Will that be enough to soothe your mouth from chilli agony? Only partly, I suspect.

What am I liking about Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? While it’s cold, it is supremely easy to drink. Even not beer drinkers will be fine. It is very accessible to the curry munching masses that frequent Brick Lane every evening. If you like your lagers to be clean, crisp and refreshing, Taj Mahal fits the bill nicely. Rather surprisingly, it’s not gassy. And it’s one of the few that comes in bigger-than-a-pint 650ml bottles.

What am I disliking about Taj Mahal? That drinkability and refreshment comes at the expense of watery-ness. It is very light and watery. Normally I like that in a lager. But for something that’s “slow brewed” and so bloody expensive, you expect more than fizzy water. And that leads onto the next issue. The price. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was exclusive ale brewed with myrrh. But it’s a curry beer, to be drunk in vast quantities because your mouth is on fire. With so little in the flavour and taste department, it’s also lacking anything to differentiate it, or to add any charm. And, as it gradually reaches room temperature, which it inevitably will, it loses some of the crisp, refreshing-ness.

How can I sum up Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? I would like to try it with a curry because it would probably do rather well. At least while it’s cold, it is crisp and refreshing enough to extinguish the inferno raging in your mouth during a curry.

Compared to my other curry favourites, it’s no failure. But neither does it win. It’s just lacking something in the taste department that the others have. Something hoppy. If you’re having a night out, need a beer for your curry and have the money to spend, Taj Mahal is perfectly fine.

Normally, I like simple, cheap, watery lagers. They’re honest and drinkable, so I rate them highly. Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer though is slow brewed and expensive. Sure, Taj Mahal is fine, but cheap lagers a third of the price are at least as good. For that, I’m rating it low.

Rating: 2.3

Have you tried Taj Mahal Premium Lager Beer? What did you think of it?

Leave your comments and recommendations down here.

Beer Review: Starij Melnik Gold

1 April, 2010

BAD news for fans of high-brow British and European ale. I’ve got my hands on another obscure Russian lager. Still, that’s good news for fans of unusual East-European beers. It’s also a chance to re-try something I haven’t had since my gap-year travels when it looked like this…

Old Starij Melnik bottle in Siberia, Russia

From local East-European wonderland, Russkij Bazar, here is a bottle of what I think is called Starij Melnik Gold. Self-evidently priced at £1.65 pence.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle

First impressions are of how different it looks to the one I had in Siberia. If you know the difference between the Gold I have here and the other one I tried, do please leave a message in the comments section at the end of this post.

Second impressions are that they’ve put effort into it. Have a look at these grips. Should your bottle be wet, or your drunkenness highly advanced, it won’t slip from your grasp as easily.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle grips

The side-effect is that the back label small-print has been squished into a crowded neck-label.

Starij Melnik Gold  left neck labelStarij Melnik Gold middle neck labelStarij Melnik Gold right neck label

After pouring over it with an electron microscope, I’ve been able to glean some facts. The ingredients are “water, barley malt, glucose syrup with malt sugar (wheat, maize), hops” and it is “pasturized”. It has an alcoholic volume of 5.2%. And, unhelpfully, it has the web-address of www.monolith-gruppe.eu. Unhelpful because it’s no longer obvious where Starij Melnik Gold comes from. The Italian language section mentions a Moscow based Efes Moscow Brewery, but the word “imported” is proving elusive. Leave a comment if you can shed some light on this mystery.

Starij Melnik Gold front label

Translators, do you thing in the comments section! As labels go, this one is basic. The imitation stamp in the corner says something about tradition. And I’m not entirely sure that the name translation on the label is correct. On the neck label, it translates the name as Starij Melnik Gold. But the first word, I’m nearly fairly sure, it more like “Smarij”, not “Starij”. Translators, what is going on here?

And because that’s all I can translate, it’s the end the boring description bit. What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? How does it compare to other lagery beers and should you bother buying it? Let’s twist open the bottle top and write some opinionated hyperbole.

In a pint glass, this fridge cooled bottle of Starij Melnik Gold looks much like any other lager. The long neck of the bottle makes it almost impossible to pour without glugging, so you end up with a head that somehow completely fills but doesn’t overflow a pint glass. Now that’s foresight.

The liquid itself is yellow and fizzy. The head is white. Even a few minutes after pouring, it’s still topped by a thick layer of foam. Not bad at all.

Have you ever sniffed a cold glass of any mainstream lager? Then you’ll know what to expect from the smell. An unremarkable blend of malted barley.

What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? Two easy gulps in prove it to be a perfectly acceptable pilsner style lager. First impressions are that it’s going to be unremarkable, but hard to fault.

At least at fridge temperature, there’s no flavour and virtually no taste whatsoever. Taking a few more gulps to investigate, reveals only the most delicate of lagery tastes. In a very smooth introduction, your tongue will barely notice the savoury, bittersweet finish. I’m struggling to taste anything at all here.

What am I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? It is ridiculously easy to drink. There is nothing to deter even the most timid drinker. It’s very clean and refreshing. That means it would probably go well with a hot curry. Just make sure your Starij Melnik Gold is well chilled.

What aren’t I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? In the taste department, it’s in the same league as Tesco Value Lager. Even most mainstream lagers manage a hint of hoppiness or a taste of malted barley. This has almost no identifiable taste. The lightness and drinkability come at the cost of making it watery. The quibbles are that the labels aren’t at all clear, it’s expensive and a little gassy.

How can I sum up Starij Melnik Gold? If you want a bottle of water but only have this, then don’t worry. Starij Melnik Gold will do fine. It’ll also go down well with spicy food. If you actually want to taste something however, then buy almost anything else.

Rating: 2.7

Have you tried Starij Melnik Gold? What did you think? Can you translate anything or resolve the mystery surrounding this bottle? Then leave a comment below. Every one of which I read and will bear in mind next time I buy a bottle of Russian beer.


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