Archive for October, 2010

Beer Review: Švyturys Baltas

30 October, 2010

IT’S a good day on this blog when I can tick-off a ‘must-try’. Today is just such a day. That is because I have here a bottle of Švyturys Baltas, bought for £1.70 pence from nearby East-European supermarket, Russkija Bazaar. Why is Baltas a ‘must-try’ in the first place? Well, it’s an unfiltered wheat beer and it comes highly recommended by you. Few other beers have been recommended by so many people in the comments sections on my other ‘reviews’. Švyturys Baltas even got a mention in a recent edition of Fuller’s First Draught magazine. It is, apparently, Lithuania’s most popular beer, and has won lots of awards. It’s taken years to finally find a bottle, so let’s get straight down to business.

Švyturys Baltas bottle

This Švyturys goes for the neck-foil approach, showing off their excellent embossed bottle. It’s a good looking thing, with an embossed Švyturys logo with the 1784 established date, and predictable hops and barley imagery at the bottom.

Švyturys Baltas embossed front logo

If you know your beer, it won’t be that which catches your eye. What you will notice is that it’s not dark or transparent, but opaque and white. Very noticeably so, when next to other bottles on the shop shelf. Who can blame Švyturys for wanting to show it off with as little obscuring it as they can get away with.

All the way up on the bottle top is the name “Baltas” and the words “Kvietinis Alus”. “Kvietinis” sounds a little like “wheat” and “Alus” I know means beer. So by clever deduction, “Kvietinis Alus” must mean “Rhubarb Crumble”. Or “Wheat Beer”, which frankly, is much more probable.

Down on the front of the neck-foil, in English, is pretty much all you need to know about Švyturys Baltas. Under the Švyturys logo are “White” “Baltas” and “Unfiltered Wheat Beer”.

Švyturys Baltas front neck foil

If you couldn’t already tell by the opaque white hue of the bottle, those words confirm it. If you like your beer cloudy and wheaty-white, any lingering uncertainty about choosing Švyturys Baltas will have just vanished.

The neck-foil doesn’t end there. It wraps around on both sides with some very hard to read text on both sides. For the benefit of the detail junkies out there, here is a photo of the right-side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas right of neck foil

The only interesting things I can read on it are that it’s best stored, or served, I can’t tell for sure because of wrinkles in the foil, at between 2 and 20 degrees C. Also, that it is pasteurised. Now that is a surprise. Under my admittedly limited knowledge, I would have thought that an unfiltered wheat beer wouldn’t be pasteurised. Shows how much I know.

For completeness, here is a photo of the other side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas left neck foil

This side has the vital statistics. That Švyturys Baltas has an alcoholic volume of 5% and that the bottle is 500ml. Next, in a multitude of languages, comes the list of ingredients. For the incurably detail hungry, they are “water, wheat malt, barley malt, hops, yeast”. Credit where it’s due, these imported bottles do a better job of the ingredients list than most domestic ones. Lastly, that imported status is confirmed with “Product of Lithuania” and a web address of www.svyturys.lt. A spot of clicking through product pages featuring photos of other Švyturys that you want to try finally brings me to the Lithuanian language product page for Švyturys Baltas: http://www.svyturys.lt/index.php/produkcija/91.

At long last, I’ve reached the good bit. What does Švyturys Baltas taste like? How will it compare to the other wheat beers that I love so dearly? Will I like Baltas as much as all of my blog commentors do? I’ve no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out. So, from fridge-cold, here is Švyturys Baltas poured into what is probably the wrong glass, but will have to do because it’s all I’ve got.

Švyturys Baltas poured into a glass

After an easy, non-glugging pour into my pint glass, everything looks and smells delicious. Unlike some other wheat beers, you can’t see yeast floating around. Instead, you get a vivid straw colour with a thick white head. Helpfully, everything fits neatly into a pint glass, so I’m happy.

What does Švyturys Baltas smell like? Beer writer Richard Morrice described as smelling of vanilla. I’m not so sure. It is vanilla-like in how immensely rich, fresh and uplifting it smells. I think it smells wheaty and citrusy. Like bread baked with oranges and lemons somehow stuck in the dough.

What does Švyturys Baltas taste of? One gulp and a sip in, and first impressions of Švyturys Baltas are that it is another example of good wheat beer. On the flavour side of the gulp, everything is light and mild. Pay close attention, and you notice wheat and malty, leading to a taste of fruit. This then smoothly transitions into the aftertaste and finish which taste of… Almost nothing, strangely. Okay, there is a light, beery, maltiness, but the bitter finish of nearly every beer I’ve ever tried is nowhere to be seen.

What am I enjoying about Švyturys Baltas? A lot as there is much to enjoy. I’m loving how light, refreshing and easy to drink it is. This is compared to other wheat beers, to lagers and so much else. This has to be down to the distinctive and unusual way it tastes. Yes, it tastes somewhat like most other wheat beers at first, but it has almost no bitter aftertastes. This makes it supremely easy to drink and no wonder it is so popular. Švyturys Baltas can easily be drink of choice for the boys and the girls. And it manages it without being sugary sweet and syrupy. I also love how good it smells. That it’s not gassy at all, so no big burps to worry about in social settings. It is rich and thick enough to feel like you’re drinking a real beer. And, outside of Lithuania, you get a sense of superiority by drinking something exclusive.

What don’t I like about Švyturys Baltas? If I had to nit-pick, I’d start with parts of the taste. Is the absence of aftertaste deliberate or an accident? What would it be like if that gorgeous wheaty-fruitiness lasted longer? Then there’s availability. The exclusivity, outside of Lithuania is awesome, but even my persistence was tested with trying to find a bottle. At least the price at £1.70 pence isn’t bad.

To sum up, Švyturys Baltas is one of the more distinctive and easy to drink wheat beers I’ve tried. In fact, it’s one of the most easy to drink beers I’ve tried. It’s right up there with watery lagers for being easy to drink, yet it is a ‘proper beer’. No wonder it’s won awards and become as popular as it is. You can glug a bottle down in a minute or savour every sip. And with no bitter aftertaste there’s nothing holding non-beer drinkers back from trying it. Švyturys Baltas is practically a beer without drawbacks.

Rating: 4.45

Have you tried Švyturys Baltas? What did you think of it? Can you translate the Lithuanian? Do please share your comments, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Batemans Combined Harvest Multigrain Beer

22 October, 2010

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you brewed ale using every grain type available? I have, but that question has thus far gone unanswered. Now however, from a Nisa Local shop on Old Street, London, comes the answer, in the form of this bottle:

Batemans Combined Harvest bottle

It is what I presume, Bateman’s standard issue, built-like-a-tank brown bottle. Embossed around the shoulder is the Bateman’s name, their windmill logo and “Est 1874”. There’s a strange, lumpen bulge around the neck of the bottle. Presumably it has something to do with stopping the beer ‘glugging’ when you try to pour it. It’s certainly not there for reasons of elegance.

Good news on the labels begins immediately with the neck label.

Batemans Combined Harvest neck label

“Gold Winner” at the “International Beer Awards” is something to be proud of. No wonder they advertise the fact right at the top of the bottle. Expectations are rising.

The main front label is a picture of idyllic, rural, agricultural imagery.

Batemans Combined Harvest front label

The top has the main facts. The name of the brewery, the name of the beer and the alcoholic volume are plain to see for anyone browsing the shop shelves. I’m surprised it’s not a little higher than 4.7% alcoholic volume, but why quibble over a few decimal points when the taste is as good as I’m imagining it will be.

The main part of the front label is a take on the roundel. Except this time, the roundel-y shape is made up of illustrations of hops and grains and other crops. Supposedly, the same things that went into this ale.

Helpfully explaining for dummies like me, why this is called “Combined Harvest” “Multigrain Beer”, are the names of the different arable crops that went into it. “Barley” is the staple. No surprise there. Then there’s “Wheat” which I remember from most of my all-time favourite beers. “Oats” and “Rye” are the surprises, and al combined, make you wonder what the heck it tastes of.

Fortunately, a back label crammed with facts helps you get to grips with what “Combined Harvest” is all about.

Batemans Combined Harvest back label

Not only do they have an exceptionally detailed description, but also a taste profile box. I love it when brewers don’t skimp on detail. With so much to get through, I better start at the top.

They open by describing it as “a unique combination of barley, oats, wheat and rye”. That it appeals to lots of different groups of drinker because of its “subtle, smooth bitterness”. We also learn that Batemans is “one of the few remaining family brewers”, having been brewing since 1874. And that they’re brewery is in the old windmill of the logo, “on the bank of the river Steeping”.

Then they take it up a notch. Instead of writing a description of the brew themselves, they instead print an independent description by celebrity beer writer and socialist, Roger Protz. Unlike me, he is an old school beer writer, so here he is quoted verbatim from the label:

“A bronze pale ale brewed with pale and crystal barley malts, combined with malted wheat oats and rye and hopped with Phoenix and Target varieties. The superb aroma is dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness, with a bready note from the rye. As it contains no fish based firings it is vegan friendly”.

He does rather well with that description. And so have Batemans for using it. It sounds as interesting as you can get.

Before reaching the taste profile chart, they also describe Combined Harvest as “an ideal accompaniment to most dishes due to its well balanced delicate flavours”. On to the taste profile chart itself, and I love these devices. Okay, it’s not called a ‘taste profile’ this time, but Badger who use it most consistently across their range, do. So what does this ‘taste profile’ tell us?

This ‘taste profile’ tells us values from one to ten for aroma, bitterness, fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. The main points we can take from the chart are that it has fruitiness and spiciness in abundance, and that it’s also quite malty and strong smelling. The fruitiness, spiciness and maltiness would come from the all of the grains squeezed into the bottle, and from strong hoppiness. The rest of it, I can’t wait to discover for myself.

Then we reach the small-print. For the curious, this is a 500ml bottle, which with its 4.7% alcoholic volume contents, comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol. In you want to write them a letter, their address in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire is printed. As is their web address of www.batman.co.uk. A website best described as trade orientated. Persevering with their website which looks like it was developed in 1999, I managed to find the Combined Harvest homepage at http://www.bateman.co.uk/BeerF.htm. If you want to subject yourself to the horror of a website that still uses frames in 2010, then go to http://www.bateman.co.uk/HomeF.htm.

On to the last bits of small-print, and there is a Vegan Society logo if you happen to be the sort of person who looks for such things. They also recommend that you “Serve Cool”. Not knowing whether my fridge counts as ‘cold’ rather than ‘cool’, I’m going to leave it in the fridge for just an hour or two before drinking it.

So what does Combined Harvest taste like? Finally, I’ve reached the part I’ve been looking forward to. With ale this complex, the only way to answer that question is to crack it open, so let’s do just that…

Batemans Combined Harvest poured into a pint glass

Pouring was no problem. The funny shaped neck causes it to come out in lots of tiny ‘glugs’ before settling into a smooth pour. In the glass, my fridge cooled Combined Harvest is a copper-amber colour. The head has depleted down to a patchy layer of white foam. And you can see a fair bit of carbonation in the glass.

How does Combined Harvest smell? Rogre Protz described the aroma as “superb” and being “dominated by tart orange and lemon slices fruitiness”. I’m going to ignore all that and describe it as smelling strongly of bread. A few more sniffs, and I’m figuring out that the breadiness comes from the wheaty maltiness. After getting used to it, a few sniffs later, I’m starting to fall into line with beer guru Roger Protz. I am now smelling a citrusy fruitiness that can only come form hoppiness.

What does Combined Harvest taste of? The ‘taste profile’ chart hinted at bags of fruitiness, maltiness and spiciness. Beer legend Roger Protz didn’t describe the taste in his description. What a pity. That means you’ll have to go by mine instead.

So what does Combined Harvest taste of? The first gulp is an easy and yummy one, leaving the first impression of that this is going to epitomise what a British ale could and should be. A couple more equally easy and pleasant gulp confirms the direction in which Batemans Combined Harvest is going.

On the flavour side of the gulp, you have a nice, light, savoury maltiness. On the aftertaste and finish side of the gulp, you have a smooth, gentle bitter finish and the taste of that maltiness, carrying with it hints of the taste of all the grain types that went into it. None of them are overpowering. You begin to think of bread, but then the citrusy, spicy, hoppy bitterness creeps in. All of which leave your tongue swiftly, making Combined Harvest very easy to drink.

What am I loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? I’m loving that they took the risk of putting every grain they have into it. I like the distinctive taste experience it gives you. And I love how, despite being a complex, unusual beast, it remains immensely light and easy to drink. Well balanced is another way of putting it. There is no strong bitterness to scare you away. I also like that it isn’t too gassy. And I like very much how good the bottle labels are.

What am I not loving about Batemans Combined Harvest? It is not perhaps, the taste explosion that I was expecting. There’s no in your face flavour. Eight out of ten for “Fruitiness” on a ‘taste profile chart’ from other brewers might have produced much fruitier results. It’s also very hard to find and quite expensive. At least here in London.

To conclude, Batemans Combined Harvest will remind you why you love British ale. It takes chances, it does things differently, it’s delicious and very drinkable. If you can’t tell, I like it.

Rating: 4.3

Have you tried Batemans Combined Harvest? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.


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