SOUTH AMERICANS are interesting and passionate folk. They make beer, too. But for some reason, the ones I’ve tried so far aren’t good. Or memorable. Brahma Premium Lager, Aguila, even Club Colombia Extra Fine and Corona Extra aren’t bad, just unmemorable. Excellent on holiday to South America, but just don’t work here in cold, rainy, London. That said, I’m an optimist, so maybe this offering from Peru will fare better. From the Bethnal Green Food Center, I’ve finally gotten around to this bottle of Cusqueña Premium Beer.
From a distance, it looks like your typical brown beer bottle. But look closer at the middle. All around the middle is a textured Inca style pattern. It looks good, and it feels good to hold. I don’t know where they got the idea from to do this, but I like it. Why don’t all bottles have unusual surfaces. An added benefit would be that you could tell one beer bottle from another just by touch. Useful in poorly lit nightclubs.
The label is a beg neck-label. The front of which gets my hopes up that this might be the best South American beer yet.
In the background, which doesn’t show up in photographs, there’s a stylised picture of what must be the Andes, with some settlements. Starting from the top, there’s some tiny writing saying that this was brewed by the convolutedly named Union De Cervecerias Peruanas Backus Y Johnston S.A.A. from Lima, Peru.
Under that is a very helpful pronunciation. Apparently it’s not “Cu-kwen-iya” like I thought, but “Cus-Ken-Ya”. Whatever it’s called, it’s “The Gold Of The Incas”. Presumably the only bit that the Conquistadores didn’t take. Incidentally, why can’t we get similar pronunciation help on Polish beers?
Next, I’ve read enough beer bottle labels to know that “Cerveza Premium” means “Premium Beer”. But, if you know your Spanish and want to correct me, or translate anything, please do so in the comments at the end of the post.
Under the logo is more good news. This is “Imported Beer”. Not a local knock-off. Always a good sign. It’s a “100% Malt Lager”. Something I’m not sure what to read into. And the vital statistics are plain for all to see. This is your worldwide standard 33cl bottle containing a 5% volume beer. You couldn’t make it any more middle of the road.
There isn’t a back label. Rather there’s some small-print either side of the join. And it looks like this. Well not exactly like that. Without a camera, it’s actually quite readable.
On one side is the ‘story’. And strangely for a lager that isn’t European, it makes my mouth water. Admittedly, it’s mostly marketing mumbo-jumbo, but the imagery works for me. The main facts are that Cusqueña goes back to 1911. From the “the foothills of Macchu Picchu, it’s supposed to be “crisp, pure & totally refreshing”. Then they really pique my interest with this: “It is truly the finest premium lager from Latin America”. We’ll see about that.
The ingredients list is on there. No surprises. As is the UK distributor’s details. This came via Chilli Marketing Promotions Limited. They have a telephone number and a website at www.cusquena.co.uk.
A quick look at the website reveals why I’ve seen Cusqueña being promoted where I live, so often. The Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, for example. They’re aiming it squarely at trendy Hox-ditch people. Like me. On the front page, there are a handful of promotional pieces, and literally one is for a place in Shoreditch and the other is for a place in Hoxton.
The rest of the label truly is small-print. This bottle has 1.65 UK units of alcohol. If you bother to keep count of such things.
So, what does Cusqueña Premium Beer taste like? Will it be my new favourite South American beer? Does it deserve a place in the clutched hands of those of us who call Shoreditch our home and playground? There’s only one way to find out. To stop being pretentious and to get to the fun part.
In the glass, my room temperature Cusqueña frothed up nicely. And collapsed almost as quickly. If you’ve ever drank a big-name Pilsner style lager before, you’ll know what it looks like. White head, and yellow, gold liquid.
Will Cusqueña hold any odorous surprises instead? A quick sniff reveals not. It smells exactly like every other unremarkable lager. That is to say, it smells of the familiar blend of malted barley.
So it looks and smells ordinary enough. But what does Cusqueña taste of? A quick swig proves that it tastes much like others as well. But a couple more gulps and it does redeem itself from mediocrity. Okay, I should probably have it chilled, instead of room temperature. Even so, I can tell that it would be clean and crisp if it was colder. As for refreshment, I think it needs to be cold for it to be that. But that’s ok. It’s not bad in those departments, even at the wrong temperature.
It’s a lager. That means it has no flavour. That’s okay too. Especially with Cusqueña’s aftertaste. A little like Colombia’s Aguila, it is very smooth and drinkable. But unlike Aguila, it’s not too watery. What you get instead is a gently taste of malted barley and a soft and inoffensive bitter finish. At least at room temperature, it has a richer-and-smoother-than-expected malted barley taste. There’s something almost warming about it. I’m not sure what would happen to that when it’s cold.
What am I enjoying about Cusqueña Premium Beer? I like that taste. Usually, your beer would be a darker hue, with a different smell to manage it. So it was a pleasant surprise. Trying a chilled bottle is now on my to-do list. I want to see just how clean, crisp and refreshing it is. My guess is that it would do well. And that’s important, because that’s what a good lager should achieve. I like how smooth and easy to drink it is. Both of which hint at how well made it is and how good the ingredients are. And I like the bottle with the funny, textured middle.
What am I not enjoying about Cusqueña? The last beer I tried was a strong ale. So I’m missing the flavour and quirkiness. Although that’s a bit like comparing an I-MAX cinema to a hot dog. They’re not even attempting to achieve the same things. Comparing it to other lagers then, and Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Pilsner Urquell come out on top. It’s doesn’t have the same class, heritage or distinctive taste. It’s expensive and not that easy to find, too.
To sum up, Cusqueña Premium Beer is above average, easy to drink and my new favourite South American beer. Possibly even my new favourite Latin World beer. Compared to what most trendy galleries and bars around Shoreditch serve, this competes well. Good, solid and drinkable if indistinctive.
Have you tried Cusqueña Premium Beer? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.