MONTHS ago, I vowed not to ‘review’ the national beers of hot countries anymore. Inevitably, once away from their home country, those beers lose what makes them special. Then I compare it to high quality ale and lager, and then people from the beer’s country of origin take it as an insult, and express their disgust in the comments section.
Sometimes however, curiosity gets the better of me. That’s exactly what happened when I found an Ethiopian shop in central London (WC1) near King’s Cross. There was no way I could miss the opportunity to try an Ethiopian beer. So, cast your eyes upon St. George Beer.
The bottle is generic and brown. There is only one label; the yellow one on the front. And I don’t care about those things, because it’s come all the way from East Africa and it still only cost £1.29 pence.
The label has just enough English language for you to guess what you’re getting. The top corners for instance give the alcoholic volume as 4.5% and the contents as being 33cl. They describe it as a “Premium Lager Beer”. And, best of all, it is “Ethiopian Beer Brewed & Bottled by BGI Ethiopia”. I’m just glad it is genuinely imported.
The most confusing thing about the label is the name and logo. It has a Medieval knight, apparently engaged in dragon slaying. And it’s called St. George Beer. Why is this? None of that imagery is African. Nor is it a colonial remnant, because Ethiopia was, according to this website, never colonised.
The rest of the writing is, I assume, in the Amharic language. Translators, if you can translate what it says, leave a comment at the end of this post.
There is not, it seems any official website for this beer. But I did find a lot of questions answered about Ethiopian beer at http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/ethiopian_beers.html. The most shocking fact of all, being that Ethiopia has a well established brewing industry. I’m truly impressed.
With no more labels to write about, it’s time for the taste test. It doesn’t say “serve cold” anywhere, but I’m going to guess that if you’re in Ethiopia, you’d want your beer to be a touch chilly. With that in mind, this one has been in the fridge. Now let’s crack it open and try some Ethiopian beer.
Even with the rough ride home I gave the bottle, it didn’t froth up. In fact, it was easy-peasy to pour. In my half-pint glass (which wasn’t big enough for the full 33cl), this fridge-cold St. George Beer is clear, carbonated and yellow. A thin, patchy layer of which foam sits atop the liquid.
What does St. George Beer smell like? A variation on the same malted barley formula that all Pilsner style lagers smell off. This one however, does seem to have a richness and intensity to the smell that is uncommon.
For the taste, because it’s a lager, I’m looking for a clean, crisp and refreshing character. A distinctive hoppy finish is an optional bonus. So, what does St. George Beer taste like? The first gulp went down without problem. So did the second. First impressions are that it’s going to be a solid, normal lager.
Being a lager, there’s nothing on the flavour side of the equation, but there is on the taste and aftertaste finish. With St. George Beer, the transition is smooth, but prompt and definite. You know you’ve reached the aftertaste by the malted barley taste. A taste that starts mild, but keeps on building, somehow becoming more evident with each gulp.
What am I enjoying about St. George Beer? I like how it seems to be a perfectly acceptable, honest, well made lager. Why do I think it’s well made? Because, at least whilst cold, it is pretty clean, crisp and refreshing. And it wouldn’t be those things with good ingredients. It also scores points for being all the way from Ethopia.
What don’t I like about St. George Beer? It did make me burp a lot, but that could be down to the bottle riding in my back pack on the walk and bus ride home. The main grips is that taste. It’s not quite a love it or hate it lager, but it’s nearly there. That rather intense malted barley taste won’t be for everybody. A few more touches like a hint of hoppiness would be nice too. Still, St. George Beer is all the way from Ethopia.
How can I sum up St. George Beer? Ethopia has produced a lager and it’s perfectly fine! So it’s lacking in sophistication and you could lump it with other hot country lager beers. But come on. It’s not from South-East Asia or South America. It’s from Ethopia in East Africa, on the doorsteps of one of the world trouble spots. It’s like Luxembourg starting a space program. I’m just impressed that it exists and that it’s perfectly drinkable.
Have you tried St. George Beer? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the label?
Do please leave your comments, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.